Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The italics are hers - Elena Fanailova

Firstly, congratulations to Larissa Shmailo, editor of the anthology,

Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry

which is scheduled for its release party this evening in New York City.

Included in the anthology are two poems by Elena Fanailova, a Russian journalist and poet, taken from Survey of Literature and translated by Stephanie Sandler.


Watercolor of a Matador

Spring, adrenaline, we walk as kings,
We follow the departing heavenly ship,
And, in expectation of heavenly catastrophes,
Stale expressions, clammy embraces, 
Even honest relationships are unbearable.

What do we talk about? Society gossip,
About the city built on blood, the laying down of bones,
About money earned from glossy magazines
And, remembering that we walk as kings,
About the poor and the ill, the downtrodden and the tired 

And opening our eyes in the morning,
Like every foolish bit of evil in Gogol,
We curse our own fates
And the good fortune of red death in the world,
Frowning, we take stock of what we can, 
For we have plowed up the roots and torn back the bark:
There's nothing left to subtract from us.

(The Italics Are Mine)

Having walked the pathways of faceted glass,
She was a companion, someone to write poems to 
In the era when poetry flowed
From human shortcoming,
When poetry was waiting 
For dry remainders,
It did its best, I beg your pardon, 
Like a hysterical bitch,
In that era when poetry bore
Responsibility for the paroxysm deep
Enough to kill you: as if to say, I warned you,

In other words, trashed and thrashed 
Like the swirling contents of a decanter.
Tequila and beer ran through the veins, 
Or rather absinthe and morphine derivatives.

She was the only one it left untouched,
It preserved her brilliant mind 
And cut her off, kept her out 
Of the land of holy madness

Khodasevich is dying in a clinic,
And Poplavsky sticks himself and gets drunk
Alcoholics, cripples, and cynics
Departing on a midnight flight

The sun boarded shut 
The sick-wards-bilious hells
The Russian god and Yiddish luck,
The flesh, the host, the marmalade jam, all melt

Make a date under the sycamores.
Combine the wings of a dragonfly
With fibulas--the kind 
Youngsters use to keep the score.

Elena Fanailova answered this question, "Why, in your verses do you dwell on the themes of creativity and spiritual distress and illness, is it a question of today's culture struggle or is it about the dying Khodasevich? The very proximity of these motifs moves into a fin de siecle and seems to appear incongruous in our times." Fanailova: "There is a simple explanation, but it does not lie in the sphere of the study of culture. It has to do with my personal relationship with a profession: I was educated as a doctor, and became a physician not through my own inclination, but under the influence of my family. My literary lessons in childhood were supervised by my father; he was a very authoritative person, so I was forced to reconcile this conflict within myself somehow. In my youth, I was interested in the figure of Kafka, who had a similar sort of construct in his relationship with his father. The same themes attracted me. "In the history of "The Italics are Mine", the poem about Khodasevich and Berberova, which you mentioned, I was interested in the level of self-control, which did not allow Berberova to become a real poet. There is a moment when a person who writes poetry must not be afraid of temporary insanity, must let himself go, guessing that he is not losing his mind -- but is simply a text-producing machine built in this particular way. It is important that he does not become afraid, but allows this to occur, at the same time, maintaining control over that which is not controllable. To me, Berberova seemed to be such a reflexive figure: it becomes obvious to me during the reading of her memoirs that she did not take that step, and therefore, she did not become a poet. Berberova is a beautiful literary figure, a divine memoirist, but she is not a poet. And this is their difference, between (her and) Khodasevich and those poets, whom she described. Even a small talent can be developed within one's self, it is like the sustaining pedal of the piano, which allows the sound to be prolonged, but in order to do this, fearlessness is necessary, and decisiveness: not to be afraid of that which resembles mental illness, but, however, is not. It is possible that I am just not a light-hearted person; for lighter people it may not be a problem, but I was always such a serious little rat." Fanailova goes on to to comment, “In my understanding of the the Russian world, as an immoral one, it is amoral to write poems about one's country. Either you must say some extremely important things, or you should say nothing."
(Apologies for my skewed formatting.)
Elena Fanailova's poems, including "The Italics are Mine," can be found in Russian here and here.

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