Bella Akhmadulina 1937-
Full name Bella Akhatovna Akhmadulina; also transliterated as Bella Axmadulina or Isabella Akhatovna Akhmadulina. Russian poet, short story writer, and translator.
Akhmadulina is considered one of the foremost contemporary Russian poets. She is a member of the Russian New Wave literary movement, a group of writers who embraced Western ideology during the 1960s. Her poetry is traditional in form but distinguished by inventive use of rhyme, syntax, and metaphor. Akhmadulina's verse is characterized by her exploration of identity, the limits of personal and artistic freedom, and the place of the poet in society.
Akhmadulina was born in Moscow, Russia, April 10, 1937, of Tartar, Italian, and Russian descent. Before attending the A. M. Gorky Institute of World Literature in the mid-1950s, she studied in the literary circles of the Stalin car plant mentored by the poet Yuri Vinokurov. She married poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko in 1954. In 1960, she completed her education at the Gorky Institute, preceding an expulsion due to her overly apolitical verse. That same year, she also divorced Yevtushenko and married short story writer Yuri Navigin. In 1962 her first book of poems, Struna (The String) was published. She divorced Navigin in 1968. In 1974 she married the artist Boris Messerer. She has served as secretary to the Soviet Union of Writers and is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Influenced by the Acmeists, a Russian poetic movement established in the early twentieth century in reaction to the dominant symbolist school of poetry, Akhmadulina began to publish poetry in the early 1960s as part of the Russian New Wave. Her first two collections, Struna and Uroki muzyki (1969; translated as “Music Lessons”), contain what many critics regard as her finest poems. A selection of these early works was translated into English in Fever and Other New Poems (1969). Two of Akhmadulina's best-known poems are “Oznob” (“Fever”) and “Skazka o dozhde” (“Fairytale about the Rain”). In “Oznob,” the narrator's inspiration to compose poetry is likened to a strange illness that makes her a social outcast. In “Skazka o dozhde,” the poet's creativity and special place in society is symbolized by the rain that follows her wherever she goes. The narrator is initially embarrassed at being singled out from the dry world around her, but when a group of friends conspire to eliminate the rain, the narrator defends herself and learns to embrace her unique identity. “Moya rodslovnaya” (1964; “My Family Tree”) is a poem that alludes to a work by Aleksandr Pushkin, and “I Swear,” is a poetic vendetta against the social forces that drove the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, an early influence on Akhmadulina's writing, to suicide in 1941. Children, flowers, animals, and rain are dominant poetic symbols in Akhmadulina's early works, but in later collections, including Stikhi (1975; translated as “Poems”), Sny o Gruzii (1977; translated as “Dreams of Georgia”), Metel (1978; translated as “Candle”), Taina (1983; translated as “Secret,”) and Sad (1987; translated as “Garden”), Akhmadulina has explored graver themes including death, eternity, and the transitory nature of existence.
Struna was criticized by the then-Soviet government for being too personal and emotional and caused Akhmadulina problems in publishing later poems. Critics have compared Akhmadulina's poetry to that of Acmeist poets Anna Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva, and have noted her acknowledged literary debt to her predecessors Pushkin and Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov. Scholars have praised Akhmadulina's distinctive poetic voice, lively style, and original use of themes. For example, in Taina, Akhmadulina skillfully manipulates structure and poetic voice to depict the gradual aging of the narrator throughout the poem and creates a circular pattern through the “secret” located at the end of the poem. Although relatively little has been written in English or Russian about her work, critics are in general agreement in their high regard for Akhmadulina's stylistic and thematic variety. They also commend her witty use of metaphor to comment on society and the natural world, and her ability to create and sustain her personal perspective in her poems.
Oznob 1968; also published as Fever and Other Poems [translated by Geoffrey Dutton and Igor Mezhakoff-Koriakin] 1969
Uroki Muzyki 1969
Sny o Gruzii 1977
Three Russian Poets [with Margarite Aliger and Iunna Morits] 1979
Taina: novye stikhi 1983
Three Russian Women Poets [with Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva, translated by Mary Maddock-Trumansburg] 1983
Izbrannoe: stikhi 1988
The Garden: New and Selected Poetry and Prose [edited and translated by F. D. Reeve] 1990
Clear Ponds [with Yuri Navigin] (script) 1965
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SOURCE: Rydel, Christine. “The Metapoetical World of Bella Akhmadulina.” Russian Literature Triquarterly 1 (1971): 326-41.
[In the following essay, Rydel discusses Akhmadulina’s approach to writing and the inspiration for her poetry.]
The subjectivity of Akhmadulina's poetry leads us not to her life, but to her art. In many of her poems she gives us clues to the mysteries of her feelings and her thoughts, but never discloses her biography. Even when Akhmadulina overtly sets out to tell us the story of her past, she deflects interest from herself to a time well-buried in the past: “… [since my birth] is in no way distinguished from any other births, I turn my grateful memory to the real people and events on which in one way or another it depends.”1
However, in spite of Akhmadulina certain biographical information is known. She was born in Moscow in 1937 to a middle-class Russian family. She studied at the Gorky Institute of Literature where she met and married Evgeny Evtushenko in 1954. Certain circumstances, the nature of which is not clear, led to her expulsion from the Institute and to her travels to Central Asia. She experienced difficulty both in being accepted into the Union of Soviet Writers and in having her own poetry published. Akhmadulina translated many poems, especially from Georgian, and in this way gained admittance to the Union. Finally, in 1962,...
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SOURCE: Feinstein, Elaine. “Introduction.” In Three Russian Poets, pp. 9-16. Manchester, England: Carcanet New Press Limited, 1979.
[In the following essay, Feinstein briefly compares Akhmadulina's poetry to that of Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetayeva.]
Bella Akhmadulina was born in Moscow in 1937, with Italian and Tartar ancestors. Her striking beauty and her warm, affectionate presence hide an almost febrile intensity. In Pavel Antokosky's Introduction to her 1975 collection he speaks of Akhmadulina's ‘strong masculine talent … I don't mean in the craftsmanship, or technique … but where it really matters, at the root; in the moral tension of a human being who is growing, even as we look. She is a poet, not a poetess.’ Many voices would join him in that; and it is, I believe, no accident that it is Bella Akhmadulina who has most boldly taken upon herself the inheritance of her great women predecessors, Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetayeva. Yevtushenko dates her maturity as a poet from the moment she first acknowledged that weight upon her, and singles out particularly her poem ‘I Swear’. From that point on, he says, her own nerves became ‘the nerves of her age’. That poem he claims was ‘an inner Rubicon … after which she felt herself nervously responsible for everything that was, is and shall be’. ‘I Swear’ is a poem in which Akhmadulina personified the murderous forces of...
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SOURCE: Woodbury, Vickie. Review of Three Russian Poets, by Margarita Aliger, Anna Mortiz, and Bella Akhmadulina, translated by Elaine Feinstein. World Literature Today 54, no. 4 (autumn 1980): 301.
[In the following review, Woodbury compares Akhmadulina with her contemporaries and concludes that through time her poetry actually decreased in originality.]
Elaine Feinstein, a poet and a novelist herself, has brought out one previous book of translations of Russian poetry: the Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, published in 1971. In the present volume [Three Russian Poets] Feinstein has selected nine poems by Margarita Aliger (b. 1915), eight poems by Yunna Moritz (b. 1937) and ten poems by Bella Akhmadulina (b. 1937). She has also written an introduction to her translations in which she discusses briefly the life of each of these poets and offers some general observations on their works. According to her introduction, the selection of three female poets was not determined by their sex, but rather by a certain lucidity of expression which distinguishes these three poets. Although Margarita Aliger belongs to the generation born at the time of the Revolution, she shares with Moritz and Akhmadulina, who emerged in the early 1960s, some common themes and traits, especially their criticism of the inhuman regime, of bureaucracy and injustice among people, and their strong independent voice....
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SOURCE: Stone, Rochelle. Review of Taina: Novye stikhi, by Bella Akhmadulina. World Literature Today 58, no. 4 (autumn 1984): 624.
[In the following review, Stone offers a positive assessment of Taina: Novye stikhi, giving special praise Akhmadulina's imagery and variety of themes.]
A member of the “new wave” writers, Bella Akhmadulina started to publish poetry in the early sixties. Still, relatively little has been written in English, or even in Russian, about her work, despite her acknowledged status as a major contemporary Soviet poet and that country's most popular woman poet. Her verse collections, from String (1962), to Chills and Other Poems (1968), through Candle (1977) and now A Secret, present an admirably concise, insightful, sensitive, at times humorous, romantic yet pragmatic and unmistakably feminine poetry. The latter is evidenced by the consistent use of a heroine whose “lyrical I,” the persona, reveals a closeness to the author.
We find in this collection features characteristic of Akhmadulina's preceding work, such as a rich thematic variety, vivid imagery and a dramatized style in which the persona addresses an interlocutor. Old themes and motifs also figure prominently here: a preoccupation with poetic creation and the requisites associated with it—e.g., the moon, nature, the wax candle, the white page, the seasons, the...
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SOURCE: Condee, Nancy. “Axmadulina's Poemy: Poems of Transformations and Origins.” Slavic and East European Journal 29, no. 2 (summer 1985): 176-87.
[In the following essay, Condee explores some of the sources of Akhmadulina’s creative energy.]
In the long poem “Skazka o dožde,” the poet confides that she has taught her husband sorcery. At the poet's instruction, her husband has learned to transform inanimate objects of material value back into natural things of no material value:
Igо y naucila коldоvstvu— vо mni byla taкay оtкrоvinnоsts— оn razоm оbratit lybuy iinnоsts v кrug na vоdi, v zvirsкa ili travu.
(I taught him sorcery— / there was such candor in me— / he would at once turn any valuable / into a ripple, into a small animal or a blade of grass.)1
This confession comes in response to another woman's question about the sources of the poet's material wealth (“‘Skažite, pravda, čto vaš muž bogat?’”). The poet manages both to answer truthfully (“‘… on bogat. Emu legka rabota.’”) and, following her confession of sorcery, to point up the acquisitiveness of the questioner. The poet offers to take the woman's ring and, as evidence of her magical abilities, to free the star caught inside it. The questioner, caught at her own game, retreats from the...
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SOURCE: Ketchian, Sonia. “The Wonder of Nature and Art: Bella Axmadulina's Secret. New Studies in Russian Language and Literature, pp. 185-98. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica Publishers, Inc., 1986.
[In the following essay, Ketchian asserts that the theme of poetic creation is intensified in Tajna: novye stixi. In a slightly altered form this article was republished as chapter 3, “The Key to the Secret,” in Sonia I. Ketchian, The Poetic Craft of Bella Akhmadulina, University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 1993.]
The latest collection of verse by Bella Axmadulina Tajna: novye stixi (Secret: New Poems), typifies the artistic development of this poet, both in terms of presenting her most cohesive collection to date and in terms of unveiling the arena for the second stage of her lyric persona's artistic creation. Observing a degree of continuity with the preceding poetry, the collection features at least fifteen poems from previous collections. Fourteen of the poems are found in the collection Sny o Gruzii (Dreams of Georgia), the most extensive collection of Axmadulina's work. While the opening poem in Secret expounds on the secret, the illumination of which occupies a great deal of the collection, it, like the remaining pieces, bears no such title.
As it stands, the collection is intricately interwoven thematically. Some poems...
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SOURCE: Akhmadulina, Bella, and Valentina Polukhina. “An Interview with Bella Akhmadulina.” In Brodsky's Poetics and Aesthetics, edited by Lev Loseff and Valentina Polukhina, pp. 194-204. London: The Macmillan Press, 1990.
[In the following interview, Akhmadulina discusses the influence of Joseph Brodsky on her work and on Russian poetry as a whole.]
[Polukhina]: Bella Akhatovna, it seems to me that you are one of the few Russian poets who does not suffer from a ‘Brodsky complex’. How do you explain this apparent complex? Do you feel other poets suffer from it, or is it just my own fantasy?1
[Akhmadulina]: Valya, my dear, I don't quite understand what you mean. Do you think that some poets feel themselves somehow shrunken in stature before Brodsky, or are you talking of his influence?
I'm not talking about his influence in any positive way, nor how his stature and greatness is comprehended, but about how these poets all, without exception, somehow want to diminish his stature, to wound Brodsky personally.
Goodness! I don't know of any such poets.
I myself have personally met such poets, both here in the West and among those who have arrived from the Soviet Union.
I don't mix with such poets. Besides, Joseph is perfection.
How does his presence make...
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SOURCE: Akhmadulina, Bella, and Inger Thorup. The Beat Generation and the Russian New Wave, pp. 91-8. Ann Arbor, Mich: Ardis Publishers, 1990.
[In the following interview, Akhmadulina recalls the New Wave movement in Russia and discusses some differences between Russian poets and their American Beat counterparts.]
[Thorup]: Bella Akhatovna, why did the poetry renaissance happen in the late fifties, that is, a little earlier than the rest of the New Wave?
[Akhmadulina]: Well, you know, such a phenomenon in the arts always takes place as a certain period is drawing to a close. They are tied together, and so, at that time, after Stalin's death, such events took place. There was such an upheaval in society that, of course, it was reflected in literature. And, then, if we chose to call this a “renaissance”—which is a matter of convention—we must never forget that our classics, our holy poets, Akhmatova, Pasternak, were alive and working at the time, continuing their majestic movement. But all the same, those poets were better than the rest of us, no doubt. Pasternak and Akhmatova were better than anybody writing today … Nevertheless, a lot of very bright minds appeared during those years. In fact, it was easy to get known then, as far as I remember. I think it is much more difficult for a young poet today. Let me simply tell you how I experienced those years. I for...
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SOURCE: Bayley, John. Review of The Garden: New and Selected Poetry and Prose, by Bella Akhmadulina. London Review of Books 13, no. 2 (January 1991): 12.
[In the following review, Bayley briefly discusses Akhmadulina’s poems from The Garden: New and Selected Poetry and Prose and comments on the Russian poets who influenced her.]
Bella Akhmadulina, a still comparatively young Soviet poet, identifies strongly with Akhmatova's outlook and personality [in The Garden: New and Selected Poetry and Prose]. ‘The Photograph’ and ‘Anna Akhmatova’ celebrate this slightly ambiguous hero-worship. ‘Anna Akhmatova’ is in six-line stanzas carefully rhymed. Notwithstanding this sort of continuity, there seems an essential lack of strong involuntary character in this poetry, as in that of Evtushenko, to whom Akhmadulina was once married. She has remarked that she could hardly remember their marriage, a failure of memory which would not have commended itself to Akhmatova, for whom the poet was the most important guardian of the past—his own and his country's. But although she said gracious things about them, Akhmatova seems to have despised the new generation of poets, of whom Evtushenko and Vosnesensky were the best-known representatives. She found them vulgar and superficial, as the old so often find the young today.
In the case of Akhmadulina such a stricture would...
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SOURCE: Ketchian, Sonia. Introduction to The Poetic Craft of Bella Akhmadulina, pp. 1-7. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Ketchian presents an overview of Akhmadulina’s background and of the influences on her poetry.]
The poetry of earth is ceasing never.
Ot strannоj liriкi, gdi кazdyj sag—siкrit.
Bella Akhmadulina is Russia's premier contemporary woman poet. In her poetry the Russian language attains a sophisticated symbiosis of meaning, dazzling imagery, rhythm, and sound in articulation that conveys to advantage the artist's unique evolution and service to Russian letters.1 This new peak for the Russian poetic language, reached in her collection The Secret (Taina, 1983)2 and continued in the collection The Garden (Sad, 1987),3 firmly places her in the great pantheon of classic Russian poets.
Izabella Akhatovna Akhmadulina was born on 10 April 1937, in Moscow to a Tartar father and a mother of Russian-Italian ancestry. An only child, she was raised by a doting maternal grandmother. She spent the war years in evacuation in the Urals. Upon graduating from high school in Moscow in 1954, Akhmadulina worked for the newspaper Metrostroevets. Her first poem was...
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SOURCE: Ketchian, Sonia. “The Moon as Medium for Art.” In The Poetic Craft of Bella Akhmadulina, pp. 69-98. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Ketchian explores Akhmadulina’s use of the moon as a theme in her poetry.]
I waited Pen in hand For the Muse To visit me …
Meanwhile I penned These words To kill time!
Whereupon the Muse Arrived and said: “I see you did not Need me after all …”
Anyone who reads or writes on the moon in literature may well wonder whether there is anything left to be said on this pervasive topic, that is, until becoming familiar with Bella Akhmadulina's collection The Secret.1 A preview of some crucial moments in the treatment of the moon in literature will serve toward appreciating the innovation introduced by this poet. “It all began with the moon,” as Akhmadulina so aptly puts it; that is, her inclination toward verse concerning the particular subjects in this collection, and her inspiration for it, which she appears to have exhausted for the time being.
Following an overview of the moon in literature, the focus of this chapter will be the moon's role and symbolism in Akhmadulina's untold “secret” as well as its function in advancing the secret from another aspect....
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SOURCE: Rydel, Christine. “Bella Akhmadulina's Literary Odyssey.” In Critical Essays on the Prose and Poetry of Modern Slavic Women, edited by Nina A. Efimov, Christine D. Tomei, and Richard L. Chapple, pp. 195-215. Lampeter, Wales: Edwin Mellen Press, 1998.
[In the following essay, Rydel explores Akhmadulina’s childhood and sense of place as inspiration for her poetry.]
In the first poem of her 1983 collection Tajna (The Secret), Bella Axmadulina informs her readers that she “has a secret of wondrous blooming” (“U miny tajna cudnоgо цvitinsy”) and will reveal it to them only when the lilies-of-the-valley appear.1 She goes on to tease her readers by never wholly explaining what her secret is; instead, all through the collection she hints that its meaning lies in nature, especially flowers. One cannot blame the poet for her reticence; after all, she has been pursuing the secret since her youth. Somewhere in her distant pre-war Moscow childhood, Axmadulina began not only to notice nature, but also to find the correct words to express her wonder at its beauty and its mysteries. As she visited places all over the former Soviet Union, she continued to delve deeper into nature's miracles and to develop her ability to give voice to her discoveries in poetry.
Bella Axmadulina, a natural child of Russia and adopted daughter of Georgia, sings the praises...
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SOURCE: Eshelman, Raoul. “Axmadulina and the Female Minimal Self in Early Russian Postmodernism.” Die Welt Der Slaven, 44, no. 2 (1999): 307-28.
[In the following essay, Eshelman explores how Akhmadulina’s postmodern sense of self grew out of Axmatova’s poetry.]
1. THE MINIMAL SELF
The minimal self as I am using it here refers to a literary persona who seems to be of limited mental capacity or competence. The appearance of such a self is normally accompanied by some sort of irony, since we must assume that there is a difference between the limited self presented in the text and the persona of the real author. In contrast to narrative prose, where mentally limited characters or narrators are common, stylizations of limited consciousness in lyric poetry are rare. This is because the minimal self can appear only when the sovereign authority traditionally ascribed to the lyrical persona is undermined in some obvious way. There seem to be two traditional approaches to doing this. In the first, the persona directly brings up the theme of its own incompetence. Usually it does this by complaining that it can't write, which it of course then goes ahead and does anyway. Batjuškov, for example, uses this device in his “Vospominanija” (1989, 1:173 ): “Я cuvstvuy, mоj dar v pоezii pоgas, / I muza plaminniк nibisnyj pоtusila. […]” The remaining hundred or so...
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Akhmadulina, Bella, and Anatoli Ivanushkin. “Have the Poets Yielded Their Former Positions?” Soviet Literature 6, no. 483 (1988): 138-41.
Akhmadulina discusses the past and present state of Russian poetry.
Carlise, Olga. “Bella Akjatovna Akjmadulina.” In Poets on Street Corners: Portraits of Fifteen Russian Poets, pp. 366-73. New York: Random House, 1968.
Offers an anecdotal account of an evening with Akhmadulina, a brief biography, and an assessment of her popularity.
Carruth, Hayden. Review of Fever and Other New Poems, by Bella Akhmadulina, translated by Geoffrey Dutton and Igor Mezhakoff-Koriakin. Hudson Review 23, no. 1 (spring 1970): 188-89.
Briefly discusses Fever and Other New Poems, concluding that the translation is flawed.
Gregg, Richard. “Fever and Other New Poems.” Russian Review 31, no. 1 (January 1972): 88-89.
Positive review of Fever and Other New Poems. Discusses the femininity and subjectivity of the poems.
Ketchian, Sonia I. “Bella Akhmadulina's Dialogue with Pushkin: My Genealogy.” Pushkin Review/Pushkinskii Yestnik 1 (October 1998): 15-33.
Compares and contrasts the poetry of Akhmadulina and Pushkin, exploring their sense of...
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