If There Is Something to Desire

Vera Pavlova, Author, Steven Seymour, Translator , trans. from the Russian by Steven Seymour. Knopf $24 (106p) ISBN 978-0-307-27225-6

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.)

Reviewed on: 11/16/2009
Release date: 01/01/2010
Paperback - 128 pages - 978-0-375-71189-3
Open Ebook - 117 pages - 978-0-307-95758-0
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