by IRENE FOWLER, Contributor
Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) pen name of the Russian poet Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, who was born in Odessa, to a Ukrainian naval engineer and a mother descended from Russian nobility. She married poet Niklay Gumilev in 1910, but divorced him in 1918. In 1911, she was a co-founder of the Guild of Poets. The guild published her book of verse, Vecher (Evening), in 1912. The book sold out, and secured her reputation as a new and striking young writer. When her second collection, Chetki (Beads, or The Rosary), appeared in 1914, thousands of Russian girls wrote poems in imitation of her style, and she was dubbed “Soul of the Silver Age.” But in February 1917, the revolution started in Petersburg (then named Petrograd); soldiers fired on marching protestors, and others mutinied. In a city without electricity or sewage service, with little water or food, the people faced starvation and sickness. Some of Akhmatova’s friends died, while others left for Europe and America. Her poems during the years of the world war, revolution, and totalitarian repression in Russia were described as “grim, spare, and laconic.” In 1921, her former husband, Nikolay Gumilev, was named as a conspirator in a monarchist anti-Bolshevik plot, and he was shot along with 61 others. Akhmatova and her son Lev, fathered by Gumilev, were stigmatized. Lev’s later arrest during the purges and terrors of the 1930s was based on being his father’s son. Akhmatova’s poetry was now denounced as “bourgeois,” reflecting only trivial “female” preoccupations. She was attacked by the state, by former supporters and friends, and seen as an anachronism. During what she termed “The Vegetarian Years,” Akhmatova’s work was unofficially banned by a party resolution of 1925 and she found it hard to publish, though she didn’t stop writing poetry. She earned a bare living translating works by Victor Hugo, Rabindranath Tagore, Giacomo Leopardi, and writing scholarly works on Pushkin and Dostoyevsky. Many USSR and foreign critics and readers concluded she had died. Her son Lev was denied access to study at academic institutions because of his parents’ alleged anti-state activities. Lev was imprisoned repeatedly by the Stalinist regime, accused of counter-revolutionary activity. She would often queue for hours to deliver him food packages and plead on his behalf. Her poetry cycle Requiem documents her personal experience of this time.
from Requiem (Stalinist Terror)
by Anna Akhmatova, Odessa 1939
“For seventeen months I have been screaming,
Calling you home.
I’ve thrown myself at the feet of butchers
For you, my son and my horror.
Everything has become muddled forever –
I can no longer distinguish
Who is an animal, who a person, and how long
The wait can be for an execution.
There are now only dusty flowers,
The chinking of the thurible,
Tracks from somewhere into nowhere
And, staring me in the face
And threatening me with swift annihilation,
An enormous star.”
To read Irene’s new poem “Russian Oligarchy: Voyage of the Damned” click:
Russian Oligarchy: Voyage of the Damned
by Irene Fowler
The untouchables; exalted sun gods of our helter-skelter, dismal, perverse universe
Deities of old; Apollo, Frey, Helios, Ra and Sol, looked on us askance, their pursed lips laden with many
Power-drunk on ill-gotten gains; we floated on fluffy clouds, albeit, our clay feet, were shackled to mucky oligarchy
In our cold, calculating, innermost hearts, we sussed the real price of filthy lucre to be; a free ride to bottomless toxic seas.
Corrupt state-asset bidding, birthed our monstrous brotherhood, a mob family, sworn to pillage and plunder
Our illegal sources of billion-dollar funds, and soiled reputations; rapidly and roundly laundered
The wiry, gnarled, gnomes of Zurich, licked their chops with a wink and nod; on board with the lawless, fetid, monopoly game
City of London CEO-fat-cats; grinned, purred and rolled over; lying down supine, shamelessly lame.
Putin giveth and Putin taketh; without a moment’s hesitation, we sold our souls, ‘cos there is no free dinner
For our predatory, distended, bloated and insatiable croc-skin wallets; thin was never in
Champagne breakfast in London’s Savoy, foie-gras lunch in Paris, caviar midnight supper in Moscow
A tiny taste of the lifetime swindle, great heist and ill-gotten gains, boundless cash flow.
Superjets, megayachts, luxury cars; billionaire-status-toys, all essential starter-inventory
Rome’s Bacchus; god of revelry and excess, upstaged and outplayed, by antiheroes of this sordid story
Proprietors of palaces, chateaus, mansions, villas, and grandiose penthouses, in every splendid, prime and privileged location
We were undisputed kings of the earth, absent, royal pomp and pageantry, or spectacular coronations.
Patrons, backers, and money-bags, for arts, culture, and citadels of learning
Our stars shone brighter, as victories of our global-brand sports teams kept occurring
World-class opera performances and ballets bestowed on us societal respect; a far cry from Putin’s war theatre of Russian roulette
We were Icarus; mere mortals, traversing the skies, soaring closer and closer, to the burning, flaming sunset.
The nonstop festive ball was a dizzying charade, each of us in macabre masquerade, careful in our mirthless, robotic dance steps
Now as one, universally reviled persona-non grata; carrying on us Namaan’s leprosy, and Putin’s missteps
For nought, wickedly sacrificing our prime progeny, while the count of Ukraine’s dead and dying, continues mounting
We are the untouchables: For innocent blood is smeared on us, every drop defying the cleansing power, of earthly; springs, rivers and fountains.
© 2022 by Irene Fowler