Alexei Purin is a poet, essayist and literary critic. He has headed the poetry section of the leading St. Petersburg literary review Zvezda (‘The Star’) since 1989. Since 1995 he has edited Urbi, a bimonthly literary almanac.
In the 1970s Purin joined the circle of poets around Alexandr Kushner, who pitted themselves against state-imposed ‘socialist’ literature, but equally against the underground poetry of the day. For Purin and his circle the core concepts of literary art were the ‘everyday word’ of Innokentii Annenski (1856-1909), who inspired the Acmeists, a group of early-20th-century poets reacting against the vagueness and affectations of Symbolism, and Mandelshtam’s ‘nostalgia for a world culture’.
Purin’s first book of poems contains the much-discussed cycle ‘Eurasia’ (1985), which deals with his years of military service in Karelia on the Finnish border. ‘Never before has the Red Army been written about in this manner,’ said the reviewer of Novii Mir (‘New World’). The combination of earthliness and literary condensation in Eurasia became Purin’s trademark. Constellation Pisces (1996) and Theognedes’ Apocrypha (1996), a collection of 168 pseudo-classical octaves described as ‘a Lolita in verse’, are an ode to eroticism, in Purin’s vision a poignant, tragically sublimated phenomenon. In 1998 he published Arcaica, a collection of his poems written between 1973 and 1988, which won several literary prizes. Recollections of Euterpe (1996), a collection of essays on 20th-century Russian poetry, also won an award. Purin has also distinguished himself as a poetry translator, with Russian versions of Rilke’s Sonnets for Orpheus and Nijhoff’s Awater to his name.
Selections from Purin’s poetry have appeared in English, Italian, Polish and Dutch translation.
[Alexei Purin took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2001. This text was written on that occasion.]