Russian and Eastern European poetry: a survey

Course Dates: 23/09/21 - 11/11/21
Time: 12:30 - 14:30
Location: Online
A guided tour of the personalities and achievements of the extraordinary constellation of poets that emerged during the Soviet century and its aftermath, including Akhmatova, Pasternak, Mayakovsky and their contemporaries, Milosz, Szymborska, Herbert and Anna Swir (Poland), Popa (Serbia), Holub (Czech Republic), Sorescu, Mircea Ivanescu and Nina Cassian (Romania), and others.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £159.00 Senior fee £127.00 Concession £97.00

This course has now started

Course Code: HLT08

Started Thu, day, 23 Sep - 11 Nov '21

Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

This online literature course focuses first and foremost on a series of detailed encounters with the words on the page, poem by poem, but with an awareness that each voice we will be attending to derives its impetus, energy and meaning from the critical period in each nation’s history to which it bears witness. As Osip Mandelstam remarked, “I do not know how it is elsewhere, but here, in this country, poetry is a healing, life-giving thing, and people have not lost the gift of being able to drink of its inner strength”.

Considerations of geography, politics and personal circumstance (the fact that, for instance, so many of these poets belonged to tightly-knit urban intelligentsias targeted by state power) are of course unavoidable.The works themselves, however, can be said to stand apart as literary entities displaying a dazzling array of poetic methods and styles, from the Mozartean playfulness of Szymborska to the brawling ‘street’ persona of Mayakovsky, to the varieties of lyrical restraint, classical or free verse, employed by Akhmatova, Herbert or Rozewicz. Our discussions, like the translations we’ll be working with, will aim to do justice to each poem’s technical mastery and singularity, as well as its indebtedness to a wider literary culture and tradition.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

The poems themselves will dictate our topics, but inevitably, the question of how far creative individuality can survive in a punitive, collectivising environment – what forms it can take – will arise. We will look back to some of the great, 19th century precursors whose example, both moral and artistic, informs so much of the work, and stance, of the generations that followed: Pushkin, Mickiewicz, Eminescu. Our main concern will be with representative work by the leading figures – most acclaimed, most audacious – in each country’s modern history, but also examples of some lesser known voices deserving of our attention. Where a major poet evolves dramatically over the course of a lifetime, like early-to-late Akhmatova, or early-to-late Swirszczynska, we will trace that pattern accordingly.

Lastly, we will look at key poems from the post-Soviet, post-bloc period: what has happened to the themes, attitudes and technical innovations of the former era, with its stark divide between praise and resistance, public and private? What kinds of “inner strength” do the latest crop of poets offer their newly ‘liberated’ societies, and offer us?

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Identify some defining traits of a range of outstanding Russian and Eastern European poets
• Discuss the poems studied with a degree of literary sophistication
• Connect them to key developments, where relevant, in the different countries during the 20th century
• Turn with confidence to the exploration of other works by the same poets, and further poets from a similar background.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

No previous knowledge of the particular subject area is required. Anyone who enjoys close reading and is willing to take part in discussion is welcome.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

There will be a variety of teaching methods, including short lecture and power point presentation, video and audio clips, small group work and plenary feedback and discussion. Work outside class will consist of reading poems selected and circulated prior to each session by the tutor, which you are advised to download or print out for personal reference. Some short background articles, essays or extracts will also be circulated.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

There are no set texts to buy. All the relevant digital materials and links will be sent by the tutor. However, the following titles are recommended for those looking for an excellent introduction to the broader literary phenomena:
The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, eds. Chandler, Dralyuk and Mashinski (Penguin Classics, 2015), and Contemporary East European Poetry: An Anthology ed. Emery George (Oxford University Press expanded edition, 1994).

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Look up other poetry courses under History, Culture and Writing/literature at

Stephen Winfield

Stephen Winfield has lectured in English for over thirty years. He taught Language and Literature at Richmond upon Thames College in Twickenham from 1989 to 2017, and was Coordinator of the International Baccalaureate there from 2004 to 2016. He has also lectured in English Literature at the University of Katowice in Poland and taught Business English in Paris. He has taught a range of EFL courses at Richmond College, for the Bell School of Languages, the Sinoscope Project at Kings College London and the BBC Summer School. He has taught classes in English, American and International Literature at City Lit since 2014.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.