No. 4 & 5



Transfixing Dislocations and Locations

by Hildred Crill

Andrey Gritsman
long fall: Poems, Texts, and Essays
New York: Spuyten Duyvil, 2004.

   Shifting between genres as the subtitle indicates, Andrey Gritsman’s long fall moves energetically in many directions to pursue aspects of location and dislocation from several angles. The superb opening essay, “Poet in Intercultural Space,” immediately places the poet outside time yet within the traditional timeless mode of a quick fairy tale: “Once upon a time on an inhabited island there lived a poet.” The poet’s island, that most isolating piece of geography, might claim residents such as one finds, say, in Manhattan, but only the poet is mentioned. In this and other essays interspersed throughout the book, Gritsman depicts the situation of outsider poets who compound alienation by living far from homeland and native language, in particular the newer generation of Russian poets living in the United States. Not true exiles like their predecessors, these writers are both on the move and settling in, finding lives, raising American children and looking back to Russia with certain longings “but not specifically for a life that could have gone the other way back home.” 
   From this perspective of the contemporary intercultural poet, Gritsman discusses disruptions to mind and expression in his own experience of “geoculturally scattered life,” as well as in a wide range of exiled or displaced writers, including Mandelstam, Brodsky, T.S. Eliot, Nabokov and Kafka. Exploring the possibilities that lie within this fracture and doubling, Gritsman looks at both the Russian and American sides with the insight of a long-term dual linguistic and literary inhabitant. He writes succinctly and tellingly about the “many American poets who dedicate their art mostly to self analysis” and the generally hermetic landscape of American poetry that has led to a strong attraction to poets from other lands like Brodsky as well as to “the cult of Tsvetaeva and Akhmatova,” which derives “its energy from reality, as if it were a new phenomenon, and not, merely, reality.”  Comparing the linguistic structures and poetic traditions in detail, he describes the significant challenges in translating Russian poets into English as well as his own painstaking process of working with sound, syntax, word and meaning.
   Clearly, the outsider poet has much to gain from isolation and upheaval, but Gritsman also writes about community, the chance “to sit shoulder-to-shoulder in a café with your soulmates, get a beer, or two, together, relaxing, lowering the tone of conversation to express one’s mind.”  And, according to his exhilarating account of the current situation, that meeting place continues to develop and solidify in its virtual form, “electronic communities,” a sort of “literary cybercafe with readings at night or at the crack of dawn, depending on the time zone and uninterrupted functioning of the server.” And in actual locations as well, a new language is opening up and deepening, particularly the lingua franca English, which Gritsman sees as “English as a second language of one’s poetic soul.”

   The switching of genres in long fall suits this relentless drive and restless search expressed in the essays. Often building on the same passions and disturbances, the poems bring other approaches, measuring out images of immediate life in unrhymed, generally short and often enjambed lines in a variety of stanza forms. Here, too, the roving mind and self are seeking places to land and settle, changing constantly and drawing from the surroundings, much of which is on the move also: jets, New Jersey highways, the Raritan River, spandex-clad bikers, “a long / slender flow of the Gulfstream.” There are also moments of stillness, fastened to an exact and direct reality, such as an early morning coffee at a diner on Route 547, but these fleeting images offer no easy resolutions to the compelling, complex human questions posed in this book. In fact, often home or location in general co-exists with images of containment, entrapment, loneliness or abandonment.  Boxes recur frequently: caskets, “dried urine / on the cardboard boxes,” Route One’s “warehouses, suburban barns, / abandoned shops, worn-out gas / stations,” and “Eternity of the empty stores,” which “is sealed by a concrete wall.” Even in electronic escape, being fixed in time brings no security; rather, it is detention that becomes segue to vanishing: “Stored e-mail messages / are pinned butterflies, / waiting for their turn / to disappear into / electronic oblivion.” Even so, in spite of longings and uncertain belonging, there are reminders of hope: “It does not matter where you belong / as long as your lungs / are filled with free air.”



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