Distribution Automatique

Thursday, March 27

In response to a passionate call for action on the part of US poets from Heriberto Yepez (see below) that I published here and on the Buffalo poetics list this fascinating letter posted by Masha Zavialova has quickly provoked an important discussion tonight on the poetics list from Tom Bell and many others, that I expect will continue for some time.

With her kind permission, and our immense gratitude, the complete text is reproduced below:

Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 19:54:19 -0600
From: Masha Zavialova
Subject: what can poets do

What can poets do?

I am starting to develop a deja vu feeling. Some of the things from my
life in the Soviet Union are returning that have been repressed. So what can
poets do?
Apart from doing what a physical body can do - like going out in the
streets, or whatever, and making one‚s presence visible as the opposition
to the regime, in times like these poets could do one very specific thing
that only writers can do ˆ be sensitive to current usage and scrape off the
official ideological shit from the language. I remember a phrase from the
soviet past Œthe wolf is the janitor of the wilderness‚ in the sense that
wolves put away sick animals who are unable to run fast. So poets in the
late Soviet times were the janitors of the language. By 1980s the Soviet
official language became so stale that many words became meaningless or
rather filled with such meanings that one had to be within the context and
know the official doctrine in order to understand. Should I say that what
the ideological apparatus did was to make an attempt to arrest the permanent
sliding of the signifier? Maybe I get it wrong but anyway the ideocratic
state made an attempt to secure the meanings of words and control
signifying processes so that eventually you could not use lots of words
unless in a joke or in some sort of an ironical sense. It was kind of weird
because it would seem that words are polysemantic and you can actually
switch registers, leave newspeak behind and still go on speaking but what
happened was that the whole language was compromised and contaminated and it
took literally hundreds of poets and prose writers, (D.A. Prigov comes to
mind first) to try and repair the abuse.

(I joined the list after a long break thanks to Maria Damon so this is a way
to re-introduce myself. Sorry if I am out of the discourse)