Her ex-husband is dead

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Very often I cite the work of Bella Akhmadulina but rarely that of her ex-husband, the much better-known Yevgeny Yevtushenko. A giant of 20th century Soviet/Russian poetry, Yevtushenko died in, of all places, Tulsa, Oklahoma, this past weekend. His passing made me think back to university in the mid-to-late 90s. One professor had spent time with Yevtushenko, telling of what a magnificent and shameless flirt he had been. No surprises there. I marvel at times thinking of poets filling concert halls and stadiums, holding rapt the attention of a massive audience. Can you imagine a modern audience in America trying to get tickets to such an event?

Later
-Yevtushenko
Oh what a sobering,
what a talking-to from conscience afterwards:
the short moment of frankness at the party
and the enemy crept up.
But to have learnt nothing is terrible,
and peering earnest eyes are terrible
detecting secret thoughts is terrible
in simple words and immature disturbance.
This diligent suspicion has no merit.
The blinded judges are no public servants.
It would be far more terrible to mistake
a friend than to mistake an enemy.

Or this lovely one (which I’ve just read aloud and recorded).

And let us not forget the masterpiece for which he may be best remembered, Babii Yar.

drömland

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I recalled a nightmare from a few nights ago. In it, I lived in Paris and worked as an English teacher for three French kids. I got through one 45-minute lesson with them, and I was miserable, counting the seconds until the lesson was over. In my mind, I was feverishly thinking about how I could get out of this huge mistake. How did I end up being in that situation and how could I possibly teach even one more lesson when just one was interminably long and hellish?

It made me wonder how I had spent something like half a year teaching kids. What an eternity ago that was (almost 20 years!), and what a horror show.

I also had a dream in which I married someone I had only met the previous week. And we were happy for one week. But then misery came in massive clusters. I am pretty sure I know what that was all about.

And last night I was dreaming in Russian for the first time since I was actively studying Russian. It was a strange mix of things. I was reading and speaking Russian, but I ended up having a conversation with a guy (American) I had known many years ago about a Russian poem I had (in reality, not in the dream) shared with him back then: “The new blast-furnace in the Kemerovo metallurgical combine” by Bella Akhmadulina. (I can’t find an English version of it to share here right now.) I have not read the poem or talked to the guy in question for at least 15 years. Maybe the guy came to mind both because the poem entered my dreaming mind and also because I had been thinking about how he’d been in thousands of dollars of debt because he was making local long-distance phone calls, which seems ridiculous when considered today with the array of tools we can use to call people anywhere in the world basically for free.

Also wondering whether I should reread The Master and Margarita?

Photo (c) 2013 Boston Public Library used unchanged under Creative Commons license.

The art of letting go …

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 …or ‘it wasn’t a dry fuck’

“It sucks to be reliable.”
“Maybe we should teach you the art of letting go.”

Yesterday apparently was the birthday of poet David Ignatow – a poet whose few works I’ve rather haphazardly come across impressed me and were worthy of going back and reading again at different points in life. I first heard of him in high school – during the hated poetry unit we were force fed. Our teacher assigned us each a poem to explicate and investigate and then present to our class. She had apparently taken some care to match our personalities up with poets she felt somehow had something to offer us. I was given Adrienne Rich. Don’t get me started. The teacher had hoped we would each respond to these assigned poets and pursue a more in-depth research project on the one we were already acquainting ourselves with. By this time I was deeply entrenched in my 20th century Russian women (Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva and Akhmadulina) and could not be bothered with Rich.

Meanwhile my dear friend Mike, whom the teacher had previously referred to as a “miscreant” (for some unknown reason?), was given a poem (I believe) by David Ignatow. Mike decided he would pursue Ignatow as a research project but ran into the problem we all ran into back then: a dearth of information thanks to … well, the limitations of libraries and access to information. Libraries were well-connected networks, of sorts; you could look up and order information, but it was not instant or immediate. There were still barriers to all the information you might have wanted – primarily temporal barriers, particularly the more obscure your topic. If you could find what you wanted eventually – time was often the ultimate limitation. School assignment deadlines – waiting for some book or resource to arrive at the local library – really not practical. But once upon a time, it was the only way. And probably was the reason that many viable but difficult research topics ended up abandoned by well-meaning and curious students. I suspect this is why, in the pre-internet era of too-little-information at the fingertips, Mike abandoned David Ignatow.

Now I run across Ignatow fairly frequently in my readings and find gems, such as this Paris Review interview from 1979. I loved to read about Ignatow’s attempts to succeed at business, only to find that he felt more like a (willing) prisoner to his writing and had to write. Or that it was an inevitable pleasure: “I didn’t will myself to become a writer. It was just a natural outgrowth of the pleasure readers got from my work. I wanted to give pleasure and give myself pleasure. It wasn’t a dry fuck, in other words.” HAHA. And also was inspired by reading the following passage, feeling as though this ‘background of immortality’ is a guide:

“INTERVIEWER

A Mexican writer, José Gaos, was quoted in Octavio Paz’s beautiful book The Bow and the Lyre as saying: “As soon as a man enters life he is already old enough to die.”

IGNATOW

That’s good. When you assume that knowledge, you begin to live a very vital life, because everything you do is in the background of immortality. The background is the immortality of death. That’s when you can say you are a man in the full sense of the word. You’ve become an existentialist. That’s what it’s all about.”

Photo (c) 2013 Jana Reifegerste

Farewell – ПРОЩАНИЕ

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Goodbye
Bella Akhmadulina
And in conclusion I’ll say –
Goodbye. Don’t commit yourself to love.
I’m breaking down. Or going up
to a high degree of madness.

How did you love? – you tasted
disasters. That’s not the question.
How did you love? – you ruined,
but you ruined so clumsily.

The cruelty of a mistake, oh, for
you there’s no forgiveness. My body’s alive
and wanders, sees the world,
but everything’s gone out of me.

My head still manages a little work.
But my hands fall slack,
and in a flock, obliquely,
my senses leave me.

Original

ПРОЩАНИЕ
-Bella Akhmadulina
А напоследок я скажу:
прощай, любить не обязуйся.
С ума схожу. Иль восхожу
к высокой степени безумства.
Как ты любил? Ты пригубил
погибели. Не в этом дело.
Как ты любил? Ты погубил,
но погубил так неумело.
Жестокость промаха … О, нет
тебе прощенья. Живо тело,
и бродит, видит белый свет,
но тело мое опустело.
Работу малую висок
eще вершит. Но пали руки.
И стайкою, наискосок,
уходят запахи и звуки.

Random abandon – I am a wee marshmallow fox

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I can’t sleep. Checking out the ridiculous Eastbound & Down and overdosing on cute pics of twin baby polar bears. Thinking I will switch over to news even though I am tired of hearing about Crimea now. How is that story a surprise to anyone?

Reading about the talented and alluring Yasmine Hamdan – always wish I knew Arabic.

Love – I never knew I needed or wanted to hear sweet words. You can just call me a wee marshmallow fox. I have completely melted.

I like multimedia, multitask, multithought, multifeeling multistories that are as full of random abandon as I am.

And poetry, of course. Uncertainty.

ДРУГОЕ

Белла Ахмадулина, 1966 / -Bella Akhmadulina

Что сделалось? Зачем я не могу,
уж целый год не знаю, не умею
слагать стихи и только немоту
тяжелую в моих губах имею?

Вы скажете – но вот уже строфа,
четыре строчки в ней, она готова.
Я не о том. Во мне уже стара
привычка ставить слово после слова.

Порядок этот ведает рука.
Я не о том. Как это прежде было?
Когда происходило – не строка –
другое что-то. Только что?- забыла.

Да, то, другое, разве знало страх,
когда шалило голосом так смело,
само, как смех, смеялось на устах
и плакало, как плач, если хотело?