Saturday, 31 December 2022

Year-end: poems in Bad Lilies, and Best UK Poetry Blogs of 2022

2022 has drawn to a close and I don't really have a list of accomplishments to offer, but I do have a couple of highlights in poetry-world.
In February, the wonderful poetry journal Bad Lilies published my two poems 'Brilliant cut' and 'Yustas'. They appeared in the journal's sixth issue, entitled 'Private Universe', alongside a host of other great poets and poems. 
A few years ago I first discovered the work of Julian Semenov (or Yulian Semyonov). He was a Russian and Soviet thriller writer who is little known in Western countries but whose impact in Slavic countries, and regions formerly in the USSR and its sphere of influence, was profound. Most famously, Semenov wrote a book called Seventeen Moments of Spring, which was published in the late 1960s and a few years later was adapted into a television series of the same name, which is probably the most famous Soviet TV show ever made. This spy show is really only known in Western countries to those who are deeply interested in world spy films, or in Soviet or Russian culture. My own interest came mainly from a curiosity about what the USSR was doing with espionage fiction and film in the early 1970s, but watching Seventeen Moments of Spring also led in a very direct line to my starting to learn Russian in 2020. 

These two poems, specifically inspired by Semenov's works, were published in late February. Less than a week later, Russia attacked Ukraine and beyond the fact that the news was shocking and overwhelming, it didn't feel like an ideal time to be blogging about Russian pop culture (although "Soviet" is more accurate here than "Russian", for what it's worth) - hence the very long delay. Strangely, though, Seventeen Moments of Spring and Semenov's books can genuinely be said to have slipped the considerable constraints of their origins. Today they are still relevant (even to the current moment), open to a wide variety of interpretations, and of course entertaining. The Seventeen Moments series was specifically intended as propaganda at the time of its release, part of a campaign to improve the KGB's image. But the show's surprising subtlety allowed many viewers to interpret it as a comment on the Soviet Union itself and the pressures of working inside, and against, a powerful oppressive system which keeps everyone under constant surveillance. Stirlitz, the double-agent hero, has inspired an endless stream of ironic jokes which continue to be instantly recognisable in countries formerly in the Soviet sphere of influence. And since February, I have often seen clips and quotes from the show online used as criticism of the Russian government's actions.

Seventeen Moments was directed by Tatyana Lioznova (a Jewish woman), featured remarkable music by Tariverdiev (of Armenian descent) and performances by many wonderful Soviet actors, and still holds up as a work of art, which is how I experience it. It is a personal work for me in a way which is difficult to explain, but I watched it a lot during the Covid lockdowns and I think it will always stay with me as a portrait of loneliness and trying to do the right thing in isolation. (I am also permanently enthralled by the beautiful, wistful Vyacheslav Tikhonov, who played Stirlitz.) 'Yustas' is specifically based on the TV show, while 'Brilliant cut' evokes a scene from another novel in Semenov's series of books about Stirlitz. 

A nice year-end highlight this month was the re-appearance of my blog on Matthew Stewart's Best UK Poetry Blogs of 2022 list, in great company - this time as one of the irregular bloggers. It was very kind of Matthew to include my blog at all given that I hardly posted this year. I hope that next year will be an improvement - in many, many ways. 


  1. Good to read, Clarissa - keep on writing! T x

  2. I always enjoy reading your posts, especially when you cover subjects I know little about - like this one! Please do write more in 2023. Happy New Year!