Natalya Gorbanevskaya: About Her Poetry
Legendary times – the Sixties! What now, in our tranquil cultural climate, is commented upon in hardback books found on shelves, in those days was passed from hand to hand in the form of blurry, typewritten sheets. You would go to your history lecture, and these items were handed on, row by row [. . .] Of contemporary poets the most frequently circulated texts were by Brodsky and Gorbanevskaya. [. . .] And a little later, Gorbanevskaya achieved another kind of prominence. A dissident activist, with a babe in arms, she went out onto Red Square, to protest against the occupation of Czechoslovakia. Her painful road through the madhouse [psychiatric prison hospital] led finally to emigration.
Gorbanevskaya’s poetry had to solve a complex problem. On the one hand, attentive to the needs of the country and her own social conscience, she made no attempt to eliminate all pathos from her poetry; on the other hand, she could not bring herself to write “simply”, as several of her older contemporaries did. In her work you find devices drawn from the most experimental poetry, which rejected narrative and moralizing . . . At the time – a sign of the times – Poland seemed like a beacon of hope, the freest of the countries of the socialist lager; Gorbanevskaya, like Brodsky, learnt Polish, became an enthusiastic “Polonophile”, doing as much for the Polish freedom movement as for the Russian one. In gratitude, Polish twentieth-century poetics helped our unofficial poetry – and in particular Gorbanevskaya’s – to define itself in terms of new prosodic developments. [. . .]
In spite of the brevity of individual poems, which sometimes seem to be no more than snapshots of a spiritual reality picked out of the flow of time, Gorbaneskaya’s poetry is always epic and in its way epochal; it is like a section of an old tree with a plethora of rings, allowing you to reconstruct in detail the past, where your life too is represented. Remarkable is the selflessness, the disinterestedness of her poetry; adaptation, conformism are utterly foreign to it. Her voice, with all its pathos, was from the start not intended for the Luzhniki Stadium, or even for the pages of Soviet journals, but for a circle of fellow thinkers, the very best of our people at that time.
Typewritten Samizdat texts, it seems, were so closely linked to their own production process that regular publication later was for them a test. Time was an even more rigorous test. [. . .]
[. . .] The originality of Gorbanevskaya’s poetry – and with the years, in emigration, this tendency has increased – lies in the fact that most of her poems do not develop in a linear way: introduction; development; resolution. Economical, lapidary, her texts go straight to the heart of the matter, apparently devoid of a framework. Metaphorically speaking, one might say that she constructs not “houses”, but “nests”. In her lyrical heroine there is indeed something of the tireless builder of nests: ever busy . . . And the reader suddenly feels that it is a privilege to be a contemporary of this indefatigably intrepid worker, tough, at times even harsh. There’s a certain phonetic, rhythmic, imagistic complexity that is more a sign of something organic than a defect. [. . .]
What an amazing phenomenon: from month to month, year to year, decade to decade – the survival of the lyric, the constant subordination to it of life and creativity, when writing is not a profession, but existence itself transcends any mercenary goal.
True, there’s a danger of making the poetic event humdrum, everyday. There are many who reach a certain level and just stay there, never rising above it, forgetting that poetry has to do with revelation. But, the dramatic nature of Natalya Gorbanevskaya’s lyric heroine does not allow her to write in clichés. She is never tedious or monotonous.
“[A]nd the same Slavic laments / we bequeath to the great-grandsons, / the way of penitence, like the path of sin, / is never-ending.”
|Source: Poetry Library Southbank Centre: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=13151|