Andrey Gritsman

Poet In Exile: Circa 21st Century

“The Poet’s dead” – is the opening line of the most famous Russian poem by 16 year old Lermontov on the duel death of  Alexander Pushkin. Death is a final exile for an artist.

As long as poet lives there is always hope to return home. The condition naturally could be mistaken by an artist, since he is always in exile as Pushkin was in 19th Century Russia, at the same time always at home with his genius and language. Poet’s home is his language and more than that – poet’s soul tells it’s story in any vernacular available to her. As Brodsky pointed out once – metaphysical truth of poet’s soul. Death being a final exile is also an entrance to the fields from where there is no return, but where one finally could see his face. Kafka, a quintessential exile in his own hometown once said in his diaries: There is a line, if you cross it once – there is no return. The goal (of an artist) is to try to reach that line. Kafka and Celan, two great exiles of the XXth Century were not prosecuted at home, unlike Ovidius, Brodsky and many others. Therefore, the life’s story of these German poets was the preface to so many stories of artists of our era who live and create not in the country of ones origin and traveling in time’s train to unknown destination.

Nowadays most of the dictatorships fell apart, so the obvious target for poet’s hatred, lamentation and “negative capability” disappeared, as well as the basis for ones deserved position as a hero, martyr etc. Now we all are on our own, without a counterweight of the oppressing society or the regime. Well, not quite. Lack of interest from the society, indifference, spiritual and intellectual apathy and widely available fast food of the pop-culture are the natural enemies of a poet. No less is growing institutionalized system of awards, academic positions etc., in other words still an attempt of the societies to pigeonhole a poet into the procrustean bed of the regulated culture.

In our period of globalization, which is not all bad, a poet is exiled into his own language or creates his own language as once did Celan. Now is the era of cultural globalization, speaking in tongues. And never before poet was destined to move closer toward primordial, original language of poetry, a higher unspoken language, which we all understand but speak differently in our own tongues. This is the language of poetry before Babylon. “Now the entire earth was of one language and uniform words…”

And the Lord said, “They are one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do. Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do? Come, let us descend and confuse their language, so that one will not understand the language of his companion.” But we still have this remote history of our primary language and this is the language of poetry, no matter what historical or linguistic premise there is. This is also the original language of prayer.

Such was the Pentecostal event in Jerusalem when crowd of people of different nations heard the same sermon spoken in one “language” but all in their native tongues.

Poet creates in exile by definition and in 21st Century as we get farther from mutual misunderstandings and suspicions, farther from the oppressive nature of dictatorial regulations, we get closer to our common language of art, of metaphor, from the humiliation of being a stranger in your own land.

Presented at the International Ovidius Literary Festival in Romania in 2011


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