In the years before the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Stray Dog cabaret in St. Petersburg was the haunt of poets, artists, and musicians, a place to meet, drink, read, brawl, celebrate, and stage performances of all kinds. It has since become a symbol of the extraordinary literary ferment of that time. It was then that Alexander Blok composed his apocalyptic sequence “Twelve”; that the futurists Velimir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky exploded language into bold new forms; that the lapidary lyrics of Osip Mandelstam and plangent love poems of Anna Akhmatova saw the light; that the electrifying Marina Tsvetaeva stunned and dazzled everyone. Boris Pasternak was also of this company, putting together his great youthful hymn to nature, My Sister, Life.
It was a transforming moment—not just for Russian but for world poetry—and a short-lived one. Within little more than a decade, revolution and terror were to disperse, silence, and destroy almost all the poets of the Stray Dog cabaret.
On New Year’s Day, 1912, a cabaret with the cock-a-snook named Stray Dog opened in St. Petersburg, Russia, and became the place where the avant-garde met, debated, performed, and otherwise presented itself to itself. Habitues included the greatest concentration of major poets in Russian history, all born between 1800 and 1895…This book conjures their group’s initial passion, humor, and revolutionary zeal.
For Paul Schmidt, the most versatile American translator of his generation, expression became literature insofar as it was dramatic—hence his translations and performances in and of Racine and Chekhov, Euripides and Marivaux, among others. For those of us who constituted his disparate audience, what a cherished surprise and inevitable reward is this unlooked-for trove of these vivid imperious poems, so helpfully edited and annotated by Professor Catherine Ciepiela and “placed” in Paul’s biography by his friend Honor Moore: texts by eight men and women who made of their own performances a modern cultural monument, if that is not too marmoreal a description of these intense and subversive scripts, surely an appropriate term for Paul’s pivotal versions of these exorbitant poets.
— Richard Howard