I am a techno-mystic poet and I love mystic poets, even when the content of their mysticism (Humanity; Humanism; God) contrasts with mine (Non- or Ab-humanity; the Inhuman;Art). I feel like we are driving towards the same thing: revelation: the point at which the medium of the poem, the cave we have built with language and image in order to spelunk through, goes suddenly convex, bursts back at us with an unsurvivable strafing content. For me that content is Art, mediumicity itself, dark matter; for nicer people, it’s God, compassion, etc.
In the case of Alice Notley’s Culture of One, that relevatory force is Mercy, though I think her Merc y is of such multiply positive and negative valences that she goes in both categories. The Sublime, it seems to me, goes in my camp: it’s just Pow’r, Pow’r itself, and like a horifically high dose of radiation, it has no message of healing for us at all.
The translator Sarah Valentine and Wave Books have made it possible for we Anglophones to finally read Into the Snow: Selected Poems of Gennady Aygi (tho’ Aygi poems are all over the internet on blogs etcs as well as in several indie press editions). Valentine’s very engaging introduction makes Aygi’s eminence clear, as well as the drama of his 20th century life; one of the greatest avant garde poets of the former Soviet Union, he stopped writing in his native Chuvash language because to do so earned it the label of ‘hostile poetry’; at the same time, he changed his name to a typically Chuvash surname, in order that his minority identity would not be eradicated, even as he went on to write in Russian and publish outside the country in smuggled and samizdat editions.
I enjoyed the breathless texture and brevity of these poems– as if they could barely bear themselves– but most of all I liked the light and limbic and almost chitininous mysticism of the earlier poems in the book. My favorite is "Dream: Flight of the Dragonfly.” This poem starts out in a radiant nowhere, alight on the confused and desperate drafts of catastrophe. It begins:
but bright—as if the soul were in a burned-out barn
I love the Hopkins-esque seizure of this—each ceasura a clenching or spasming, the burned-out barn seemingly built from the blacked-out inversion of the fire itself. The poem continues:
and the lake restless as a sleeping
resistance camp: oh just as you would slowly trace a beauty’s face
with a white Japanese flower!
across haystacks like white roses
slow and quiet
I love how the individual clarity of each phrase invites us into its intimacy with ecstacy with that pronoun ‘you’, yet overdoes its similizing, keeps bringing the white flower back up, so that the white flower is like the interruption of beauty into the landscape, the little white hand of messanic time stroking the landscape and pulling up little exclamation point-sized erections out of the poet and the earth.
Those faces/haystack/flowers return in the final compacted/impacted image of the poem, which is set in parentheses not so much to mark it as ‘apart from’ or as ‘commentary’ as to drive the image even more compactly together, so that the content of relevation cannot survive its own relevation but gets converted into mediumicity of revelation itself: a mise-en-abyme of ecstasy:
(to the death in blue night
of that faintly shining mind
into his head as if made of roses
dashing themselves down with love).
This self-obliteration of the rose-mind with roses is love. An obliterative mise-en-abyme of love. Not a nurturing but annhilating live. Inhuman. Rose. (Aygi, as Valentine’s introduction makes clear, was a humanist and would not share my reading.)
Reading Aygi, I think of Seyhan Erocelik, Artaud, Rimbaud, Alice Notley, St. Therese of Liseux, John Clare, Blake, Artaud. In my perversity, I think of Lars Von Trier and Andy Warhol.
Mystic poets of Montevidayo, this book is bejeweled with minor ultimates and I lovingly invite you to order it this Holiday Season TM.
CHILD-AND-ROSE is a selection of the verse of Gennady Aigi translated by Peter France. Aigi (1934-2006) was one of the major writers of the Soviet avant-garde, writing Russian-language verse of powerful but somehow alien insight greatly inspired by his Chuvash heritage. Among Aigi's output, which ranges from meditations on the horror of Soviet authority to reminisces of Chuvash traditional culture, a few books were dedicated mainly to themes of childhood and innocence. France has collected here "Veronica's Book", "Sleep-and-Poetry", "Before and After the Book", "Silvia's World" and "Poetry-As-Silence", all written between 1972 and 2002.
Bei Dao has contributed a preface expressing his own appreciation of Aigi, showing that in spite of Aigi's particular background he wrote poetry that is meaningful to readers internationally. Peter France's foreword contains a brief biography of Aigi and then explains the difficulty of translating Aigi by commenting on his poem "Krug" and France's English rendering "The Circle". The poems then follow. It is a real pity that this edition does not contain the original Russian alongside the English translation, as in the earlier SELECTED POEMS. Nonetheless, New Directions has printed and bound the book beautifully, with a lovely cover design and a portrait of Aigi by Gennadii Gogoliuk.
"Veronica's Book" was written in the few years after the birth of his first daughter in 1983, and the poems are a celebration of nascent femininity, with glimpses back to the life of Aigi's mother and more remote ancestors. There is genuinely moving poetry is here, such as "Beginning of the 'The Period of Likeness'", which opens with "and the forces / of the tribe are stirred --- and they float / and turn like wind-and-light --- carrying over your face / cloud after cloud: all expressions / of vanished faces". Nonetheless, I must admit I prefer Aigi's other poetry to this often saccharine delight in being a father. "Silvia's World" is similarly lightweight, a little work consisting of 32 isolated lines on the life of a young girl in Paris who gave up her room to Aigi when the poet stayed with her family. Some of these are quite amusing.
The book contains furthermore 37 of Aigi's more typical poems. These spans from the 1970s to 2002 and we find classics like the awesome "Now there are always snows" (Teper' vsegda snega), though the English translation here is only one of infinite possibilities as the Russian original is ambiguous in its parsing.
Two short works of prose are found here. "Notes on Sleep and Poetry" is a collection of 40 brief musings written over a span of four days in January 1975, while "Poetry-as-Silence" followed after it. The fragments herein are occasionally hermetic, but generally amount to a clearly understandable metaphysical manifesto of Aigi's poetry, rather comparable to Char's "Feuillets d'Hypnos" or Tafdrup's "Over vandet gaar jeg". In the ninth passage of "Sleep and Poetry", Aigi writes "Poetry has no ebb and flow. It *is*, it *abides*. Even if you take away its 'social' efficacy, you cannot take away its living, human fullness, profundity, autonomy."
Because of the lightweight nature of "Veronica's Book" and "Silvia's World", and the lack of the original Russian against a facing-page translation, I'll give this three stars. I'd daresay that a better introduction to Aigi, for those who don't yet know his work, would be the SELECTED POEMS volume.