Russian Verse Libre: Three Poems by Ilya Semenenko-Basin


About the Author


Ilya Semenenko-Basin was born in Moscow in 1966. He graduated from Moscow State University and holds a Ph.D. in history and religious studies. He is currently a professor at the Center for Religious Studies at the University of Humanities and a prominent scholar in the field of the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. He began writing poetry very early in his youth, but his first book of poetry, By the Streams of Silver, was published only in 2012. It was shortlisted for the Russian Gulliver’s Poetry Prize in 2014.

In attempting to define the modern poetic process in Russia, it is evident that traditional forms and methods of versification have increasingly given way to more innovative forms that operate in a wide range of linguistic registers, following the Western pattern of free verse. Using the ability of free verse, new generations of Russian poets have created brilliant poetic works in which reality and fantasy come together, and meanings and symbols evolve into more complex forms outside of formal patterns. Literary critics continue to debate the nature of this genre and the boundary between free verse and short prose – free verse, with its lack of formal structure and shifting rhythmic effects, remains a controversial subject. Recent developments, however, show that this genre is flourishing and gradually becoming one of the leading trends in contemporary Russian poetry. It seems to correspond to the inner logic of the development of poetic language, as well as to the ability to reproduce what the American poet-imagist Amy Lowell called “the power of variation” in the 1920s.

We will continue to introduce readers to the poetry of contemporary Russian poets. Among them are remarkable poems by Ilya Semenenko-Basin, a poet writing in the genre of verse libre.

* * *

“Torcido, desigual, blando y sonoro …”

It’s not the poetry that is impossible – but the creek
a disorderly silence

of a marshy
and nameless region near Moscow
struggling after the bulldozer’s assault,
by the highway, such overwhelming air – from above
and eroded by moisture – from the side
………………..and below,
in velvet silence
still confidently blooming,
the four-sided rotten root
in front of the watching eyes of nettles from the depths of the pit
in the tranquil


* * *


Why do I want your love so much?
So you can sit in the train and read,
Horace for example, translated into English,
simple. And I’d bring you food.
Or we would ponder that love means nothing to us.
What a topic for us lovers,
slowly walking around Sivtsev Vrazhek street.
Let’s try being still,
just get lost in each other’s eyes while our hands
feel the warmth on our cheeks.
Your love to discover
my ability to forget.
And there are so many other reasons.
We could pick them out and put them back together
before they lose shape, bumps, grooves –
from the wind.

* * *

Summer variation

Once by noon I had already come
Returning at sunset –
to the virgin-river to listen to the talking,
the splash of speech, the babbling of the brook.
But you don’t hear me.
Not murmuring, but talking to yourself – about yourself,
and within yourself:
that being a maiden is like trying to rest in a fast-moving stream.
To love someone is incomprehensible,
and cannot be learnt.
There is silence at noon,
In the darkness there is indistinct chatter,
barely audible sounds
in a shadowy valley.

Copyrights to the original works are owned by Ilya Semenenko-Basin. Translated by Elena Dimov