An old mini-pseudo-manifesto:
The annual Conference of Literary and Academic Professionals (a major undertaking which attracts each year approximately 12.5 million scholars from every corner of the globe) took place in Providence, Rhode Island last April, and as I had arrived a day early, with time to kill, I rang up a local poet named Henry Gould (at the immense library where he is employed), and we agreed to meet for coffee nearby.
Gould seemed at home in the seedy (art-student/slacker) ambience of the place, with his unkempt hair hung low over a frayed lumberjack shirt and his nervous fingers and lips playing with an unlit cigarette. I sensed immediately the irritable guardedness often remarked upon in the narrow subculture of ephemeral poets in which he has been supposed – or at least had been until a few years ago – to circulate in a certain sluggish, reserved and hesitant fashion. Little did I foresee how many hours I would remain there, facing him across a crumby & coffee-smudged formica counter, soaking up his theory of poetry, which he defines simply as: “Pushkinism”. Rather than try to paraphrase, blend, or homogenize Gould’s words, I will present my notes, in which I transcribed his statements as accurately as I could manage after returning to my hotel room (Marriott, room #132).
Pushkinism is literary professionalism. The poet is an author and the author is a free man or woman and the poet’s work lacks the slightest whiff of necessity, force, uncertainty, guile, venality, apprenticeship, imitation, vanity, trickery, cajolery, laziness, stupidity, vulgarity, ignorance, naivete, provincialism, snobbery, falsehood, malice, envy, boredom, academicism, self-indulgence, arrogance, indifference, corruption, effeteness, boasting… Pushkinism is pure in heart.
Pushkinism recognizes an irreducible distance between everyday life and the making of poetry – a distance measured by two processes in symbiosis: the presence of the muse and an extreme state of intellectual effort and concentration. Populists, seducers and entertainers who are unwilling to acknowledge this distance need to find another hobby.
Pushkinism denounces and avoids literary subcultures. To put it more strongly: Pushkinism asserts that literary creation – that awesome work of Nature – is a process of transcending, reversing, defeating, and destroying every literary clique, program, subculture, and sinecure in the entire universe.
Pushkinism is Romany violins. Pushkinism is rare. Pushkinism is a gift of God. Pushkinism is nativity and incarnation. Pushkinism is Mendelssohn.
Pushkinism is pure escape, pure aesthetic indifference, pure freedom, pure joy. Thus Pushkinism is the discovery of God (mediated by the muse) through art, in whose company pure escape is transfigured into unending labor, humble servanthood, complete sacrifice, clear mystery, mysterious clarity.
Pushkinism is humanism: the force of the charismatic ordinary person bringing State and Ideology to their knees. Democracy and common sense and the common good and universality and individuality and life everlasting and the grace of God. The Captain’s Daughter and The Bronze Horseman and The Queen of Spades and Boris Godunov and Eugene Onegin.
Pushkinism understands that art is a force of nature, an expression of a time and a people, a correlation and reflection of the same. Art is time being redeemed: do not think of it as consolation, hobby, clubhouse, personal possession, or rebellion. No one owns it, no one configures it, no one encapsulates it, no one contains it: it belongs to people, they find it for themselves.
Pushkinism is the brilliance of human knowledge given back, humbly returned, to the superhuman sources of beauty which both frame and transcend it. This is the power of melody, harmony, and rhythm (instilled by the muse).
Pushkinism is the meekness of Pegasus rearing his head, first in this land, then in that land… Pushkinism is a band of Scythian horsemen, bringing (as Mandelstam wrote) the young ones safely to their wedding… Pushkinism is the steady drone of cicadas scattered high in the cottonwoods.
Pushkinism is the recognition of art’s perennial quality - that which runs deeper than change or fashion in the melody of a line or the balancing of passages or the denouement of a tale. Pushkinism is the welling-up of a Breugel-spring: earth’s everlasting variety and renewal.
Pushkinism is classicism – as understood by Mandelstam and Celan: ie., not experiment, but the fulfillment of a vow; not an appeal, but a faithful return of what was freely given.
The hour was getting late, and I was due to present my paper early the following morning (the complete paper, titled “Scrambled Eggs and Exactitude : a Reconsideration of Diner Literature from 20th-Century New England”, can be found at my website, www.profproof.com), so I bid my provincial poet farewell, with an encouraging slap on the shoulder (to which he responded with a characteristic squint and a drag on his depleted cigarette), and headed up and outward to the street.