Saturday, October 22, 2011

Anna Akhmatova and the victory of art over dictatorship

All our images from that time are gray and industrial - of seven year plans and cold intrigue in the Politburo; of weapons of war being paraded past a faceless leader in Red Square.
It's strange and unreal now to think of Russia in the 20th Century, of those totalitarian days when art, literature and religion were trampled under the jackboots of the paranoid Georgian.

But the land of Tolstoy and Chekhov wasn't going to give in easily to the plunder of its ideas and free expression, to the reduction of all that art and color onto one flat easel that bore the brutish features of Comrade Stalin. Even as the trains bore the dissidents north to the labor camps and salt mines of Siberia, as Collectivisation led to mass slaughter of the peasants and famine, so writers continued to write in the most uncompromising of places.

The life of Anna Akhmatova illustrates how art can triumph over oppression. The poet's first husband was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1921; her son and second husband were deported to the camps. And yet her popularity with the Russian people meant even the all powerful Russian leader did not risk imprisoning her.

In the days since Stalin's death there have been seen many imitators. The Romanian leader Nikolai Chauchesku  in 1989, although it appears he can still be friended on Facebook; Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006 and it appears the mob didn't wait for a formal execution in the case of Muammar Gaddafi.

So is this the end of the line for the dictators who paraded in dark glasses and outlandish uniforms while their people suffered. Probably not but it gives hope that art and freedom of expression will overcome in the darkest of places.

Everything is Plundered by Anna Akhmatova

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death's great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

By day, from the surrounding woods,
cherries blow summer into town;
at night the deep transparent skies
glitter with new galaxies.

And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses --
something not known to anyone at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Can poetry revive Modesto's Image

I'm always interested in the redemptive power of poetry and how it can breathe life into the most uninspiring of places. T.S. Eliot's bleak canvass was The Wasteland and Slyvia Plath wrote about the dark places in the mind.

In their own way a group of poets in California have attempted something almost as impressive; putting a positive spin on Modesto.

I have never been to Modesto, although I believe I skirted past a few strip malls on its western side. The Rough Guide said there was no reason to go there unless you wanted your car stolen.

The book More than Soil, More than Sky, is the work of 51 poets, according to the Modesto Bee.

It goes beyond crime and foreclosures to talk about the cycles of nature, although the cycle of offending is there too.

"Some write about rural life. Think almond trees and red-tailed hawks. Others talk about the city's urban nature. One poem looks at prostitution on Ninth Street, another remembers an 11-year-old boy shot and killed by police officers," the article states.

Sam Pierstorff, who teaches at Modesto Junior College, is one of the inspirations behind the book. It's interesting but I'm still not sure it will persuade me to get off the bypass.

The Drowning of Poetry by Sam Pierstorff

It looks as if murders of crows have nested
in the ceiling of Barnes and Noble and are now
peeing on the poetry section below.

Or maybe God himself is spitting
upon the paperback coffins of living poets
lost in dead languages.

But the clerk says it’s the broken air conditioner:
“It’s been dripping all day.”
The poetry section is soaked. A plastic trash bag

catches each drop with the sound of cracking quartz rocks
or a quick succession of letters depressed on a keyboard:
the sound of this poem or this line perhaps
if you could hear it being t–y-p-e-d.

And why not the Self-Help section or Audio Books?
Shouldn’t those aisles drown first?
Or Religion? Imagine the fanatics lined up for miles
to see a book cover with Jesus weeping real tears
or the miracle of shelves parted like the Red Sea.

The temperature tonight seems fine
in the crowded bookstore, but the air conditioner
has broken above Poetry where no one seems to visit.
Perhaps the section is lonely.
Perhaps the ceiling cries.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Verse of the Day - Mark R. Slaughter

It must be fall again. The leaves are about to fall and the evenings have a chill tinge to them. I have neglected this blog for some time but give it fleeting glances every now and again. Like the feeble and fleeting sun on the lake in fall.

Pirouetting Autumn by Mark R. Slaughter

The tree blushed - a rude blast of air
Betrayed a shapely bough.
My saddened heart aware
That Nature's clock was chiming,
I froze upon the twelfth
Clanging tone, caught alone,
Staring at a creaking door -

Left ajar for dancing, coloured Autumn,
Pirouetting in her leaves,
While agitated summer creatures
Backed away resignedly,
Sighing in protracted breves.
I turned; gave company;
We stood together, watching
Summer slowly blow away.