“If there is something to recall/there was nothing to regret,” Russian poet Vera Pavlova wrote. It remains to be seen whether or not those who attend her reading today will have something to recall—and nothing to regret.
The Harriman Institute and Columbia’s Slavic department are sponsoring the bilingual poetry reading. Pavlova is one of Russia’s bestselling poets and is also renowned in the United States—her work has been published in the New Yorker. She’s even been featured on the MTA’s “Poetry In Motion” program.
Anna Dvigubski and Maksim Hanukai, graduate students in the Slavic department, are co-coordinating the event. “The graduate students in our department organize events several times a semester, such as student panels, film screenings or invited speakers, which cover topics related to Slavic literatures,” Dvigubski said. “This event series was initially meant to invite conversation among members of our department and anyone interested in Slavic cultures.”
With regard to Pavlova’s reading in particular, Dvigubski added, “The role of the poet and poetry in Russia can be, and has been, viewed from a variety of perspectives, including historical, political, or economic, and perhaps Vera’s work can help answer questions related to such issues. Most of all, we hope the audience enjoys Vera’s art and her unique voice.”
Coincidentally, it turns out that the audience Pavlova is expecting Monday is one major reason why she chose to read at Columbia. “I received from Columbia University an offer that I could not refuse,” she said. “Seriously, though, for me students are always the best audience. In Russia, I often decline invitations to read at literary clubs, but I always accept offers to read at schools and universities. Incidentally, the forthcoming reading at Columbia will be my third there.”
The event will begin with light refreshments and informal conversation for 15 minutes. The reading itself will be by Pavlova herself and her husband and translator, Steven Seymour. Pavlova will read in Russian, and Seymour will read in English. After the reading, there will be time for questions and comments from the audience.
Pavlova’s first American anthology, “If There Is Something to Desire,” will come out in January. She has just one phrase of advice for young poets at Columbia: “Do refrain from writing, if you can. Recently I attended a reading by Franz Wright, who told about sending his poems for the first time to his father, James Wright, and the response was: ‘You are a poet. Welcome to hell.’”
CORRECTION: The original article stated that Alla Rachkov and Maksim Hanukai, graduate students in the Slavic department, are co-coordinating the event. Rachkov, however, is not a graduate student; she is an employee of the Harriman Institute in charge of event scheduling and was not interviewed by the writer. Rather, the other graduate student interviewed was Anna Dvigubski. Spectator regrets the error.