After Five Words Englished from the Russian
This is the second collaboration between John Matthias and Jean Dibble to appear in X-Peri. The first, The HIJ, was published in X-Peri in January, 2016. “After Five Words Englished From the Russian” first appeared as text in the inaugural edition of the Huffington Post Literary Supplement and, after that, in Matthias’s Collected Longer Poems (Shearsman Books). Jean Dibble’s new poster poems will join the first set as part of a three-way book-length collaboration between herself, Matthias, and Robert Archambeau. The “five words” in question come from Osip Mandelstam's great poem “He Who Finds a Horseshoe,” written in Moscow in 1923. In his note for the Huffington Post printing of the text, Matthias wrote, “I cannot read the poem in Russian, but I have loved it in English for many years (favoring first one translation, then another.) Mandelstam is the source of the horseshoe. The dingbats [sometimes now obscured in the poster version] come from “Insert/Symbol” at the top of my MacBook Pro. I think of them as sucking-stones. Demosthenes sucked stones, but so did Beckett’s Malloy: Watt concludes: ‘parole non ci appulcro _ _ _ Threne heard by Watt in ditch on way from station. The soprano sang:’ followed by four and a half inches of white space in my old Calder and Boyars edition, followed in turn by “no symbols where none intended.” That last statement is, I suppose, the memory trace leading to my lines about codes, modes, allusions, mimesis, and thesis in part V. Anyone who has read my book called Trigons will know that I have, in my layman’s way, been reading neurology for many years, especially where it connects with musical composition and comprehension. Have a Google at Aplysia Californica and see what pops up. If you’re feeling ambitious, read Eric R. Kandel’s In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of the Mind instead. Section II draws heavily on a short story by Isaac Babel. There’s a pun, of course, on his name. There are lots of puns. I was forced to attend a summer camp once as a child and had to deal with a sadistic counselor, a professional wrestler recovering from double hernia surgery. To associate this with Soviet era “camps” and their guards in the Gulag may seem outrageously wrong, but I’ve been unable not to. (Auden said that his best reason to oppose Fascism was that at school he lived in a Fascist state.) Stalin had lots of noms de guerre, most famously Koba.” Jean Dibble’s imagery derives mostly from a photograph of Osip Mandelstam, but the poem is not “about” Mandelstam in the way, for example, Gertrude Schnackenberg’s “A Moment in Utopia” is in her book, A Gilded Lapse of Time. But the poem, widely associational in many ways, is certainly haunted by Mandelstam’s life and work throughout and, in its awkward way, elegiac.
—John Matthias, Jean Dibble & Robert Archambeau