Let's Talk Osip Mandelstam
Updated: Jan 26
Osip Mandelstam was a poet from Poland, who got to see the rise of the USSR. What makes his poetry particularly potent today is that he actually wrote about Kiev and the war in the Ukraine back in the USSR days. His wife, Nadezhda Khazina, was born in Russia, but moved with her family to the Ukraine where she eventually met Mandelstam. Due to her husband's writing, she was also hunted by the Soviet Union and had to flee from them as well (Wikipedia; find me if you don't like it). Mandelstam then wrote “Through Kiev, through the streets of the monster,” which basically went like "people are dying, the horses too, we can smell them, this is some sick shit." But more poetically and with more visual mention of the "Red Army" (line 9), which you can imagine got him stuck thick in a bad place with Stalin. He was already on Stalin's bad side with his work "The Stalin Epigram," which features such lines as: the ten thick worms his fingers, his words like measures of weight, the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip, the glitter of his boot-rims. Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses he toys with the tributes of half-men.
Pure poetic genius. Ecco Anthology of International Poetry states that this poem led to his arrest and exile in the 1930’s (455).
He basically lived the rest of his life with the USSR trying to persecute him for various little things. Osip Mandelstam’s work, “Through Kiev, through the streets of the monster,” made me curious to know more about Mandelstam’s historical and political background and how those aspects may have played a role in this poem. I was also curious to learn more about his writing style and if it was known for lending any sort of impact to his work, though this was a built self-serving, in that I want to try and incorporate his solid imagery technique into my own work. In my research, I found that Mandelstam's writing style was typical of those who wrote in the Acmeist type. He was a staunch opponent of symbolism, instead choosing to embrace “direct expressions of thoughts, feelings, and observations,” which were characteristic of Acmeism (Poetry Foundation). “Through Kiev, through the streets of the monster” then makes sense as a mainly observational piece, with lines like, “Here the concert hall has forgotten the instruments. /Dead horses along the main street. /The morgue smells in the nice part of town” (lines 6-8). I’d argue that the retelling of observations is the essence of most poems in that they share a moment, an experience. Mandelstam was just doing this in a much more straight forward way than we, as readers, sometimes encounter. This knack for writing experiences in such a way, and his reluctance to follow the USSR party line when it came to his writing, did not win him any friends in the Soviet and he died in a Soviet work camp after being arrested (Poetry Foundation).
This poet had a political presence in the early 1900’s that was in direct opposition to Stalin and his rise to power. His writing style, in its clear-cut imagery, continues even now to pull at the heart strings of his readers, which, while he was alive, did not do him any favors when it came to ensuring his personal wellbeing. In looking at Osip Mandelstam and the sociopolitical background in which he worked, it makes me question as writer what my own socio-political background is and what I can/should/would write about if I was to live so close to similar themes as Mandelstam did.
It's rather timely to talk about Mandelstam's work now, as we can draw parallels between the USSR in Ukraine and modern day Russian all up in there now. How apt to actively see humans repeating history, and in a morbid way it'll be interesting to see what writing comes from this in the future and how it will reflect what was already written in the past. Check out the Ecco Anthology of International Poetry by the way. Lots of good stuff in there.
Onto my mini-update! Nothing major to report, I did recieve two replies form professors asking about 'After the MFA,' and those convos are still ongoing, so I'll post useful links and conclusions next time. Next, I got to 80 pages editted in my novel! Wooo! I know it's not that great, only twenty pages editted this week total, but it's been a busy week, loike every week is a busy week, so I'm going to celebrate my small victories. Ain't no one else gonna celebrate them for me.
I'm typing up a few poems today that I drafted.
Re-got all my submission counts to 30. Have decided to write a chapbook.
Have not heard back from any editors, but also my manuscript has yet to be rejected by Tin House, so I hold out some little faith. International Women's Writing Guild is having a free write activity tomorrow, so I'mma be doing that.
I think that's almost it in the realm of writing (though I do have three or so other things going on, but I don't wanna talk about them until I've done some more solid work).
NOW, the big news!
WE GOT A PUPPY!!!!!!
Obligatory puppy tax coming just under this, but first: Her name is Brownie.
She is adorable.
She is 9 weeks old.
She knows 'sit' and 'down.'
She wakes me up every morning at 4am wanting to party. What breed is she, you might ask? Well, we know her mom is a border collie and her father is not, but the vet has told us to prepare to have a medium sized good girl in the future. As of right now, she's pretty small, and sleeps a lot. She has yet to bark, which I am totally cool with (and do not look forward to her learning how in the future), and she has zero vaccines for another...11 days. And around that time we can finally give her a bath! Poor smelly Brownie. Brownie also trips over her own big paws a lot, so poor, clumsy, smelly, small Dr. Browns... Puppy tax below!
See you next time!