Stalin the poetYet what remains both specific and peculiar was Stalin’s personal preoccupation with the fate of the poets under his thumb. His own youthful poetry and publishing success in Georgia remained a source of pride to him throughout his barbarising progress across the 20th century. Was some unspeakable jealousy at work in his 1934 phone call to Pasternak in which he reproached Pasternak for not pleading Mandelstam’s case directly with him? “If I were a poet and a poet friend of mine were in trouble, I would do anything to help him,” he said. When Pasternak defended himself, Stalin interrupted, “But he’s a genius, he’s a genius, isn’t he?” To which Pasternak replied, “But that’s not the point.” “Then what is?” asked Stalin. Pasternak proposed a meeting to talk. “What about?” asked Stalin. “Life and death,” Pasternak said and Stalin hung up.
To edit or to translate in the USSRWhen a printer’s error in an edition of Charles de Coster’s German fable The Legend of Thyl Ulenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak credited Mandelstam as “translator” rather than “editor”, a carefully constructed uproar ensued, in which he was viciously denounced in the press. He vehemently denied the accusation of attempting to grab undue credit but the state-sponsored campaign was well organised and so the doors to any further opportunities for publication were now, conveniently, shut. It was only the direct intervention of the poetry-loving Nikolai Bukharin, Stalin’s ally in the defeat of Trotsky, that brought the matter to a close.
“It gets people killed”: Osip Mandelstam and the perils of writing poetry under StalinNadezhda Mandelstam – the poet’s wife and invaluable support throughout his, and their, many years of persecution and exile – wrote in her powerful memoir of both the poet and the era, Hope Against Hope, about the many instances when, confronted with the desperation of their situation, they had asked each other if this was the moment when they, too, could no longer bear to go forward. The final occasion was to be the last night they spent in their Moscow apartment before being banished, without means of providing for themselves, to a succession of rural towns situated beyond a hundred-kilometre perimeter of all major cities. She awoke to find Mandelstam standing at the open window. “Isn’t it time?” he said. “Let’s do it while we’re still together.” “Not yet,” she replied. Mandelstam didn’t argue but she later reflected, “If we had been able to foresee all the alternatives, we would not have missed that last chance of a ‘normal’ death offered by the open window of our apartment in Furmanov Street.” Opting, in that moment, for a little more life changed nothing and Mandelstam soon found himself being moved inexorably towards Stalin’s endgame in the camps.
Aubade by Philip LarkinThis is a special way of being afraid No trick dispels. Religion used to try, That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade Created to pretend we never die, And specious stuff that says No rational being Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound, No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, Nothing to love or link with, The anasthetic from which none come round.
Edward Snowden's Girlfriend Posts Two Mysterious New Blog EntriesCanyon of misinterpreted judgment before me. My polkadots, never one to back down from a challenge, have softened to a muted hue. Fearful to illuminate in an over-saturated habitat. I prop myself on flexible support that bends too easily on shaky ground. Avalanching down the rock wall into green valleys. That give a glimmer of support for growth. But open on a landscape of relentless rehashing that hamper my expressive dots from flourishing. While darker clouds ever loom overhead. As a reminder of the difficulties in traversing this unknown expanse.
Robert Frost on running (or marriage)And you were given this swiftness, not for haste, Nor chiefly that you may go where you will, But in the rush of everything to waste, That you may have the power of standing still — Off any still or moving thing you say.
On the listening of poetryPoetry is not about success or failure, it's about listening. It's about exploring your own experience of life. It's about tuning into your lifestream and plucking out the emotional bits so you can celebrate *your* human experience. There is no successful poem. There is only resonance or not. The resonance you are looking for is what happens inside of you when you hit a phrase, an expression, a word, that makes you feel that *ah-ha.*
Poetry inscribes humanity“Poetry’s work is to make people real to us through the agency of the voice. . . . When people are real to you, you can’t fly a plane into the office building where they work, you can’t bulldoze the refugee camp where they live, you can’t cluster-bomb their homes and streets. We only do those things when we understand people as part of a category: infidel, insurgent, enemy. Meanwhile, poetry does what it does, inscribing individual presence, making a system of words and sounds to mark the place where one human being stood, bound in time, reporting on what it is to be one. In the age of the collective of mass culture and mass market, there’s hope in that.”
Fluid immortality, a poem by Robert KrulwichWhen the storm passes, you'd think the water would calm, settle and return to a quiet equilibrium, but the energy, oddly, doesn't dissipate. The storm has become a wave that now lives in a patch of sea, moving along with no need for a push from above. It is, says Pretor-Pinney, what scientists call a "free wave," no longer driven by wind (those are "forced waves"). Now it is a moving bit of history, an old sea storm moving on, free to roam. It has become a "swell."
I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Back at Louis Simpson’s house in Stony Brook, during the farewell party on the last night of the conference, a fight broke out. People were standing in pairs or groups on the huge lawn sipping their drinks and, without any hint that something was about to happen, fists started flying. When a few tried to break it up, a punch would head in their direction and they would in turn join the melee. I stood on the porch watching in astonishment with the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra and the French poet Eugène Guillevic. They were delighted by the spectacle and assumed that this is how American poets always settled their literary quarrels; I tried to tell them that this was the first time I had seen anything like that and it scared the hell out of me, but they just laughed. Looking back, I, too, have to admit that what we saw was pretty funny. As soon as the fight started, Allen Ginsberg went down on his knees and began chanting some Buddhist prayer for peace and harmony among all living creatures, which not only distracted those fighting, but also startled a few puzzled couples who had discreetly retreated into the bushes during the party and were now returning in a hurry with their clothes in disarray.
Like ripples around a stone, influential circles appear seemingly wherever he dips his toe.
As for the Gettysburg Address—one of the most powerful speeches in human history, one that many American schoolchildren can recite by heart (Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth …) and a statement of national purpose that for some rivals the Declaration of Independence—a Pennsylvania newspaper reported, “We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” A London Times correspondent wrote, “Anything more dull and commonplace it wouldn’t be easy to produce.”
As Calvino writes in Six Memos: “Any interpretation impoverishes the myth and suffocates it […]. The lesson we can learn from a myth lies in the literal narrative, not in what we add to it from the outside.” Which is expressed another way too, in the letters: In my view, real poetic creations represent a conception of life, but they represent it in such a way that it cannot be defined except though those images, that plot, those words. To try and define it another way is always, in some sense, to betray it, because the poetic image contains within itself a multiplicity of meaning, not contradictory meanings, but where one meaning is contained inside another like the leaves of an artichoke.