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The Russian Version
The Russian Version

Elena Fanailova

translated by Genya Turovskaya, Stephanie Sandler

Poetry | $15 $13
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"a clear-eyed, unflinching poet"

Winner of the 2010 Best Translated Book Award for Poetry from Three Percent. "The Russian Version obliterates the stereotype of what Great Russian Poetry should sound like. Fanailova has the candor and compassion of Akhmatova and a gift for striking metaphor that might bring Mandelstam to mind. She is also ruthlessly quick to fire 'from the hip,' as she says in the title poem, and her aim is impeccable." - IDRA NOVEY, Chair of the Best Translated Book Poetry Panel

Excerpt ˇ


It’s terrible to be possessed by brittle things.
How can you learn here who taught people to draw
Stars between eyebrows, butterflies over the gristle
Of throats, weeping eye between breasts.
And anyway, who taught them to live with strange
Chasms, with their nocturnal beasts,
With this yawning, this singing, this delirium –unreachable
Even with open palms outstretched: take them
If you are not afraid of such embraces.
If the faces floating up from an amalgam
Of splotches, from the molding, black, silvery depths
Don’t frighten you.

Close ˆ

About the Author

Elena Fanailova

Elena Fanailova is a poet and journalist. Born in Voronezh, Central Russia, she is a graduate of the Voronezh Medical Institute and the Voronezh State University where she majored in linguistics. Fanailova has worked as a doctor and as a university teacher. Currently, Fanailova is a host of the radio program Far from Moscow that covers various topics from the Beslan siege to new Russian prose for Radio Liberty. Fanailova's poems have been published in leading literary magazines in Russia and abroad. They are featured in Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey Archive, 2008), The Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets (University of Iowa Press, 2005) and Crossing Centuries: the New Generation of Russian Poetry (Talisman House Publishers, 2000). Fanailova is the author of four books and a winner of the Andrey Bely Award (1999) and the Moscow Score Award (2003). She currently lives in Moscow. The Russian Version is Elena Fanailova's first full-length collection in English translation.

About the Translator

Genya Turovskaya is the author of several chapbooks: Calendar (UDP 2002), The Tides (Octopus Books 2007), Dear Jenny (SUPERMACHINE 2011), and New Year's Eve (Octopus 2011). Her poetry and translations of contemporary Russian poets have appeared in Chicago Review, Conjunctions, A Public Space, Octopus, jubilat, and other publications. She is the translator of Aleksandr Skidan's Red Shifting (UDP 2008), and with Stephanie Sandler is the translator of The Russian Version by Elena Falainova, winner of the 2010 Best Translated Book Award for Poetry by Three Percent. She has been the recipient of various awards and fellowships including a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, a Montana Artist Refuge Fellowship, the Witter Bynner Translation Residency at Santa Fe Art Institute, and a Fund for Poetry grant. She holds an MFA from Bard College and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Stephanie Sandler chairs the Slavic Department at Harvard University, where she teaches courses on poetry, film, and cultural theory in and beyond Russia. She has written and edited books on Alexander Pushkin, sexuality and the body in Russian culture, and Russian poetry. Her translations of poems by Fanailova, Alexandra Petrova, and Elena Shvarts have appeared in Circumference, Zoland Poetry, New Russian Poetry, and An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets.

Advance Praise

She is doing something quite different: she assumes the role of the poet as broadcaster, who transforms suppressed and muted private worlds into a distressing signal, to disturb the smugness and cynicism of her contemporaries and compatriots—Russian intellectuals."—Zinovy Zinik, Times Literary Supplement
The Russian Version is, in essence, a selected poems, and even the most casual reader (but who would want to be a casual reader of these works?) will notice the progressive expansion of the force field within Fanailova's work as it accumulates cultural material over the years and repeatedly rethinks its purpose. Perhaps it has always been the case that, regardless of what else is expected of the Russian poet, he or she must demonstrate courage. Perhaps that is what makes these poems Russian—their capacity to countenance the unshrinkable world.—Lyn Hejinian
Spanning almost twenty years, these poems document the growth of a poetics and a politics sculpted by—and at times against—the recent history of Russia, its violence, its ambitions, its intimacies. But it is also the slower-moving current of Russian culture, from its folk tales to Tarkovsky, that gives these pieces their human depth. From her early atmospheric, lyric work to the later, looser quotidian pieces, there’s a wry eye in action here, informed by a ruthless truthfulness, but also by compassion and empathy, and all beautifully translated with a commitment to sound and rhythms that seem to bring the original to the surface.—Cole Swenson