feeding my soul

“If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves alone are left.
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”
- Saadi (13th century Persian poet)

poetry in motion

On the subway this morning I looked up and saw what I’ve always considered to be one of the few redeeming things about riding the subway:  Poetry in Motion, the joint project of the MTA and the Poetry Society of America.  Each year, they would select a handful of poems and post them in the ad space just above head height on the buses and subway.  Auden, Verlaine, Neruda, Shakespeare, the mix was eclectic, eccentric, and a perfect little respite from the drudgery of mass transit. The project was discontinued back in 2008, so it was a pleasant surprise to see one still hanging – even if  only out of neglect.  I’ve written about Russian poet Vera Pavlova on here before.  I had no idea until this morning that one of my favorite of her poems – “If there is something to desire” – had been featured on the subway as far back as three years ago.


kak po russki?

I’m reading Vera Pavlova’s amazing new book of poems, If There is Something to Desire:  100 Poems.  Simple, elegant, and direct, her verse storms the heart in highly disciplined miniatures that vibrate with emotion.  They are transporting – in that way you once hoped poetry could be:  mapping an inner landscape like a well-thumbed Michelin Guide.

It’s difficult to believe but Pavlova is the first contemporary Russian poet since Joseph Brodsky to have a solo collection of verse translated and published in English.  Thanks to my good friend Yelena Demikovsky of Red Palette Pictures for introducing me to this extraordinary artist.  Yelena made a short documentary film about Pavlova that is currently making the rounds of a few festivals.  You can view the trailer for it on the Red Palette site.

Here are three brief, sterling examples.  Read them and weep.

Then click the link above to buy the rest.

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When the very last grief

deadens all our pain,

I will follow you there

on the very next train,

not because I lack strength

to ponder the end result,

but maybe you forgot to bring

pills,  a necktie, razor blades……

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Why is the word yes so brief?

It should be

the longest,

the hardest,

so that you cold not decide in an instant to say it,

so that upon reflection you could stop

in the middle of saying it.

‡ ‡


Let us touch each other

while we still have hands,

palms, forearms, elbows . . .

Let us love each other for misery,

torture each other, torment,

disfigure, maim,

to remember better,

to part with less pain.


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