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Poetry and Soviet literary politics in the early 1930s: Mandelstam’s Verses on Russian Poetry (1932)

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The paper will consider Mandelstam’s 1932 cycle of three poems as an act of engagement with Soviet critical debates on poetry and ideology. Two assumptions have characterized discussion of Mandelstam’s position at the end of NEP . The first is that with the rise of Proletarian poetry he must have found himself no longer relevant. The second is that in response to that ostracism his work became more self-referential and remote from contemporary issues. In that respect, and partly as a consequence, the Verses on Russian Poetry have been read as examples of Mandelstam at his most sub-textual and hermetic and even backward-looking, as poems that put a verbal screen between him and contemporary culture. This paper questions those assumptions and argues for attempts to read Mandelstam within the horizon of expectation defined by literary politics of his time.

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