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If There is Something to Desire: One Hundred Poems
I broke your heart. / Now barefoot I tread / on shards.
Such is the elegant simplicity—a whole poem in ten words, vibrating with image and emotion—of the best-selling Russian poet Vera Pavlova. The one hundred poems in this book, her first full-length volume in English, all have the same salty immediacy, as if spoken by a woman who feels that, as the title poem concludes, “If there was nothing to regret, / there was nothing to desire.”
Pavlova’s economy and directness make her delightfully accessible to us in all of the widely ranging topics she covers here: love, both sexual and the love that reaches beyond sex; motherhood; the memories of childhood that continue to feed us; our lives as passionate souls abroad in the world and the fullness of experience that entails. Expertly translated by her husband, Steven Seymour, Pavlova’s poems are highly disciplined miniatures, exhorting us without hesitation: “Enough painkilling, heal. / Enough cajoling, command.”
It is a great pleasure to discover a new Russian poet—one who storms our hearts with pure talent and a seemingly effortless gift for shaping poems.
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One of Russia's bestselling contemporary poets, Pavlova is the most recent international darling to break into the American literary scene, first in the New Yorker and now with this first full-length collection to appear in English. Almost always less than 10 lines each, the collection's 100 poems explore universal themes like love, sex, and motherhood. That they have been translated by Seymour, Pavlova's husband, adds intrigue and intimacy to the collection, which has its share of "semen," "saliva," and "wild strawberries," as well as "placental slime and blood." Throughout, Pavlova works to combine registers of the sublime and the everyday. Because of the brevity of the poems, a tremendous amount rides on the impact of these quick juxtapositions. They often fall short of transcendence: "Armpits smell of linden blossom,/ lilacs give a whiff of ink." The collection's success depends heavily on one's personal response to Pavlova's voice, including ungainly phrasings like "two gays smooching on a bench" and tell-it-straight lines like "Death from depression seems/ a bit ridiculous." Some poems, however, quietly achieve a surprising depth, such as number 50, which reads in its entirety: "I have brushed my teeth./ This day and I are even." (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved