Looking for a collection of poetry is like trying to figure out what you’re hungry for. When I visited Sundance Books to kick off my reading list for the new year, I realized I wanted to gorge myself on spicy verse—lines with sharp wit and bold sentiment.
I had to look no further than the front cover of Vera Pavlova’s book to feel that my appetite would be satisfied. Written by one of Russia’s bestselling poets and translated by Steven Seymour, If There Is Something to Desire is a compilation of one hundred poems that probe the human heart. The following piece, inscribed on the cover, draws us into the cyclical journey from desire to regret, and back again:
If there is something to desire,
there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret,
there will be something to recall.
If there is something to recall,
there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret,
there was nothing to desire.
Pavlova puts a name to our shared experiences, without imposing specifics. The speaker of this poem can easily be you or me. As such, the lure of Pavlova’s poetry comes from the relationship she is able to foster between reader and poem. Instead of looking in on the world of the speaker, you become the narrator of the moments that Pavlova unlocks. Whether she details a single moment of contact, or comments on the impractical brevity of the word “yes” in poem 17, the poet gives us just enough detail to trigger memory from personal experience. As much as these lines have to impart, they challenge us to insert ourselves and engage in a relationship of give-and-take.
This collection is simultaneously intimate and universal as it explores the connotations of love, as in poem 41:
If only I knew from what tongue
your I love you has been translated,
if I could find the original,
consult the dictionary
to be sure the rendition is exact:
the translator is not at fault!
Pavlova gives us access to an open journal. These candid poems concern themselves with what goes on internally, as much as they observe what happens on the outside. Reading each piece is as satisfying as having an honest talk. In a collection where we can readily sympathize with the speaker, the dialogue between reader and poem is distinctly human. If There Is Something to Desire is a conversation accented by an occasional sigh, burdened by human error, and uplifted by moments when we realize that our flawed nature is best regarded by laughter. –Joanne Mallari