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Zeros

February 14, 1988|Nika Turbina

I will learn to count to 10, 30, 100, and many other zeros. . . . And then what will happen? I will still be small and in a whisper tell Mama a story about Little Red Riding Hood and that it can be scary not only at night, but in the daytime, because I am afraid of numbers with many zeros. They look so much like the jaws of horrible wild animals. 1982

From "First Draft: Poems," introduction by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translated by Antonina W. Bouis and Elaine Feinstein (Marion Boyars; distributed by Kampmann & Co.: $9.95; 125 pp.). Nika Turbina, born in 1974, was 8 years old when she wrote the poem above; this bilingual edition collects poems written between her fifth and eighth year. Discovered by the Soviet writer of spy thrillers (and fellow resident of Yalta), Julian Semyonov, and later championed by poet Yevtushenko, Turbina has become something of an international sensation. A recording of her poetry has sold 30,000 copies in the Soviet Union. French and Italian translations of "First Draft" have appeared, the Italian version winning Italy's Golden Lion of Venice award for poetry. America has honored her with various kinds of attention, including a profile in People magazine.

Her poetry is in the traditional metered and rhymed Russian forms, though Bouis' translation is deliberately literal. Yevtushenko's brief introduction, dealing in part with the phemonemon of the child prodigy, closes with the request that readers receive Turbina's book as "the complex secret world not simply of an eight-year-old child but of an eight-year-old poet. . . ."

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