Shards – Brief Poems by Vera Pavlova

 Vera Pavlova was born in Moscow in 1963. She studied at the Schnittke Academy of Music, sang in a church choir, majored in the history of music, and three years later launched her literary career with revealing poems that confronted many readers with repressed memories, concealed experiences and latent longings. Her esteemed career began in the most unlikely of places: a maternity ward. My first poem was a note I had written to send home from the maternity ward. I was twenty at the time, and had just given birth to Natasha, my first daughter. That was the kind of a happy experience I had never known before or after. The happiness was so unbearable that for the first time in my life I wrote a poem. I have been writing since, and I resort to writing whenever I feel unbearably happy or unbearably miserable. And since life provides me with experiences of both kinds, and with plenty of them, I have been writing for the past twenty-six years practically without a pause. I cannot afford staying away from writing. It could be called an addiction, but I prefer to describe it as my form of metabolism. 

Her poems are written in rhyming Russian, contain an intimate tone and were translated into English by her late husband and translator, Steven Seymour. Due to the nature of Russian grammatical endings, many words rhyme with each other and allow poets wide avenues for poetic expression. This freedom in word choice and the richness of the Russian language enables Pavlova to explore her many topics with the depth and breadth she does. Her works have been published in The New York Times and The New Yorker and have been plastered in the New York City and Los Angeles public transportation systems. (See image right.) Her poetry has been published in twenty languages in the span of twenty years.





The glass is shattered, but what do the splinters reflect? For some reason this line of dialogue from Ingmar Bergman’s film, The Hour of the Wolf, comes to mind when I read the poems of Vera Pavlova. It is not that they partake of an isolated Nordic noir; they are more Russian, more cosmopolitan and more  emotionally variegated. They are more refractive than reflective; more shards than splinters. And yet, as in Bergman’s film, there is the sense of an artist confronting a shattered world view, shattered into shards. (Most of the poems consist of less than 10 lines and many consist of considerably less.) W. B. Yeats asked his beloved to Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. Vera Pavlova treads softly, but on shards, not on dreams; and often “barefoot” (as in the poem below.) Her language, at least as it is reflected in Steven Seymour’s translations, is “naked” in the Yeatsian sense. She has often been called an “erotic” poet, but that is too limited a designation. Even the label “feminist” would be a misapplication. Asked to pronounce on “women’s questions”, she  had this to say in an interview with Gleb ShulpiakovOn this subject I have something ready, a poem: “M F. / Mortally sick – Fervently alive. / Delete where necessary”. In art the basic distinction is not between male and female, but between dead and alive. These brief poems may be shards; but they are fervently alive



Brief Poems by Vera Pavlova

Разбила твоё сердце
Теперь хожу по осколкам

I broke your heart.
Now barefoot I tread
on shards.


зимой – животное
весной – растение
летом – насекомое
осенью – птица
всё остальное время я женщина

A beast in winter,
a plant in spring,
an insect in summer,
a bird in autumn.
The rest of the time I am a woman.


после любви:
– Смотри –
весь потолок
в звёздах!
– И на одной,
может быть,
есть жизнь . . .

after love:
the ceiling is
all covered with stars!”
“And maybe
on one of them
there is life . . .”


Иду по канату.
Для равновесья –
двое детей на руках.

I walk the tightrope.
A kid on each arm
for balance.


За пианино, к целому свету спиной.
За пианино, как за высокой стеной.
За пианино, в него уходя, как в забой.
Как в запой. Никого не беря с собой.

At the piano: my back to the world.
At the piano: behind a high wall.
At the piano: like going down into a mine,
or on a drinking binge, taking along no one.


увековечь –
вылепи меня из снега,
голой тёплою ладонью
всю меня отполируй . . .

Eternalise me just a bit:
take some snow and sculpt me in it,
with your warm and bare palm
polish me until I shine . . .


Записывая стихи,
порезала бумагой ладонь.
Царапина продолжила линию жизни
примерно на четверть.

Writing down verses, I got
a paper-cut on my palm.
The cut extended my life line
by nearly one fourth.


И увидел Бог,
что это хорошо.
И увидел Адам,
что это отлично.
И увидела Ева,
что это

And God saw
it was good
And Adam saw
it was excellent
And Eve saw
it was passable


Муза вдохновляет, когда приходит.
Жена вдохновляет, когда уходит.
Любовница вдохновляет, когда не приходит.
Хочешь, я проделаю все это одновременно?

A muse inspires when she arrives.
A wife inspires when she departs.
A mistress, when she doesn’t show up.
Would you like me to do all of that at one and the same time?


I have brushed my teeth.
This day and I are even.


Thought’s surface: word.
Word’s surface: gesture.
Gesture’s surface: skin.
Skin’s surface: shiver.


You are, my dear,
a wall of stone:
to sing or howl
to bash my head on.


The matted lashes sprinkled
with pollen from Eden’s tree.
Your face: the sun.
Mine: a sunflower.


In a nook I write,
you would say crochet
a fuzzy mitten
for a child to be born.


Remember me the way I am
this very instant: brusque and absent,
with words that beat against the cheek
like wings of moths caught in a curtain.




In front of a mirror
was learning to say no.
No. No. No.
The reflection was saying:


I sing, and my legs ache.
I write, and my jaws ache.
Make love, and my shoulders ache.
When I think, my neck aches.


and falling
from such
for so
I will have
enough time
to learn



Why is the word yes so brief?
It should be
the longest,
the hardest,
so that you could not decide in an instant to say it,
so that upon reflection you could stop
in the middle of saying it.


In one pan is joy.
In the other, sorrow.
Sorrow is heavier.
Therefore joy
Rises higher.


Self-Portrait in Profile

the one
who wakes up
on your


A poem is a voice-mail:
the poet has stepped out, most likely
will not be back. Please leave a message
after you hear a gunshot.


The voice. The handwriting. The gait.
Maybe the smell of my hair.
That’s all. Go ahead,
resurrect me.


All poems © Vera Pavlova.

All translations by Steven Seymour.




Vera Pavlova: a detailed personal site with poems, interviews, biographical details and links.

Russian Poetry in English: a dual language selection of the poems of Vera Pavlova.

32 poems on the Poetry International site.

8 poems on the Poetry Foundation site.

Some translations by Michael R. Burch on the HyperTexts site.

Scattered thoughts about poetry from a notebook.

Vera Pavlova page on the Poets Online Blog.

Google Books has 23 poems in the INTERSECTING SENSES book  and further poems in the If There is Something to Desire: One Hundred Poems book.



All poems © Vera Pavlova.

All translations by Steven Seymour.


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