Accursed Poets

Dissident Poetry from Soviet Russia 1960-80

Accursed Poets: Dissident Poetry from Soviet Russia 1960-80 is an anthology of dissident poetry, featuring work by Gennady Aigi, Yuri Aikhenvald, Yuli Daniel, Vladimir Earle, Yuri Galanskov, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, Igor Kholin, Victor Krivulin, Evgeny Kropivnitsky, Vsevolod Nekrasov, Rea Nikonova, Victor Nekipelov, Grigory Podyapolsky, Genrikh Sapgir, Ian Satunovsky, Mikhail Sokovnin, Sergey Stratanovsky and Kari Unksova.

Following the 1965 show trial of writers Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky, young Russian poets increasingly found themselves targeted by the Soviet authorities. Daniel spent five years in a labour camp, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Yuri Galanskov and Yuri Aikhenvald were put in psychiatric hospitals, while Kari Unksova was killed in an accident involving a KGB surveillance car.

Unable to publish their work in official magazines, these poets had to write ‘for the desk.’ The result was a radical, self-published (‘samizdat’) poetic, looking back to the Russian avant-garde of the 1920s, and combining Dadaism, Surrealism, Futurism and Minimalism with a Dostoyevskian eye for everyday Russian life. Accursed Poets captures the frustration, suppressed ambitions and hidden energy of a generation of poets who lived outside or against society. They deserve to be remembered, especially now that there are more political prisoners in Russia than there were in the last years of the Soviet Union.

Cover image: Nusya Krasovitskaya

PEN Translates Award, 2020

Sample Poems


Когда нас никто не любит
любить матерей

Когда нам никто не пишет
старых друзей

И слова произносим уже лишь потому
что молчанье нам страшно
а движенья опасны

В конце же – в случайных запущенных парках
плачем от жалких труб
жалких оркестров

Геннадий Айги

Our Way

When nobody likes us
we learn
how to love our mothers

When nobody writes to us
we call to mind
old friends

And we utter a few words – simply because
we’re scared of silence
and deem any movement dangerous

And in the end we sob in a park overgrown
with shrubs as we hear the pitiable trumpets
of a pitiable brass band

Gennady Aigi

Памяти Варлама Шаламова

Черный снег на фоне белом.
словно омертвелом, –
вот колымская судьба.
Вот такое
поле боя
алкашу – для водопоя,
а Шемяке – для суда.
Лица черные.
говорил про вещи эти:
– Почернеет все на свете.
Волк не выдаст –
Вошь продаст.
Не хотите – не ходите.
Голубым богам кадите.
милостей в ответ,
Что в основе негатива?
Люди жили?
Эко диво!
Век в колымских перспективах
пишет свой автопортрет.

Юрий Айхенвальд

In Memory of Varlam Shalamov

Black snow against a white background...
White is similar
to dead –
this is Kolyma’s fate for you.
This is a battlefield:
for a drunkard, the challenge
of water drinking,
for a kangaroo, the court challenge.
Faces are black.
by the soil.
into ashes.
mentioned such things:
Everything in the world will go black.
God willing, a wolf will help you,
and a louse will sell you out.
If you don’t want to go, don’t go.
Burn incense for the blue gods.
for benefits in return.
Why so negative?
So some people survived?
What a marvel!
The century at Kolyma’s vista
paints its self-portrait.

Yuri Aikenvald

Из ≪Человеческого манифеста≫

Министрам, вождям и газетам –
не верьте!

Вставайте, лежащие ниц!
Видите, шарики атомной смерти
у Мира в могилах глазниц.
О, алая кровь бунтарства!
Идите и доломайте
гнилую тюрьму государства!
Идите по трупам пугливых
тащить для голодных людей
чёрные бомбы, как сливы,
на блюдища площадей.

Юрий Галансков

From The Human Manifesto

Ministers, leaders, newspapers –
believe none of them!

Get up, the prostrated!
Can’t you see the balls of atomic death
inside the World’s grave sockets?
Get up!
Get up!
Get up!
O the red blood of rebellion!
Go and smash
the rotten prison state!
Walk over the corpses of the shy,
drag black plum-like bombs
onto the dishes of the squares
for all the hungry.

Yuri Galanskov

Милые ошибки властей

эти милые сердцу ошибки властей
эти слабые волосы еле прикрывшие темя
это паренье частей
расчлененного Тела... и Небо стоит надо всеми
с выраженьем усталости, как бы заранье простив
что движения наши подобны растеньям
что назойлив простой эфемерный мотив
поражающий не превращеньем
но повторами
словно древнейший орнамент
искажает лицо:
это волчье, а то поросячье,
в лучшем случае – птичье...
подложный Эдем
перед нами разложен и властвует нами
и в глаза не глядит – но глаза по-животному прячет,
зарывая куда-то их, где хорошо и незряче:

где возможно прожить не увидясь ни с кем

Виктор Кривулин

Sweet Mistakes of the Authorities

o those sweet mistakes of the authorities,
this thin hair hardly covering the pink
top of the head!
this soaring flight of the parts
of a dismembered Body...
the Sky hangs over us, showing signs of fatigue,
as if it has already excused us for the vegetative way
we move and for that annoyingly simple, ephemeral motive,
subject to an amazing number of repetitions
but never to development –
just as an ancient ornament
distorts a face:
this one is wolfish, and that one pig-like,
or bird-like, at best...
counterfeit Eden
is displayed before us... it owns us
and never looks at us – but, like an animal,
aims its glance at some cosy blind spot

where one can live not seeing anyone at all

Victor Krivulin

Untitled 1 - (Russian)





Я думал
Мы о чем молчим

А мы молчали
Вот о чем

Всеволод Некрасов

Untitled 1

I am silent
Keep silence

I am silent
Keep silence

By guess-work
By touch

We move on
We move further

I thought
We hushed something up

But we hushed up

Vsevolod Nekrasov


Не мотыльков бесплодное сгоранье
И не тоска за письменным столом...
Отчаянье не двигало мирами,
И ничего еще не создало,
И никуда не отворило двери...

Отчаянье оставим тем, кто верил.

Григорий Подъяпольский


Nothing like moths’ pointless burning
Or anguish at a writing desk...
Despair never set the world alight,
Or created worthy things,
Or opened the door to some nice place...

We’ll leave despair to those who still believe.

Grigory Podyapolsky


‘Samizdat: I write it myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend time in prison for it myself.’

Vladimir Bukovsky

‘The translations are often beautiful… since Smokestack has again admirably supplied parallel Russian texts, the Russian-speaking reader can also enjoy the originals.’

East-West Review