Why you need to be obsesses with Anna Akhmatova poetry

Why You Need to be Obsessed with Anna Akhmatova

I know, I know. It’s a shitty time to talk about Russia. But let’s talk about a female political poet! (If you don’t read “female political poet” to the tune of “lions and tigers and bears” I’m just not sure what you’re doing with your life.)

I’m talking about Anna Akhmatova. Her collection of poems, Requiem, is about Russia under the Stalin regime. And y’all, it feels a little too fucking familiar.

We’re going to look at one particular poem from Requiem, and think about how scary it is to be an American right now.

 

Epilogue I:

I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I’ve learned to recognize
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That’s why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.

 

Now, I want to make it clear

that I do not think living in America is like living in Stalinist Russia. Yet. BUT. Consider how we are being treated. Consider that Stephen Colbert is under investigation by the FCC for making JOKES. They’re taking our jokes. That’s a scary thing. This. Is. Not. Normal.

So back to Akhmatova

and her relevance to the current American political climate. Consider that this poem, “Epilogue 1,” is basically her documenting a loss of freedom. “I have learned how faces fall,/ How terror can escape from lowered eyes”. This is watching people adjust to a terrifying regime. She has watched her friends go grey. “The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh” is especially scary to me. Laughter is meant to convey happiness; it’s a pleasant sound. Yet in Akhmatova’s world, it covered fear.

Akhmatova’s first husband was killed by “secret police.”

Her son was later prosecuted for nothing other than who his parents were. Her poetry was banned in 1925, when the government determined that she cared only for trivial “female” matters and her work was not in line with the politics of the time. She had lost her husband, her son, and now her means to publish her work. And honestly y’all, this is just the beginning of this woman’s troubles.

She was harshly criticized for her writing

Why would she continue when she had suffered so thoroughly? She couldn’t publish and experienced hunger and poverty because of it. Her son remained wrongfully imprisoned. Her home was bugged and under constant surveillance. Why did she continue to write material like Requiem, putting herself in danger? Look at the last part again:

That’s why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.

Akhmatova said  “one hundred million voices shout” through her “tortured mouth”. She felt she had to speak. Not just for herself, but for her people.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

A quote by Anna Akhmatova



Jorge Luis Borges

Why I’m Obsessed with Jorge Luis Borges

Before we get into this, read this poem with no context or backstory.

 

At the far end of my years I am surrounded
by a persistent, luminous, fine mist
which reduces all things to a single thing
with neither form nor colour. An idea, almost.
The vast and elemental night and the day
full of people are both that cloudy glow
of dubious constant light that never dims
and lies in wait for me at dawn. I’d like
to see a face sometime. I don’t know
the unexplored encyclopedia, the pleasure
of all these books I recognize by touch,
the golden moons or the birds in the sky.
The rest of the world is for others to see;
in my half-light, the habit of poetry.

 

Beautiful, right? Gorgeous

I once read this to a World Lit class of mine in the same way. I’d given the other students no context for the poem’s meaning or intentions. One dude brought up death, and that maybe the poem was about the poet’s experience with death. A girl brought up depression. Both amazing ideas with evidence to support them if you read the poem in the right way. I think it is so, unbelievably fun to do this; to make a poem mean anything you want. I do think this poem becomes even more meaningful with backstory, though.

Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentinian writer, famously wrote short stories, non-fiction, and poetry. In his forties, he completely lost his sight.

This poem is titled “On His Blindness.”

With this information we can see what he means by statements like: “with neither form nor colour, or I’d like to see a face sometime”. Perhaps most beautiful (and depressing) to me, though, is “the pleasure of all these books I recognize by touch”. He was never able to read said books again.

Borges never learned to read braille, so he relied completely on memory and help from his mother for writing help.

My man was also very outspoken against the Nazis in the 30’s, which I just think is so cool. He stood up for Jews at a time when many were too afraid to.

I encourage you to read Borges’ short stories and poetry. “Borges and I” (or “Borges Y Yo, if you speak Spanish. I had someone read his story to me in the original Spanish and I adored it) is a phenomenal story to get your feet wet. Remember, when you read it, that he was entirely blind when he wrote it.

 

What’s your favorite Borges story?

 



Sylvia Plath's Poetry Collection

Why I’m Obsessed with Sylvia Plath’s Poetry Collection

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My recent poetry obsession is not one poem, but a collection! Sylvia Plath’s Poetry Collection.

I’ve liked Sylvia Plath for a long, long time, since I read The Bell Jar as a teenager. What I LOVE about this collection of her poetry is that it is chronological. So though she was always pretty morbid, we can really see her progression (or regression? Depends on your opinion, I suppose) as the years go on. Because we know she killed herself on February 11th, 1963, and her final poems are dated, we can see she was writing up until just a few days before her death. Sometimes three or four poems a day.

Which leads me to another point, which is that my girl could have maybe thrown some of these out. The intro explains that unlike a lot of artists, Sylvia kept everything she wrote. Even if she couldn’t get a poem to exactly where she wanted it, she got it to a point she was comfortable with and moved on. SO. I’m into her for the gruesome, macabre shit, but to find said shit, you have to get through a lot of poems about birds. Like a lot. So I end up feeling like: Sylvia, girl, birds are gross. Tell me more about how you feel like a cow that’s been gutted.

You may love poems about birds just as much as you love poems about carpet drenched in blood! If you’re that person, definitely pick up a copy of Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems.

 

Here are some highlights for your perusal:

 

Excerpt from “Street Song” (1956):

By a mad miracle I go intact

Among the common rout

Thronging sidewalk, street,

And bickering shops;

Nobody blinks a lid, gapes,

Or cries that this raw flesh

Reeks of the butcher’s cleaver,

Its heart and guts hung hooked

And bloodied as a cow’s split frame

Parceled out by white-jacketed assassins.

 

Who hasn’t felt that way after a break up?! I mean.

 

Excerpt from “Spinster” (1956):

And round her house she set

Such a barricade of barb and check

Against mutinous weather

As no mere insurgent man could hope to break

With curse, fist, threat

Or love, either.

 

 

“Mirror” (1961):

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.

Whatever I see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

I am not cruel, only truthful

The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.

It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long

I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,

Searching my reaches for what she really is.

Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.

I am important to her. She comes and goes.

Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

 

Y’all! Something about this poem was so deeply, unsettlingly beautiful for me. I reward my mirror for its faithful service with tears and agitation sometimes (maybe often). Do you?

 

In 1962, Plath wrote a group of poems about bees. Yes, bees. I mean, it’s not really about bees. But it’s about bees. Whatever! Read it. To write them all out here would be insane, as they’re each fairly long. Look them up if you like:

“The Bee Meeting”

“The Arrival of the Bee Box”

“Stings”

“The Swarm”

 

Stings, independent of this little collection, is one of my all-time favorite poems.

 

My favorite stanza from “Stings”:

They thought death was worth it, but I

Have a self to recover, a queen.

Is she dead, is she sleeping?

Where has she been,

With her lion-red body, her wings of glass?

 

On the real, when I’m miserable and know I need to turn shit around, I say to myself: “I have a self to recover, a queen.” And it genuinely makes me feel better. Try it.

 

There is SO much content in here. So much we could go over. But because I’ve already given you a lot to mull over, I’ll leave you with two final poems.

 

Excerpt from “The Fearful” (November 1962):

 

She hates

 

The thought of a baby-

Stealer of cells, stealer of beauty-

 

She would rather be dead than fat,

Dead and perfect, like Nefertit,

 

Hearing the fierce mask magnify

The silver limbo of each eye

 

Where the child can never swim,

Where there is only him and him.

 

 

Only three months away from her death and you can see how sad her poetry has become. It is worth pointing out, I think, that she had two babies at this time. One two years old, and one still under a year. I would think any mother writing this way about children may need some intervention.

 

And, finally,

 

“Edge”:

 

The woman is perfected.

Her dead

 

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,

The illusion of a Greek necessity

 

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,

Her bare

 

Feet seem to be saying:

We have come so far, it is over.

 

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,

One at each little

 

Pitcher of milk, now empty.

She has folded

 

Them back into her body as petals

Of a rose close when the garden

 

Stiffens and odors bleed

From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

 

The moon has nothing to be sad about,

Staring from her hood of bone.

 

She is used to this sort of thing.

Her blacks crackle and drag.

 

This was written on February fifth, 1963. Just six days before her death, and was, as far as we know, her final poem.

Sylvia Plath

 

Here’s a link in case you’d like to purchase Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems on Amazon!

*I only link up books I’d give 5 stars to, and believe in 100%*

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!