I’ve read this book before but The Ern Malley Affair is such a complex and interesting story populated by the most impressive array of real-life characters that reading it again is like reading it for the first time.
A girl wading out to sea
Praying there is no baby
And hoping she’ll be able to forget
A guy bragging to the boys
Didn’t leave her with a choice
Left her with bruises and a threat
And now she has finally guessed
Nothing more than second best
Nothing less than worthy of his hate
She can’t forgive the violence
So she balances her silence
With a blood red circle round the date
Someday long ago
Tears for a tale of woe
And smiles for what you perceive
Never right now
Silence as you take a bow
And voices as you prepare to leave
Advocate devil’s advice
Lies you can’t hear twice
And truths you can’t ever hear
One liberated urge
Children right there on the verge
And adults who can only fear
Although I am a more dedicated fan of modern poetry, Christina Rossetti (along with William Shakespeare) is where I diverge from this dedication. Virginia Woolf in “I Am Christina Rossetti” wrote, “Yours was a complex song. When you struck your harp many strings sounded together… A firm hand pruned your lines; a sharp ear tested their music. Nothing soft, otiose, irrelevant cumbered your pages. In a word, you were an artist.” (I had to include that because it is poetry in itself as much as an ode to a poet.)
What are you looking for?
What are you waiting for?
Better hope to God you know what you’re doing
Who are you looking to?
Who are you praying to?
Better hope to God
Truth or dare?
Still frightened of the scare
Dare or truth?
Still looking for the proof
A quick note on these song lyrics: I had bought a new computer which came with a pre-installed voice recognition program. I had to read a bunch of words to train the computer to recognise me specifically but even after all that work, it still struggled to translate what I was saying into the headset onto the page. In fact, a lot of it was gobbledy-gook. I took some of the gobbledy-gook phrases and turned them into these song lyrics because I thought they had a certain poetry to them, even though they often made no sense.
The phrase “What can I say?” was what I had to say when the computer when it was struggling and I was struggling. I incorporated that, too, and obviously that is what the reference “I thought at least a machine would understand” means.
Published in 1993, and therefore missing seven years of potential inclusions, Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry is nevertheless an impressive contribution to my poetry library. Translated into English so a non-Russian reader like me can still appreciate it, it encompasses several difficult periods in Russian and world history including World War I, the subsequent revolution, the Stalinist years, World War II and the later Soviet years.
The big names in Russian poetry are all here: Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Wassily Kandinsky (yes, he was a poet as well as a painter), Vladimir Nabokov (of Lolita fame) and hundreds more I’d never heard of. The two poems I’ve chosen to showcase here are reproduced in their entirety because they are as perfect as poems get and I would hate to be responsible for interfering with that.