A Half-Dozen Poems
Octavio Paz once told an interviewer, “I would like to leave a half-dozen poems that, perhaps, from time to time, would be remembered by a future reader. To be read as I have read some poets. Nothing more.”
Muse [highlights from New Yorker article – date? see below for other sources]
• Throughout history, the changing image of the Muse has reflected changes in sexual behavior and in the status of women, but the process by which the art comes into being is always sublimation. The love that the artist feels for the woman becomes spiritual: a dream of Eros, a vision. On its highest plane, where sublimation results in art that is itself sublime, the visions move historically in cycles.
Two hundred years ago, the early German Romantics infected all Europe with the idea of divine inspiration, which they had revived from the Platonic revival of the Renaissance…
• The argument: Muses are passive, therefore passe. Muses do not choose to be Muses; they are chosen. Who wants to be a symbol anyway? The Muse is only a man speaking through a woman, not the woman herself. What male artists call Woman is a construct designed to keep real women in their place.
• But when a gifted male artist embraces his Muse he… in fact made a woman appear in the art, because he has voluntarily embraced the woman in himself. Joyce’s Molly Bloom in Ulysses. Tennessee Williams’ Blanche DuBois…
• Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror” –a case of the painter apprehending the Muse apprehending herself. [It is not the man speaking through the woman, but the woman speaking through the man.]
• It is the being of the woman who has inspired the [gifted male artist]
• The Olympian male imagination will always do more for the woman than he would do for herself, says Arlene Croce [“No woman could have created Balanchine’s choreography, yet it was so transparent that his women seemed to materialize individually under their own power.”]
• Women’s names were numinous: Block’s wife was a Liubov (love), Mandelstam’s a Nadezhda (hope). Stravinsky and Nabokov both married women named Vera (faith); the same name in Russian, with one consonant added, is Venus (Vera, Venera; Mrs. Nabokov used the French acute “e”).
• As for Vera Stravinsky, who was also a painter and had been an actress, the part of Muse came easily, though even she found it necessary to set down some rules:
1. Force the artist to work, even with a stick.
2. Love his work no less than him.
3. Welcome every burst of creative energy. Kindle him with new ideas.
4. Keep the main works and the drawings, sketches, and caricatures in order. Know each work, its scheme and meaning. [Vera S. had been married 4 x, once to Russian painter Sergei Sudeikin].
5. Relate to new works as if they were surprise gifts.
6. Know how to look at a painting for hours on end.
7. Be physically perfect and, therefore, his model forever.
“You are a limitless source of life,” Sudeikin wrote her in return. She could cook, too.
• The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova never doubted that she was entitled to worship the same Muse who came to men. And she herself was Muse to many others. Her “doubles” [other women who were Muse to men & to A. herself] seem to have functioned as a necessary distancing mechanism, letting her see herself more clearly.
• Without objectivity, self-study degenerates into narcissism (something Anais Nin never knew).
• Can a woman have a muse? If the Muse is that dream of Eros which inspires art, and if the woman artist is as possessed by worldly ambition as she is by the dream, then there is probably no alternative to bisexuality, writes Arlene Croce.
• It is possible to rule out Vita in favor of Vanessa as Virginia’s Muse. Vanessa was Virginia’s sister, and an artist and a mother…. this may mean that sister as a resource for a woman artist is under-explored. Akhmatova could say, “The Muse, my sister.”
[highlights from New Yorker article – date?]
* * *
• It has been said ‘Dreams are pictures of the soul.’ If that is so, what are poems? And what, then, is the relationship between a poet and her/his body of work, and the larger society?
• “Where no vision is, the people perish.”
“That poetry matters to the people who write it,” says Dana Gioia, “has been shown by the ordeal of Soviet poet Irina Ratushinskaya… sentenced to prison for 3-1/2 years, she was given paper and pencil only twice a month to write letters to her husband and her parents and was not allowed to write anything else. Nevertheless, [she] composed more than 200 poems in her cell, engraving them with a burnt match in a bar of soap, then memorizing the lines. ‘I would read the poem and read it,’ she said, ‘until it was committed to memory–then with one washing of my hands, it would be gone.’”
[Poets & Writers Magazine, May/June 1998]
New Yorker issue (TBA – date?) “Muse” article…
Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass, ” Penguin Classics, Edited by Malcolm Cowley
Michael Meyer, editor, “Poetry,” 2nd Edition, Bedford Books
Natalie Goldberg, “Wild Mind”
Poets & Writers Magazine, May/June 1998