Bella Akhmadulina, Bold Voice in Russian Poetry, Dies at 73

30akhmadulina1-articleInline I missed this a couple of weeks ago. William Grimes in the NYT:

Bella Akhmadulina, a poet whose startling images and intensely personal style, couched in classical verse forms, established her as one of the Soviet Union’s leading literary talents, died on Monday at her home in Peredelkino, outside Moscow. She was 73.

Her death was reported by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass, which quoted her husband, Boris Messerer, as saying that she had had a heart attack.

Ms. Akhmadulina came to prominence during the post-Stalin thaw, when a loosening of censorship led to a flowering of the arts. Along with the poets Yevgeny Yevtushenko (her first husband) and Andrei Voznesensky, she became one of the bold new voices in contemporary Russian literature, attracting ecstatic audiences of thousands to readings at concert halls and stadiums.

Her poetry was resolutely apolitical, making her a target of official criticism. Her early poems, usually in rhymed quatrains, offered random observations on everyday life — buying soda from a vending machine, coming down with the flu — in dense, allusive language enriched by coined words and archaisms. A sprightly sense of humor and an audacious way with images marked her from the outset as a distinctive talent.

“More and more severely the shivering/Lashed me, drove sharp, small nails into my skin,” she wrote in one of her most famous poems, “A Chill” (sometimes translated as “Fever”). “It was like a hard rain pelting/An aspen and scourging all its leaves.”

Later, she turned to longer forms in works like “My Genealogy” and “Tale About the Rain,” both published in the collection “Music Lessons” (1969), or short poems laced into a sequence, notably in the collections “The Secret” (1983) and “The Garden” (1987).

Her themes, as she matured, became more philosophical, even religious, or they dwelled on the nature of poetic language. “O magic theater of a poem,/spoil yourself, wrap up in sleepy velvet./I don’t matter,” she wrote in one characteristic verse.

Although apolitical as a poet, she openly supported persecuted writers like Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and political dissidents like Andrei D. Sakharov. In 1979, she fell out of favor by contributing a short story to Vasily Aksyonov’s unofficial collection Metropol, a transgression that froze her already chilly relations with the government.

Despite her shaky official reputation, she was always recognized as one of the Soviet Union’s literary treasures and a classic poet in the long line extending from Lermontov and Pushkin.

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