Friday 16 October 2015

Journey to Armenia by Osip Mandelstam

Armenia was already an event when I was sixteen; there was an Armenian about my age, or younger, whom I met once or twice by the river where I went to play tennis with the quality. He was Armenian before he was anything else. I liked his dark looks, long lashes and outsiderhood. Everything Armenian began with an A.

Osip Mandelstam fashions his sentences as you pick up dropped stitches in knitting: it will not look like the full knit, or not for a long time, and you know it. His abrupt and observing mind, a poet descending, as he might think, into prose, notices then abandons some charming things.
When you look around, your eyes need more salt. You catch forms and colours — and all is unleavened bread. Such is Armenia.
Only last year on the island of Sevan in Armenia, as I went strolling in the waist-high grass, I was captivated by the shameless burning of the poppies. Bright to the point of surgical pain... 
Mandelstam was reverenced among the boy poets of the Ireland of the 1970s. I didn't do reverence therefore I didn't do Mandelstam; I didn't do adoration. Poetry was pain and dislocation; I had no altars, wanted no balm.

So I can't exactly read Mandelstam, even now, I can only jump in and out as with a rough sea.

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