Sometimes, when it was hiding in our homeland, we would feel its aftermaths in succession, running our fingers along the seams of cracked earth. Means for making meaning, ever mutating, make new forms where the formers are buried. We move soil to make room for our dead. Seedlings, too––even then.
We could not call it war until we survived it. In the meantime, it was living. It was diapers and babies, earaches and crackers and someone still had to milk the cows, walk the dogs, and soak the beans overnight.
What did you do? They will ask us later. Possibly we will forget by then, how we folded laundry and clipped toenails. How sometimes, even then, someone would show up with a cake, and someone else would find plates. We would pass slices one at a time, among the living.
“We do not fly, we ascend only such towers as we ourselves are able to build.”Osip Mandelshtam
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’s Requiem, 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.