Apollo in the Grass
Author: Aleksandr Kushner; Translated from the Russian by Carol Ueland and Robert Carnevale
The more softly the word is pronounced
The more ardent, the more miraculous.
The less it dreams of becoming a song
That much nearer it draws to music.
-from "Apollo in the Grass"
For the Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky, the poems of Aleksandr Kushner were essential: "Kushner is one of the best Russian lyric poets of the twentieth century, and his name is destined to rank with those close to the heart of everyone whose mother tongue is Russian."
Apollo in the Grass is the first collection in English translation of Kushner's post-Soviet poems, and also includes certain earlier ones that could not be published during the Soviet era.
Kushner speaks to us from a place where the mythic and the historic coexist with the everyday, where Odysseus is one of us, and the "stern voice" of history can transform any public square into a harrowing schoolroom. This layering of times and events is also embodied in Kushner's distinctive poetic voice. Echoes of earlier Russian poets and styles enrich and complicate an idiom that is utterly natural and contemporary.
Now, as in the Soviet era, Kushner's work is especially cherished for its exemplary stoic integrity. But these lyrical poems are also pieces of exquisite chamber music, songs where poetry dazzles but "greatness is . . . sooner scaled to the heart / Than to anything very enormous."
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
In The News
“These translations do draw near to music, perhaps by carrying over so precisely the meaning of Kushner's Russian rhymes and alliteration.” —Ian Singleton, Fiction Writers Review
“Born in St. Petersburg just before the outbreak of WWII, Kushner has been hailed as one of the twentieth century's foremost Russian poets for his exquisite interrogations of Soviet life during an era of social and political upheaval. Kushner's neatly formal verses combine a conversational tone with vivid imagery . . . [He] delivers a range of arresting pronouncements, especially powerful when drawing upon his Jewish lineage . . . This is Kushner's second collection to be translated into English, preceded by Apollo in the Snow (1991), selected poems from 1960 to 1987. Both editions deliver a wealth of spirited lyricism.” —Booklist, Diego Báez