The project ‘Reconfiguring the Canon of Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry, 1991-2008’ brought together researchers with expertise in Russian literary studies to explore how the canon of the last century’s poetry changed in Russia from the time the Soviet Union ceased to exist until the end of President Putin’s second term in office. To gain a sense of the composition of the poetry canon, we considered which poets, and which works featured most frequently in educational curricula and in textbooks, as well as in anthologies and literary histories.

What is clear is that the canon has become far broader than it was at any stage in the Soviet period, and has incorporated poets who were banned in the USSR, while also providing a far wider selection of work by poets who were officially recognised, but who were only able to see part of their output brought to public attention. In the period under investigation, there was, however, no clear sign that a broad consensus had been arrived at about the composition of the canon, though we did find a marked tendency to move back from more radical revisions of the canon in the 1990s to a more traditional, conservative version in more recent times.

The work of the project was led by scholars in Exeter (Katharine Hodgson) and Edinburgh (Alexandra Smith), together with the project Research Fellow (Joanne Shelton). We collaborated with other researchers from several UK universities, as well as from the USA and Russia, and presented our work at international conferences. Aspects of the project’s activities were addressed to a wider audience: we produced a special issue of the Russian international cultural journal Academia Rossica which presented the contributors’ choices of their ‘top five’ twentieth-century poems, in English translations, organised a talk and a translation workshop at Exeter, and a reading of poetry translations at Edinburgh. Throughout the life of the project Joanne Shelton worked with Digital Humanities staff at Exeter to create an interactive database which allows users to track the changing popularity of poets between 1991 and 2008.

In addition to journal articles, the project will lead to the publication of a co-authored book by Smith and Hodgson on Russian national identity and the poetry canon, as well as a volume of essays created by the team of researchers we were able to bring together. This volume explores, among others, issues of celebrity and poets’ own efforts to ensure their place in the canon, the problems faced by poets working in emigration, and the creation of the contemporary canon.