Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No writing today

Today's the anniversary of the fifth year of this war in Iraq. I remember the day it started, in 2003, and the dark feeling that suddenly engulfed me, and the numbness that followed.

I've been re-reading some Russian poets and came across this line today:

"This cruel age has deflected me, like a river from its course..."

Of course, Akhmatova was speaking of a different time and from a different place when she wrote that. For every situation, no matter how awful, someone can always name a worse time. (Can one blame the madness that prevails on one's century or particular decade?) But I can relate to her words, nonetheless re: deflection, where it bumps you off track, never mind the reason. Is that why when I sit down to write lately, I don't know where to begin?

And how many verses have I failed to write!
Their secret chorus stalks me
Close behind. One day, perhaps,
They'll strangle me.

-- Anna Akhmatova, Leningrad, 1944
[Excerpt from: "This Cruel Age Has Deflected Me," in Poems of Akhmatova, trans. Stanley Kunitz w/ Max Hayward, 1970]

Imagine being stalked by your unwritten words. "Now see," they nag, "if you had just let us out..."

An even more absurd scenario--arguing with your cerebral archives! They don't so much strangle as clamber to be released. You've kept them in mental storage for so long that when you finally go and sort things out, you need about another 20 years to finish. (And this is for who, exactly? Who will ever read it?)

Akhmatova on writing verse:

I have no use for odic legions,
Or for the charm of elegiac play
For me, all verse should be off kilter
Not the usual way.

If only you knew what trash gives rise
To verse, without a tinge of shame,
Like bright dandelions by a fence,
Like burdock and like cocklebur.

An angry shout, the bracing smell of tar,
Mysterious mildew on the wall...

And out comes a poem, light-hearted, tender,
To your delight and mine.

Click here to hear her read it in the original Russian:

Мне ни к чему одические рати
И прелесть элегических затей.
По мне, в стихах все быть должно некстати,
Не так, как у людей.

Когда б вы знали, из какого сора
Растут стихи, не ведая стыда,
Как желтый одуванчик у забора,
Как лопухи и лебеда.

Сердитый окрик, дегтя запах свежий,
Таинственная плесень на стене...
И стих уже звучит, задорен, нежен,
На радость вам и мне.

-- Анна Ахматова,21 января 1940
[From The Bilingual Anthology of Russian Verse, at this web site.]

March 19 -- In Quebec, this is the day most people who have summer veggie gardens start their seeds indoors (feast of St. Joseph). I have a feeling we won't be able to transplant to the soil until mid-June this year, though, as two months may not be enough time to melt all this snow!

March 19 -- Cinq ans de guerre en Iraq. What a complete fiasco that's turned out to be.

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