On Saturday, thanks to Tom Epstein, I was able to get a ticket for the 2nd night of Russian poetry at Alice Tully, in the Rose reading room (a beautiful auditorium at night - 2 walls of windows, low lighting on stage, high ceilings - you felt like you were in a planetarium or outside).
Had dinner at Poona on 72nd St beforehand with Tom & Elena Shvarts. Telling them about the lecture on Russian "underground" poetry of 70s-90s given earlier in the day by Mikhaill Iampolski. Very clear well-organized presentation; he talked about the Petersburg poets, the Moscow poets; the "keepers of the (high culture poetry) flame" and the egalitarian, anti-tradition, anti-"art" postmodernist conceptualists, the "idiot school" of poetry. Very interesting, & he confessed his bias toward the latter end of the spectrum.
Told Elena what he had said about her reading Fri. night (which I missed) & her poem "Cardinal Points", where she maps out the cosmos on/through her body. She said (all in Russian, Tom patiently translating) that she had a new understanding of that poem while she read it Friday. Said something about how in this life we are destined to be torn to pieces in the "4 directions" leaving only one direction of access, straight up...
which was strange, since none of us at the point had heard about the Challenger crash - we went from dinner to the reading, & Joseph Brodsky's widow (Maria Brodsky) opened the program with a brief eulogy - quoted some apropos lines from Dante (Inferno XXVI l. 112):
Brothers, I said, o you who having crossed
a hundred thousand dangers, reach the west,
to this brief waking-time that still is left
unto your senses, you must not deny
experience of that which lies beyond
the sun, and of the world that is unpeopled.
Consider well the seed that gave you birth:
you were not made to live your lives as brutes
but to be followers of worth and knowledge.
During the reading they played recordings of Pasternak, mandelstam & Tsvetaeva (? or a reader) reciting. Never heard Mandelstam's voice before. Like a brave piping little bird - sort of a comic-brave intonation - Chaplinesque, it seemed! But similar to Pasternak in that the grid of meter & rhyme like a cage for this really wild musical recitation - inherent in the language but so different from the flat intonation of American poets - more like old recordings I've heard of Pound & yeats, but more varied pitch.
The quality of the poems - I mean the three old recordings - you understand M's notion that poetry is a visceral healing force - what Whitman must have sounded like sometimes. Hard to explain : it's the voice of poetry HUMANIZING reality - through shared/transcended suffering & happiness - turning it into song & art. The notion that a person personalizes reality - a Proust-world, a Whitman-world, an Akhmatova-world - & this personal cosmos comes through in the voice - but as it becomes Everyperson, universal - not one or the other but both.
This universalizing of the poetry image or statement must have a name - Aristotle I guess thought it was what differentiated poetry from history - the universal in the particular. But it's not an abstract thing - it's the universal through the personal human voice achieving a particular poetic statment like a victory against inimical forces. & people understand it immediately, share it as an experience known. It is an EVENT, not chit-chat; it is selfless experience, or an emptying, not "motivated". Dante's notion that poetry is renunciation.
The distance necessary to evoke/imagine/invent/be inspired this kind of special speech. Silence & inwardness.
Talking & thinking are not the same. Poetry & club talk are 2 different things. It was good to go to Russia for an evening.