Quick Study: Polina Barskova began publishing her poetry as a nine-year-old: she has gone on to publish her first collection in 1991, become a finalist for the 2000 Debut Prize, and have poems translated into English for literary journals, anthologies, and two solo volumes.
The Barskova File: Polina Barskova’s poetry has won her wide recognition as one of the best poets of her generation: she has been shortlisted for Russian prizes including the Debut and Andrei Bely, and has published numerous collections. Two volumes of her poetry have been translated into English, including The Zoo in Winter: Selected Poems, in 2011, which contains 79 poems. As a scholar, Barskova, a professor of Russian literature at Hampshire College, explores the mythologies and slum texts of early Soviet-period writers from her native city, Leningrad-St. Petersburg.
Psssst………: In spring 2012, Barskova taught a “Mysteries of Petersburg” course at Hampshire College; the description includes this line: “Building on the works of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, this course uses the lower depths of Petersburg as a symptomatic locus that may serve as a prism through which this city was read and written.” She also taught a course called “Writing the City at War (London, Leningrad, Warsaw, Berlin).”
Barskova’s Places: Leningrad-St. Petersburg: born, raised, educated as an undergrad. UCBerkeley: graduate school. Amherst, Massachusetts: assistant professor of Russian literature at Hampshire College.
The Word on Barskova: Publisher’s Weekly wrote of Barskova’s collection This Lamentable City that “Barskova’s is a voice of stunning originality and eroticism” and noted “an extraordinary amount of vocal variation.”
Barskova on Barskova: In a 2010 interview with Linor Goralik, Barskova said she considers herself a “specific psychotype, Russian poet, with an affectionate aversion. I would have been glad to be born a nurse or a builder but I produce words about my feelings and perceptions, and publish them.”
On Writing: In the interview with Goralik, Barskova also said, “For me, creative work is a wild symbiosis of betrayal and loyalty: betrayal of yesterday’s texts and loyalty to an unvarying tuning fork, maybe.”
Barskova Recommends: In a 2010 interview, when asked what she was reading, Barskova mentioned rereading Osip Mandelshtam and Varlam Shalamov, saying both were “highly recommended.”
Translating Barskova: In their translators’ note for The Zoo in Winter, Boris Dralyuk and David Stromberg describe Barskova’s work and offer context, including this line about their choices for the book, “In selecting the seventy-nine poems in The Zoo in Winter, we wished to present Barskova in all her moods – passionate and analytical, rapturous and cool, profoundly serious and daringly flippant.”