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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
Style Icon: Anna Akhmatova
It's one of the great sadnesses of my life that I wasn't born in a time when there were "poetesses." I would've liked to have been a "poetess," to write lucid, startling poems that penetrated into the beautiful bitterness of life and have dude writers fall in love with me and be part of a "school" that reinvented national poetry while drinking in cafes at St. Petersberg. But alas -- I had to be reincarnated in the age of bloggers, but at least I can blog about my favorite poetess of all, Anna Akhmatova.
For me, the best of Akhmatova's poems were finely attuned to pain and suffering. But not in an angsty way, though she had ample occasion for angst -- despite the privileges of her Russian upper-class birth and upbringing, her striking gorgeousness and her intelligence, she had some sucky endings to some marriages (three!) and endured some heavy-duty government censorship of her work. (Not to mention living through the Stalinist terror, egads.) Her poems were rendered in clean, precise language; you can imagine them written after days and days of bawling when you've cried yourself clean and you get that weird, light, empty feeling where it all becomes clear. Clarity is one of the most beautiful qualities of Akhmatova's work, although you have to shudder when you wonder how much suffering you'd have to endure to get to that point.
There's a sense of clarity and precision in her style as well, at least from what I can glean from photographs and paintings of her. (You must be doing something right if you've been painted as often as Akhmatova has been.) If you were going to figure out style lessons from Anna Akhmatova, besides the obvious hot vintage-y thing, they'd be:
1. Never underestimate the power of a good profile and some excellent bangs.
2. A great neckline can really set off your features.
3. Consistency makes for iconography -- you can never tell what year most photos of Akhmatova are from, because she always had her bangs and her hair up and some kind of dramatic neckline.
But above all, be a genius, especially one who is that beautifully anachronistic thing, a poetess. I've had three short Akhmatova poems on my bulletin board for about three years now. This is the last, most devastating one:
I drink to the wreck of our life together,
And the pain of living alone.
I drink to the loneliness we share--
My dear, I drink to you.
I drink to the trick of a mouth that betrayed me,
To the eyes and the look that lied.
I drink to the terrible world we inhabit
And to God, who never replied.
I don't even believe in God, but that last line just guillotines itself through you in a way that makes you understand what it is like to feel forsaken by life. It's using words with the simplicity and directness in the same way that a certain type of style icon uses visuals to communicate their style -- cutting through thickets of noise and fog to deliver that clean blow that instantly hits you in a place you never knew existed but feels deeply familiar.
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