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Lipkin, Semen Izrailevich

(1911–2003), poet, translator, and fiction writer. Semen Lipkin was born and raised in Odessa, where his first poetic experiments attracted the attention of Eduard Bagritskii, the major romantic revolutionary poet who also lived in that city. Lipkin’s childhood recollections appear in his vibrant autobiographical sketches, Zapiski zhiltsa (Notes of an Inhabitant; 1992). By 1932, Lipkin’s poetry was no longer publishable and he became a translator, having mastered Farsi on his own. He served at the front during World War II, an experience he recounts in his narrative poem “Tekhnik-intendant” (Quartermaster; 1963, published in 1981).


Lipkin became one of the finest translators of classic Eastern poets, including Rudaki, Firdawsi, and Jami. Among his translations are national epics: the Kirgiz Manas (1941), the Kabardian Narty (1951), the Butyr Geser (1968), and the Indian Mahabharata (1969). Lipkin also published two volumes of original verse: Ochevidets (Witness; 1967), and Tetrad’ bytiia (Notebook of Being; 1977). More significant, however, are the poems he wrote for private circulation, which he shared only with close friends. Notable in these “underground” works are the poem “Bogoroditsa” (Virgin Mary; 1956), a Gulag cycle (1960), and many poems on Jewish themes. His favorite form, the narrative poem, was the basis for his long cycle called “Vozhd’ i plemia” (Leader and Tribe; begun in 1956), on the crimes of the Stalinist regime.


In 1979, Lipkin included five long selections in the uncensored Metropol’ (Metropolis) anthology, a compilation issued by the American publishing house Ardis. One of these, “Fantastika” (Unimaginable), is an impressionistic description of the murder of Odessa Jews by the Nazis. Another poem, “Khaim” (Ḥayim), is a ballad about a Siberian river carrying the name of an unknown Jew. When the editors of Metropol’ were blacklisted, Lipkin, along with the well-known poet Inna Lisnianskaia, who was his wife, resigned from the Writers Union and began to publish actively in the West. At the end of his life, he was able to see all of his works published in his native country.

Suggested Reading

Alim Keshokov, “Vtoraia zhizn’ poezii,” Novyi mir 5 (1957); Yurii Kublanovskii, “Poeticheskaia Evrazia Semena Lipkina,” Novyi mir 7 (2000); Semen Lipkin, Volia (Ann Arbor, 1981); Semen Lipkin, Sem’ desiatiletii: Stikhotvoreniia, poemy (Moscow, 2000); Mark Popovskii, “Prorok i ochevidets,” Novyi amerikanets 3–9 (October 1981).

Author

Translation

Translated from Russian by Alice Nakhimovsky