Friday, August 04, 2006

Reading. Brodsky. (on Mandelstam).

For some reason when my family is around me I find myself reading less and eating more. As if it is only when I am alone that I can spend more time curled around books and diving headlong into the worlds I find there and not so much time thinking about that perfect dish of sweetbreads I ate at Lark or that fragrant Grand Marnier soufflé at Canlis. After weeks of long meals in restaurants and cozy dinners at home it was time to put aside matters of the stomach and reach for a volume of poems by Mandelstam which has been waiting quietly on the nightstand for some weeks now.

I have gone on at great length (perhaps you would say ad nauseum) on my feelings about poetry and translation, particularly Russian poetry, which I can never seperate from the language itself. (It is something that has haunted me for a long time). It was late at night when I began to read Joseph Brodsky's introduction to Osip Mandelstam: 50 Poems and felt my heart lift, my mind begin to burn. I felt tears come into my eyes, fall silently. (There is a box of tissues next to my pillow, for moments like these). He put in words all the thoughts that have occupied my mind for the past several months, if not the past several years.

Brodsky is one of those poets I fell in love with for his non-poetry writing. (There are many poets I love for reasons beyond their poetry). What is that I said, not too long ago? I followed him into the labryinth of Venice and of memory, and I was in love. It was something about how he used words to invoke his Venice, sending them sliding along before him in the present, behind him into the past. What he says about Mandelstam illuminates more strikingly than anything else what I love most about them both.

Art is not a better, but an alternative existence, Brodsky writes; it is not an attempt to escape reality but the opposite, an attempt to animate it. It is a spirit seeking flesh but finding words. And when I read this I felt as though I had found one of the truths about art (and literature) which I have been seeking all my life.

And then he says the words that completely set me free: Poetry is the supreme result of the entire language, and to analyze it is but to diffuse the focus...What dictates a poem is the language, and this is the voice of the language...He goes into greater depth about Russian poetry in general, in the influences of the outside world on Russian poets, the echo of Greece and Rome and of religion, of nostalgia and culture, of Mandelstam's place in time and space. But I come back again and again to those earlier words, and they will reflect and illuminate (I hope) the verses that I have yet to delve into. I cannot wait.

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