Friday, April 06, 2012

Heaven Is Not Verbose: A Notebook by Vera Pavlova

[abridged by me. Full version available here.]

My writing: hard-boiled. My life: scrambled soft.

The cud of thinking: by the evening my jaw aches.

There are moments when I feel the universe expand.

Poetry should be written the way adultery is committed: on the run, on the sly, during the time not accounted for. And then you come home, as if nothing ever happened.

Time is like a diatonic scale: it consists of major and minor seconds.

Pick a piece of wood floating in the river and follow it down the current with your glance, keeping the eyes constantly on it, without getting ahead of the current. This is the way poetry should be read: at the pace of a line.

Went to bed with an unfinished poem in my mouth and could not kiss.

How do I feel about people who do not understand my poetry? I understand them.

More and more often, I come around to the conclusion that my dad is the sole true censor and critic of my poems: seriously drunk, in the kitchen of our country house, he squints after each poem I read to him and says, “Crap. Next.”

Suddenly you realize that only what you have put into poems can be considered lived through. That is how you become a poet. And at that point you begin, consciously or otherwise, living the kind of life that is fraught with poetry. That is how you cease being human. The former happens abruptly, the latter gradually, both irrevocably.

From the memoirs of Akhmatova’s last physician: she died at the moment when her cardiogram was being recorded. Her death has been recorded in the form of a straight line. Ruled paper ready-made. Go ahead and write.

“The ovaries of a newborn girl contain up to 400,000 egg cells.” All my poems are already in me.

In a poem a word is not equal to its meaning as it is defined in a dictionary, because either the meaning in a poem is totally different, or it is the same but a thousand times more precise.

Drafts in my notebook are written in a barely legible scribble; fair copies are in impeccable calligraphy. My handwriting is much better than my muse’s.

I write to equalize the pressure from without and from within, to prevent being squashed (by misery) or being blown apart (by happiness).

—Do you understand that understanding is impossible?
—I do.

In a poem, poetry is a guest. At times the guest stays long, but never for good.

I’ve asked myself: Did I get ahead of the calendar? Counted the poems I wrote this year: 366 of them.

“You are my first and my last/Bright listener of the dark raving.”—Akhmatova to her lover Garshin in “The Poem Without a Hero.” After they broke up, she changed the line to “You, not the first nor the last/Dark listener of the bright raving.” (From Lydia Chukovskaya’s The Akhmatova Journals.)

“Understanding is insanity for two.” (V. Podoroga)

I put words into poems the way I pack a suitcase for a trip abroad, choosing only what is the most necessary, the most presentable, the lightest, and the most compact.

Madness is inspiration idling in neutral.

I live my life moving forward on rails that I lay myself. Where do I get the rails? I dismantle the ones I have gone over.

My diaries are letters from my former self to my future self. My poems are replies to those letters.

Prose: a soccer game shown in its entirety.
Poetry: the same game shown only in scoring or near-scoring episodes.

Reader: So you want me to feel as if I were reading a letter addressed to someone else?
Poet: I want you to feel as if I had read a letter addressed to you by someone else and am shamelessly quoting from it.

Inspiration is an intercourse with language. I can always tell when language wants me. I never say no to language. For me, it is always good with language. And for language? I am afraid for language it is never as good as it is for me.

“Accusing an erotic poet of depravity is as unfair as accusing a tragic poet of cruelty.” (Evgeny Baratynsky in the preface to his poem “The Concubine.”)

As I am learning to speak English, I catch myself saying in it not what I want to but what I can say. Then I realize that much the same happens when I speak my native Russian. Only in poems, at times, I manage to say what I want. On such occasions, I feel I am speaking not Russian but some other language that is truly my native.

A fisherman told me: “Writing poetry must be like digging for earthworms: you grab the critter by the end and pull. Pull too hard, and it’ll break; not hard enough, it’ll get away.”

If poems are children, poetry readings are pta meetings.

You must not write in verse about what you do not know or about what you know for sure, only about what you vaguely suspect, hoping that poems will either confirm or dispel your suspicions.

From a letter of a young poet: “I write when I feel bad. When I feel fine, I don’t write.” With me, it’s the opposite: when I write, I feel fine. I feel bad when I do not write.

I write about what I love. I love writing even more than what I write about. And what do I do it for? To love myself, if only for a brief while.

“Is there any need for poetry? The question in itself is enough to realize how bad the situation with poetry is at present. When everything is fine, no one has the slightest doubt that there is absolutely no need for poetry.” (B. Pasternak)

An ideal poem: every line of it can serve as a title for a book.

—I have the gift of finding lost things, such as a tiny screw from sunglasses in thick grass of a lawn. I have a method of my own: I relax and wait until the lost object calls out to me: “Here I am!” Things like reading glasses, a notebook, an elastic hair band ... I can recognize them by their voices!
—But isn’t that the way you write poems?
—How true! Except that with poems I never know what’s been lost. All I know is that a) it’s something urgently needed; b) something that is somewhere near, probably in the most visible of places; c) others have failed to find it; and d) it’ll be such a joy when I do!

The longer a poem, the weaker the impression that it has been dictated from above: Heaven is not verbose. Besides, the more you talk, the more you lie.

A full stop at the end of a poem is an exclamation mark seen from above, driven into the page up to its cap with one precise blow.

Translated from the Russian by Steven Seymour