Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Marina Tsvetaeva's Art in the Light of Conscience

Its been a Tsvetaeva/Mandelstam kind of summer, for no reason I can really account for except that the Rethinking Poetics kerfuffle (remember that?) got me curious about a time when the gulag, not Facebook or a conference room, was the endpoint for those kind of discussions. The troubles been finding translations, which never seem to bring over the poetry with the intensity of the critical responses it provokes. Prose carries better; so here’s something about that, for this.
Thanks to a wealth of publications since the ‘60s, there are lots of ways into Marina Tsvetaeva’s work via English. For my money though, few capture her force of mind and powerful wit as vividly as Angela Livingstone does in these essays, most written during Tsvetaeva’s prose-heavy émigré period in Paris in the ‘30s. Watching Tsvetaeva clarify for herself and her public where she’s been, what poetry means, and what value it has in the political roar through which she lived is fascinating, in part for the uncompromising way she responds to her contemporaries, partly for the rigorous measure of the art she leaves for us.

The circumstances that history forced upon Tsvetaeva and her cohort make our own hand-wringing about the efficacy of poetry look like a grade school play. I don’t mean that to put us down (well, maybe a little) so much as to elevate Tsvetaeva’s razor-sharp and intensely particular approach to poetics, which for her reaches beyond any syllabus or specialty to become a manual for how to stay human in a world with shrinking space for that.


Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

please keep these book recommendations coming... no sooner do I read them than I'm off to Amazon for a one-click purchase

rodney k said...

Hi Nada,

I'm glad you like these! Tsvetaeva's truly brilliant, with the truth-teller's uncanny ability to simultaneously piss off and fascinate just about everyone who comes into her ambit--Symbolist elders, Soviets at home, emigres abroad. Through it all, there's something vivid and even joyous about her assessments, whether positive or negative, with Poetry (as she sees it, anyway), not claque or political affiliation, front and center. (I know we're not supposed to pull those things apart, but she happily does.)

Sadly, I can't get any feel for the poetry in the translations I looked at. So she came most alive for me here.

Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

I know that Meschonnic thought her poetry was the best thing since baguettes.

Honestly I often feel that the best poetics do not always issue from the best poets, and the best poets do not always generate the best (stated) poetics. Different but related skill sets, perhaps.