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The Last Poet of the Village


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The great 20th-century Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, while second in popularity with his countrymen only after Pushkin, is perhaps best known outside of his homeland for his brief marriage to Isadora Duncan. After their relationship broke up, Yesenin hung himself. His great contemporary rival, Vladimir Mayakovsky, wrote a poem To Sergei Yesenin castigating him for taking the easy way out-only to commit suicide himself (again, questionable) a few years later. Sadly, Yesenin, still immensely popular in the post-Soviet Union, has barely been translated into English. Anton Yakovlev's most recent chapbook Chronos Dines Alone, winner of the James Tate Poetry Prize 2018, was published by SurVision Books. He is also the author of Ordinary Impalers (Kelsay Books, 2017) and two prior chapbooks. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Hopkins Review, Measure, Amarillo Bay, and elsewhere.


When Keats read George Chapman's translation of Homer, he felt like an astronomer when "a new planet swims into his ken." This is how I felt in reading Anton Yakovlev's superb translations of some poems by Sergei Yesenin. Yesenin is an icon of early 20th century Russian poetry, communicating the vastness of Russia as a country and a culture, but he is not well known in the Anglosphere. Yakovlev's translations strike this non-Russophone reader as a triumph of craft in combining a "peasant" simplicity that seems deeply and authentically Russian with piquant, always-tasteful touches of idiomatic American speech. These versions are a gift to readers of English in bringing across the quality and qualities of an original and unforgettable artist.--Daniel Brown, author of Taking the Occasion and What More? With this attentive selection of Yesenin's short lyrics, Yakovlev has given us something I thought impossible, an English Yesenin. Sergei Yesenin stands alongside Blok and Tsvetaeva in the pantheon of Russia's greatest lyric poets and, similar to them, has remained among the most untranslatable. Anton Yakovlev's conscientious handling of the elements of the craft, as well as his own substantial skill as a poet, manage to convey a palpable voice and persona for Yesenin, and persuade us he truly was a major poet.--Alexander Cigale, translator of Russian Absurd: Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms Anton Yakovlev's book of translations of Sergei Yesenin's poems is one of those serendipitous events the Universe still springs on us from time to time. In this case, a wonderful contemporary poet brings the words of an important Russian imaginist, who died in 1925, into the present, and in so doing, demonstrates his timelessness. He has Yesenin tell us: "Is it my fault that I'm a poet... / After all, it wasn't my choice-- / It's just the way I came into the world." And: "That 'poet' label won't kill me. / I'm a hooligan just like you." And: "If I hadn't been a poet, I probably would / Have been a thief and a conman." I couldn't put this one down--highly recommended!--Ron Kolm, co-editor of From Somewhere to Nowhere: The End of the American Dream, and the author of A Change in the Weather

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