Jan Paul Hinrichs
dinsdag 10 juni 2014
During the academic year 1986-1987 I gave a course on Russian émigré literature at Leiden University. Most of the students had not read any of the work by the authors who were then discussed; even their names and the titles of their work were unfamiliar. In the course of that same academic year the position of Russian émigré literature changed dramatically. As a result of the liberalization of the cultural climate in the Soviet Union, the work of many émigré authors—strictly banned until 1986—could now for the first time be (legally) printed and distributed, attracting attention on a scale hitherto thought impossible. Understandably, the reading public in the emigration had necessarily always been very limited.
What seemed unthinkable only a few years ago has by now become almost standard procedure and has gained such a dazzling pace that it has become difficult for us in the West to keep up with. Soviet literary journals now devote much of their space to reprinting the work of émigré authors and publications in book form—with work of, among others, Remizov, Chodasevič, Georgi Ivanov, Aldanov, and Nabokov, —have also seen the light. But in spite of all this, the work of many émigré writers is still not available to the public, neither in Soviet nor in Western editions. A n d among this group are truly important authors.
In 1987 Petra Couvée, the editor of the present book, wrote her Master’s thesis on the poet Anna Prismanova (1892-1960), wife of the poet Aleksandr Ginger (1897-1965). Her research work brought her into contact with Anna Prismanova's son, Basile Ginger, who still lives in Paris. Thanks also to information provided by Mr Ginger during conversations and in letters, she was able to reconstruct for the first time a reliable biographical picture of Anna Prismanova. Apart from being an attempt at reconstructing the life of Anna Prismanova, Petra Couvée’s thesis also tried to get to the heart of Prismanova's hermetic poetry.
The present text edition of Prismanova’s work has grown out of this thesis. It brings together all of Prismanova’s known work: the poems from the four collections published during Prismanova’s lifetime as well as uncollected poems from a number of periodicals and a short story. Also included are two short stories which were published in French under the name Anne Ginger. The text is preceded by an introduction, in which practically all secondary literature on Prismanova has been incorporated.
To date no substantial publication of Prismanova’s work, or about Prismanova, has come my way, neither from the Soviet Union nor from the West. Hence the necessity of this edition, which for the first time makes available the complete oeuvre of a little known but very original poet. The need is even more evident when one realizes that the four collections of poetry, published over the years 1937-1960, have for a long time been out of print and in second-hand shops too they are almost impossible to find. That Anna Prismanova is not well-known as a poet has its cause not only in the poor availability of her work—only few libraries have all four Prismanova’s collections of verse—but is also due to the fact that during her life she occupied an isolated position in the Russian literary monde of Paris, which caused very few people to refer to her. This is true both for works of literary criticism and for memoirs. Prismanova completely missed the spectacular life of a Marina Cvetaeva, which certainly contributed to her enormous posthumous fame, while in a sense Cvetaeva stood just as isolated in the Parisian literary world.
Prismanova’s poetry, with its strong voice and sometimes grotesque imagery which is not always easily grasped, is far removed from the simple, subdued and pessimistic tone of the poets belonging to the “Parisian Note”, such as G. Adamovič, A. Štejger, and L. Červinskaja. Prismanova also worked independently from great Parisian poets such as V. Chodasevič, and G. Ivanov. She was virtually immune to outside influences. Rejecting compromise, either with herself or her readers, she opened up her own poetic universe, which makes her one of the most interesting poets in the emigration.
Jurij Ivask has given a striking account of the position of Anna Prismanova and her husband Aleksandr Ginger:
Русский Монпарнас в Париже относился к Александру Гингеру и Анне Присмановой благодушно, но все же их не принимал всерьез. Но в их па тетике, смешанной с комизмом, во всех их нелепицах куда больше поэзии, чем во многих очень „средних”, дюжинных стихах поэтов, писавших не плохо, но очень уж аккуратно-меланхолично, как того требовала Парижская нота.
“Pochvala Rossijskoj Poezii”, Novyj Žurnal 162 (1986), 116.
When Prismanova died in 1960 literary émigré life, even in Paris, had virtually bled to death. Western students of Slavic literature showed little interest, while in the Soviet Union the emigrants were simply ignored. In those days even the most brilliant poet wrote for a handful of acquaintances only. With regard to this Basile Ginger wrote on December 1989, in a letter to the editor of the present collection: “Cependant, j’ai entendu un jour ma mère dire, dans ses dernières années, que ça ne l’interessait plus d’écrire en russe à Paris pour un petit cercle et qu’elle aimerait bien être lue en Russie.”
Over the years this atmosphere of emptiness and indifference has vanished to be replaced with a more receptive climate which permits a serious reception of the work of Anna Prismanova. I hope this edition will make its contribution, toward a better availability and appreciation of Prismanova’s oeuvre, both in and outside the Soviet Union.
Leiden, March 1990
Jan Paul Hinrichs
Jan Paul Hinrichs
| Eerder gepubliceerd in Anna Prismanova, Собрание сочинений, ed. Petra Couvée (The Hague: Leuxenhoff Publishing, 1990), pp. vii-ix