“We do not fly, we ascend only such towers as we ourselves are able to build.”
When it comes to discussions of art, let’s balance our excitement with restraint. A worldview is a hammer, but not the end. Use it to shape the art. The only pride, for an artist, is existence.
In a poem, the reality is the word, and yet. Consider how signs and symbols so often fulfill their purpose without words. Let’s have the word no longer creeping on all fours, hulking accepted logic on its back. Let it rise, instead, to enter a new age.
The architect must be a good stay-at-home, having genuine piety before the three dimensions of space. To build means to hypnotize space against the dreaded emptiness. Consider the anger of the bell tower, as if to stab heaven.
To love the existence of something more than itself––including your own––here is the highest commandment. A poet’s greatest virtue is the ability to feel surprised. If logic is the kingdom of amazement, let us dance to the music of proof.
The war in Ukraine has drawn me more deeply into the poetry of one of my favorite living poets, Ilya Kaminsky. I’ve been following his regular updates about the needs and concerns of his family, friends, and fellow poets in Ukraine. At his recommendation, I have been reading Anna Akhmatova’sRequiem, composed during Stalin’s Great Terror. Akhmatova was part of the Acmeist movement, and this morning, while reading Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa, I came to “Musica Humana” (an elegy for Osip Mandelshtam, a leader among the Acmeists) and realized I wanted to know more about Mandelshtam, and found a translation of his Acmeist Manifesto. This morning’s post collects ideas and found phrases from this text, as translated by Clarence Brown.
Language, in its majestic tyranny, if it had its human origins around the time when Adam went around naming the creatures, might be blamed for the way that he then forgot to see them. And if the first visionary made fire, it’s hard not to wonder what moved her, in the moments when she crossed back from the word to the first spark.
A common scene: you’re on a bench somewhere and a parent is telling the child with the ice cream cone, Careful! Hold it up! when it is clearly only a matter of time. You watch the child, see the cone fall. Now everyone is paying attention. Oh well! is one response. Another is Too late now!
It is, as a matter of fact, too late for that once-perfect cone to be salvaged. And yet, show me a parent who is not at least gut-level moved to offer a reminder of the promise of salvation, by proving that even the fallen cone may be followed by another. Who, if there is enough money and ice cream to go around, does not want ––on some level–– to perform the promise in living form, to say, Here and See and It’s Okay? They might resist on principle or principled pathology, but still. Some inherited impulse to embody hope in renewal and redemption has a way of pushing.
Assembled from phrases and images found in Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Crisis in Poetry,”as translated by Rosemary Lloyd.
One afternoon after another, in distressing bad weather, I follow the lights of a storm. Even the press needs twenty years to discover the news, and here it is: a crisis at hand, some trembling of the real. When a hero dies, the essence of their power roams after some new form. As the cycle goes, now it gleams and now it fades, waiting.
Here is a code. Watch it, a force like gravity,
best understood by those bent on flight.
Give me pause with deliberate dissonance,
a euphony fragmented with consent;
the languishing gesture of a dream. Here is
the belated eruption of a possibility
poetry’s compensation for the failure of language.
Strange mystery, sing. Take the average words. Group them,
beneath the long gaze, then arrange in cushions of silence.
Now what? What is this, breathing? Music rejoins verse to form;
explosion of mystery, the pure work implies the disappearance
of the poet through clash of words against their inequalities.
Come, illumination of reciprocal lights, a trial of fire on precious
stones. To every cry, its echo, and it’s the rhythm of the
white spaces that sing when the poem is silenced, and the
Sometimes the world shifts and lets you notice a thing that you’ve been technically seeing all along, plain as the air you’ve been breathing and equally invisible.
One day it occurred to me that I could not remember the last time I had wanted to talk to anyone.
I had been talking plenty, whenever the situation called for it. I had mostly enjoyed these exchanges, even when I dreaded them in advance. My pause came from realizing that I could not remember ever once being in a silent state of restful solitude and thinking that it would be better if I were talking. Sure, I wondered how various people were doing; I wanted them to know that I thought of them, but these feelings have to do with love and connection and not the desire to utter any actual words. I had to really ransack my mind looking for an example of a time when talk was the thing I desired. Still, I couldn’t find any. I am an introvert who fears being something else, namely an alien ill-suited for life here. This seemed like an ominous sign.
Never? I wondered. What an inauspicious thing to observe in oneself. I immediately red-flagged this newfound awareness as the sort of thing I should probably never say out loud to another human being (The irony!). To be introverted is one thing, but surely this new awareness indicated some sort of solitary leanings in the extreme, possibly pathological. Perhaps some dark secret had been hidden and missed all along.
But then I realized something else. It was also true that I could not think of a single time when I was in a resting solitary state and I suddenly thought that I would like to write. (Not once? I wondered, checked. Nope, not once––not since childhood, anyway).
I love writing like the desperate love anything––as in, it feels like misery but I would not want to live without it. I could think of plenty of times where I had to write, or decided to do so in order to fulfill some obligation, and other times when an impulse came knocking and I answered the door. I had often looked forward to long periods of imaginary uninterrupted interludes during which I would be writing, even though I had never actually thought, while resting, anything like: This moment would be greatly enhanced if I were moving a pen along a page.
And yet, I could think of no examples where I had ever regretted writing (but a few where I regretted hitting “send”). Considering conversation, similar themes emerged. It was never the talking I regretted (except when it took me from writing for too long), only what I did and did not manage to say.
Sometimes the world shifts and lets you notice a thing that you’ve been technically seeing all along, plain as the air you’ve been breathing and equally invisible. I did not dislike any available forms of communication: not speech, not writing, not dance, and not song. All were needs, and I had been prone to dreading each of them in particular ways.
Words are so hard to deal with, and the dealing is always such a burden. Like hearts, like loves, like babies and bodies, and water; and bodies of water; and loving hearts; and the burden of carrying each one around, holding its beating insistence, its incessant demands; its relentless flooding of life into limbs and everywhere else it goes, in all the ways that are always so impossible to explain.
Words are such a chore. I might put them off forever. All I ever want are those quiet, fluid, indefinable spaces housing the soft rise and fall of one beloved’s breath beside me; the weight of an open palm on my knee, and possibilities only tasted and never adequately described, by lips pressing into a sleeping head under my arm. All I ever miss is never words, but the sound of quiet breathing in the same room, its implied command a simple one, and as easy to follow as my own next breath. Like, Shhhhh. Like, Wait. Hold. Don’t Move. Here.
These words, these words, give me some. Let me give them back to you. Even though we both, by now, should recognize them for what they are: crude and heavy, the burdensome hot-mess cousins to the queens and kings and holy babies we are trying to sing about. Still, you work with what you have, and sometimes these are the only available tools after the quiet-by-your-side-breaths stop, and the weight of a hand has vanished, and a body fails to contain the parts that are relentlessly flying away.