Tag: Poetry

Book Review: Between Silk and Cyanide, by Leo Marks

 

We have a little time left
The wise doctor said
Unless there’s a miracle
Which is another man’s trade

Selfish as always
I’ve started missing you now
Want to say so
Don’t know how
Want to hug you
Don’t know if I should
Hope you understand
I’d take your place if I could

In 1942, at the age of 22, Leo Marks joined the secret British agency known as Special Operations Executive. He soon became the organization’s Codemaster, responsible for the security of communications with SOE’s resistance and sabotage agents in occupied Europe. He usually briefed these agents — soon-to-be-legendary individuals like Violette Szabo and Forest Yeo-Thomas — before their departures and they all left indelible impressions on him. His memoir is a very emotional book: frequently heartbreaking, sometimes very funny. There is a lot about the technical aspects of cryptography, but these sections can be skipped or skimmed by those who are primarily interested in the powerful human story. Poetry, much of it written by Marks himself, played an important part in SOE’s cryptographic operations and hence plays an important role in this book.

What Can I Do?

 

Over the past two months after Tyler’s death, people have said, “Whatever I can do . . . ” There is a way, as one of my friends has said, “to pay tribute through art.” Read about the musical project that is wedding Tyler’s poetry with music. CLICK HERE: https://gofund.me/d4b373f8.

[The artwork is one of many meditations Tyler would draw as a form of release from the voices intruding upon his mind. He would say to me, “Dad, I don’t know where the connection to the next line on the page will go until it happens.”]

Member Post

 

Who was Phyllis Wheatley?  She was an African-American who was a slave but taught to read and write and showed a natural gift toward poetry.  According to Wikipedia, she was born in West Africa, enslaved at about seven or eight, brought to the colonies where she was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston.  This […]

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Do you ever feel DIRTY? Sometimes it is “only because of that dirt” that we can live aright. I hope this short piece from one of my favorite poets, Czeslaw Milosz, stirs your thoughts as it has mine this week. [15 second read, from his book “Road-Side Dog.”]  – At the end of his life, […]

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Valentine’s Day, which celebrates romantic love, is named after a saint who, according to tradition, was arrested in the act of marrying couples and helping Christians who were being persecuted under the emperor Claudius Gothicus. James Qualben, a parish pastor and author, wrote the following tribute, and it is a reminder that at its best […]

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Call Me Not Great When I Go

 

Call me not great when I go, friend.
Call me not great at all.
I was a man imperfect, friend;
I heard the devil’s call.

At times I’d deny his allure.
At times I paid his due.
My sins remember me for sure,
And ev’ry one I rue.

Where Have You Gone, Samuil? A Journey Through Identity and Exile with Vladislav Khodasevich (Borscht Report #9/Group Writing)

 

When it comes to pre-WWII Russian literary critics and poets, Vladislav Khodasevich is not well known, particularly in the West. Compared to someone like, say, Bunin or Tsvetaeva, he’s been largely ignored. But Khodasevich deserves attention, both as a skilled memoirist and poet, and as one of the few who chronicled the whole journey of his generation through the realities of WWI and the White exile, grappling with issues of right, honor, and Russian identity, especially for those who carried non-Russian blood in the vast multiethnic empire. 

Born in Moscow in May of 1886, Khodasevich was the son of a Polish nobleman and a Jewish woman. Unlike the union of Vera and Vladimir Nabokov, though, theirs was not an unusual act of mutual tolerance. Jacob Brafman, Khodasevich’s maternal grandfather, was a famous convert from Judaism to Orthodoxy, who wrote The Book of Kahal, a forerunner to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He entered the law faculty of Moscow University in 1904, then switched to history and philology the next year, staying on until 1910. It was during his time at the university that Vladislav met Samuil Kissin, a law student and aspiring poet from Orsha who was a year older than he. Twenty years later, he said Kissin, whom he affectionately nicknamed Muni, was “как бы вторым «я»” (like my second self) and reflected on how “we lived in such a faithful brotherhood, in such close love, which now seems wonderful to me.”

Despite his training, Khodasevich did not want to be a historian or a philologist, but, like Kissin, a poet, and dropped out in the final year of his course. He frequented Moscow’s literary salons and cafes, and published articles and poems for famous literary magazines, like Golden Fleece and Libra. Although he was the descendant of a noble family, his father had come to Russia impoverished, and Kissin, who hailed from an observant Jewish merchant family (he was trained in Hebrew and the Talmud at home during his childhood) actually had a much more secure financial position, though he was always willing and happy to support his friend along with himself. 

Journey Over the Keys

 

Sometimes the journey is downhill: a gentle slope to aid our run.
Sometimes the journey is uphill beneath a burnished, scorching sun.

And if we move our feet each day (although we do not go so far),
The steps add up o’er months and years and memories of tears and fun.

A Poem for Pentecost

 

The moment was forever
when tongues of fire were born.
We watched in aweful silence
descending of the storm.
A noise of Being speaking
without the fire we heard;
a thunder-shaking vision
without the Rabbi’s word.

The firestorm fell among us,
but peace would hold us still
as noise of fire was parted
by Heaven’s hidden will.
The flames were storm no longer,
with musical select;
a note within the mystery
for each of the elect.

Member Post

 

First Posted April 14, 2008.   Thirteen years later to the day, I took two walks under clear blue skies.  Last Saturday it snowed and sleeted and our driveway remained a sea of churned-up mud.  Because of the ooze and ice, I haven’t been able to go on a decent walk around here since January, and last week […]

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Apparently April is Poetry Month (did anyone else know?) and every morning the English Department at our high school publishes a poem at the end of the daily announcements. I felt inspired to contribute something and as I was skimming through works by my favorite poets, I came across this poem by one of the […]

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All Good Things Come in Threes: Khamsa of Nizami British Library, Or. 12208

 

Khamsa of Nizami British Library, Or. 12208 is not a very interesting sounding document. Indeed, to most Westerners, Khamsa of Nizami means nothing at all. But this illustrated manuscript, which now resides at the British Library in London, tells three extraordinary tales: the poems of Nizami, the profound (and unappreciated) bond between art and the written world in the early modern Islamic world, and the relationship between two great empires. Let’s start from the last. 

Holy Thou Art

 

What does it mean for something to be holy? I think it means that a thing or person directs us to God or expresses His presence. Holiness is connected with pious awe. 

What artistic works seem holy to you? Which are the most peculiarly holy — holy in some unusual and perhaps less obvious sense? Is there some work of sculpture or architecture, painting or music, oration or literature that draws you closer to God in a way your associates don’t fully share? 

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One of the great reads on Shakespeare is Harold C. Goddard’s The Meaning of Shakespeare, Volume 1. What a teacher this man must have been! (Head of the English Dept. at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in the 1930s and 40s.) Published in 1950 by The Chicago University Press, it has never been out of print. […]

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“Мы были Сережей и Иосифом”: Call Me When You Reach New York, Seryozha (Borscht Report #7)

 

When Sergei Dovlatov, finally having run afoul of Soviet censors one too many times, was encouraged (i.e. told he was going) to leave the Soviet Union in 1979, he never doubted his destination: New York. Of course, the large Russian community there, which his wife and daughter had settled into a few years previous, played a role in his decision. But so did the presence of an old friend. Joseph Brodsky, an established poet two years his senior who shared a similarly combative relationship with Soviet authorities, had been forced into exile in 1972, and had chosen New York as his final destination.

Brodsky was something of a literary older brother to Dovlatov. The two met in the winter of 1959, when Dovlatov was a student in the faculty of Finnish language at Leningrad State University, and Brodsky, who at various times had worked in morgues, geological expeditions, and naval boiler rooms, was beginning to find a prominent place on the Leningrad literary scene. Only a year later, he would meet his mentor, the famous poetess Anna Akhmatova, who helped him reach fame all over the country. The young student, though, was already impressed: “He pushed Hemingway out of the background and became my literary idol forever.”

Dovlatov’s new idol quickly found his fortunes reversing. In 1963, Brodsky’s poetry was officially denounced, and, on charges of social parasitism and with a diagnosis of sluggish schizophrenia, he was twice placed in mental institutions. Not yet twenty-four, he was put on trial, and, when he replied to one of the People’s Judges, on asking who had made him a poet, “No one. And who put me in the ranks of humanity?”, he was sentenced to five years hard labor in the Arkhangelsk Oblast of northwestern Russia. Meanwhile, his new friend had flunked out of LGU and was subsequently drafted into the Soviet Internal Troops, used a camp guard in between stints as a boxer.