Louis Esterhuizen. Die kwessie van afstand en intimiteit in die gedig


Die kwessie van persona en outobiografiese inhoud van ‘n gedig was nog altyd ‘n problematiese gedoente; daarom dat ‘n essay deur Stephanie Sandler, wat op Jacket 2 se webblad gelees kan word, my aandag getrek het. Soos die titel sê, handel “On Elena Fanailova’s ‘Lena and Lena’” oor die Russiese digter, Elena Fanailova (foto), se erg biografiese gedig waarin sy haar selfs  twee maal benoem. Meer selfgesentreerd en outobiografies kan dit omtrent nie. En tog is dié gedig hoegenaamd nie met die sogenaamde “belydenispoësie” wat so tiperend van die afgelope dekades geword het, te vereenselwig nie  …

Maar, terug na Sandler se essay wat sy met die volgende aanloop begin:How do poets write themselves into their work? It would seem a question with a predictable answer. Either they do, following a Byronic model of controlled image-making and seductive self-fashioning, or they don’t, keeping confession or self-advertising carefully at bay. The latter model of studied impersonality, while not dominant in the twentieth century, had powerful proponents, from Eliot and Pound onward, and it still strikes some as more intellectual, more philosophical, more serious. Not to mention more masculine.”

Stephanie Sandler

Volgens Sandler bevind Fanailova haar in ‘n bepaalde tradisie van vroue-digterskap wat sedert Anna Achmatova in die Russiese digkuns geld: “The expectation of intimacy from women poets, which was played to perfection by Russian poets from Anna Akhmatova onwards, makes all self-revelation or even its absence marked. Some women poets play to these expectations with wit and considerable charm (Vera Pavlova), others protect themselves with pseudonyms and extreme forms of anonymity (Nika Skandiaka). Still others have devoted immense energies to translation and scholarship (Olga Sedakova, Anna Glazova), giving their poetry an intellectual heft also usually denied women.”

En volgens haar bedien Fanailova haar van al drie dié strategieë, veral soos met die reeds genoemde gedig “Lena and Lena”: “By putting her own name into the poem’s title, but doubling it, she returns to the reader our desires to know the poet’s life, confronting us directly in the poem’s sex scenes. She implies that wanting to know how the poet writes is strangely similar to wanting to know how she has sex: in what positions, with what degree of pleasure, and always, always, with whom. But the poem is more deeply about relationships and friendship, about the ways in which we connect to others who seem similar — who have our same name, or share our interests — but are in their experiences, their ethical choices, and their desires, utterly other.”

Fassinerend. Maar gaan lees gerus die volledige essay by Jacket 2. Die betrokke gedig (in Engelse vertaling) volg hieronder. By Jacket 2 kan die oorspronklike teks in Russiesonder aan die essay gevind word.


Lena and Lena


Lena is going to Belgrade
To see her lover,
The one she met in Sarajevo
Right in the airport.
They walk around in Kalemegdan
Look at a photo exhibit
Eat in a fish restaurant
On the banks of the Danube
They don’t get as far as Zemun
And end up a little irritated, waiting:
The taxi doesn’t come right away

The center is good for long walks in September
You can’t see the effects of the bombings
But you can see the hope of joining the EU

The lightweight boats on the Danube and the Sava
The lightweight T-shirts on young people
Nights in the Balkans are hotter than in Paris,
Or so sing the musicians on Skadarlija.
People are out all night.

The neighbors hear their lovemaking at night.
They’re secretly proud of themselves,
Of their boldness, of this dalliance
They’re not children after all

She holds on to the radiator
And sees the courtyard outside
From the bedroom window

She holds on to the armchair
And sees Petr Král Street
From the hotel window
As she climaxes again and again
(He takes her from the rear)

He works at the Red Cross
She’s at an international human rights organization
They met in Customs
While waiting for their passports
They listen to Gainsbourg and Birkin
And have sex to Je t’aime

They talk a lot about work
But that doesn’t mean much
They talk a lot about childhood
But this doesn’t mean much, either
They talk a lot about the past:
Why didn’t she have children? Why isn’t she married?
Why did her husband die?
Why was he homosexual?
Who was his first woman?
How he lost his middle child on a Tel Aviv beach
Then found him with the police, nearly losing his mind in that half hour.
How he lived in Kiev when he was eighteen
In a dormitory for foreign students
Sent to the Soviet Union
As one of the best students in Palestine
How he finished graduate school in Leningrad
Who was his first woman in Russia
And how his parents later married him off at home.

How they had separate education at his school
Meeting up with girls only in the upper classes
How his father corresponded with an Englishwoman
Right up until the end of his life
He died three years ago

Sometimes she cries.
Once in that week he got drunk.
She had brought him a tiny bottle of Russian vodka.
His alcohol-induced erection was beyond belief.

He holds on to her knees
When they ride in from the airport
To the house where they are staying
He signs the receipt in the taxi
It will come in handy when it’s time to report back
They can’t get the key into the doors
It’s someone else’s entryway, a rented apartment
They had discussed the place on e-mail:
Center of Belgrade, as noisy as it is convenient
And he says: I’m sorry, my hands are shaking, you really get to me

He runs out for roses at the corner,
Forgot to buy them last night,
While she unpacks, looks around
A spacious, sunny two-room apartment
It’s the beginning of September
There’s an entryway and a kitchen
She takes off her delicate earrings
Puts on her light beige silk
Goes off to the shower

The roses smell painlessly and from afar
They don’t last long
They fade quickly enough,
Even before she departs

She gives him a quick kiss on the shoulder
He’s just barely taller
When he meets her plane
When he doesn’t quite snap her picture with his phone
When she is going through customs

He is starting to learn French
He needs it for his job
But mostly they speak English
A foreign language to both.

A couple of time she regrets being here:
When he refuses to use a condom
When he comes too fast the first time
When he confesses that he has a wife and three children
When she learns that this is his last trip to the Balkans

He’s very smart
He has military experience
And the experience of international negotiations
He’s a children’s doctor
He worked in Israel, England, Georgia
He’s very diplomatic
And very tender
That shape of personality and behavior
That she longed for in the dark

But his face wrenches out of shape
When he hears people speaking Hebrew
And hears their self-confident laughter 
At the next table
Also he has pretty terrible taste
She didn’t want to bring this up
But just to give him some advice

He brought her a completely whorish red dress
And kisses her through the slit in the breast
When they dance
In the room
To Lady in Red
And leads her into the bedroom
And undoes the zipper down her back

Fucking, pure fucking until you see stars
As an instrument of cognition

They act like a couple of tourists
They buy him some shirts, her a cute summer outfit
A few souvenirs
They eat in good restaurants
Make each other breakfast
Drink coffee in bed
Listen to music
Watch a DVD of Lady Hamilton
They settle into good, smooth sex.
They laugh
If something isn’t quite right.
She says:
We’re not actors in a porn flick
So let’s rest a little
And let’s have you do that a little more gently

He goes with her to the airport
The taxi driver is listening to Bésame mucho
On the way she gets her period
He buys her pads in the airport shop

And when she crosses the first security gate
And turns around
She sees
That he
Is pointing her out proudly
To some man he just met
This is understandable:
She’s ten years younger
And not at all bad-looking
Especially at a distance


Lena is going to Hungary
For chemotherapy treatments.
In Moscow she found
A small lump in her armpit.
It turned out to be more serious than she thought.

She was working as a producer
In an international communications company in Iraq

Lena’s husband
Is a hotel and restaurant manager
A modest guy, knows a little Russian
Studied it in school.

He was working in Dubai
She came to visit, had a look, but said no:
There’s nothing to do there, just work,
Nothing for a Slavist or reporter,
She didn’t want a woman’s life by Islam’s rules
He went back to Belgrade
With that resume, they were glad to hire him
She was received like a queen
In any restaurant in Skadarlija
Everywhere, all deference and respect
For her, like the boss’s wife
But she carried herself modestly

Lena and Lena are going to the exhibit
Of gifts bestowed on Comrade Tito
In the former Palace of Youth
This was Boris’s suggestion.
It was laughable beyond all words.
Lena remembers
How at the last parade
When she was a Pioneer in Yugoslavia
She was wearing purple Keds with a Batman emblem

When a bomb fell right next to her
She thought: this cannot be.
Bombs were falling in Belgrade,
And then I knew why, and wherefore.
But now in this strange country
With this arrogant American woman
A reporter
With this fool
Who understands nothing
It would be stupid to die right here

She went back to Belgrade, returned to her work as a Slavist
She was translating the Oberiu writers
Kandinsky’s diary

When it dawned on her
That she needed a real man
She met him
In a movie club.
Friends introduced them.

Our wedding, Lena said, was on the Danube and Sava Rivers,
Completely as we wanted it:
Lots of flowers, we were both in white
My brother came, the one Andrei worked with,

But you know, when I got sick
And had to have chemo
My brother couldn’t speak to me
He works in Sarajevo now, in the government

Lena is telling this story
To her lover from the Red Cross
He has no comment.
But he says: she looks wonderful now
Her hair has grown back
Lena herself sees this

Lena returned from Hungary
Chemotherapy is cheaper there
The Belgrade doctors’ assessment:
Complete remission, have no fear
Lena looks a lot better than six months ago:
Her hair has grown back, she’s almost
The same brunette beauty as before.

His daughter in Canada has lymphoma
And is taking a course of steroids
He shows a picture:
A young beauty
At a Muslim wedding

Lena and Lena meet at the corner,
One of the busiest in Belgrade
They have coffee.
They text Andrei about the weather, send love
And go to the university to see Nelly.
Belgrade women
Dress beautifully.
They wear earrings and rings and bracelets
And little black dresses
And little black heels,
Even when they’re going to see the oncologist

Her lover is expecting Lena
Her husband is expecting Lena
They say good-bye on the corner with a strange feeling:
Hope? Friendship? Good will?
Unspoken love,
That catches in the throat?

In former Yugo there was a lot of oncology
After the war
Everyone drinks coffee together
In Sarajevo and Belgrade
And they don’t remember
How it was.
Not long ago a train
Started to run between the two capitals.

That’s why they still don’t like Kusturica in Sarajevo:
It’s shameful to leave the city you love.
Doesn’t matter what nationality
Your mama and papa are.
And his first screenwriter,
The biggest poet in Bosnia,
Old, proud, panting
From emphysema, thin mountain air, cigarettes, and coffee
An uncompromising anti-Soviet
Puffy old Abdullah Sidran,
He won’t speak about him
But he’s eager to talk about the camp
Where they sent his father.

In Russia it’s snowing
Slowly, as in an aquarium.
I can’t sleep, I look out the window
At the bare white trees

I remember this story
So vividly, like in a movie
Like it happened to someone else.

(c) Elena Fanailova (2010)




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Een Kommentaar op “Louis Esterhuizen. Die kwessie van afstand en intimiteit in die gedig”

  1. Pablo Neruda het geglo dat daar ‘n noue verband tussen ‘n digter se lewe moet wees en sy of haar digkuns. In 1970 is daar ‘n onderhoud deur Rita Guibert in Paris Review met Neruda. Hier is wat hy gesê het:

    Rita Guibert , January 1970
    Your work, then, is closely linked to your personal life?
    Naturally. The life of a poet must be reflected in his poetry. That is the law of the art and a law of life.

    Dalk kan mens die wye stelling aak dat ‘n digter se werk altyd op een of ander manier verband hou met sy of haar ervaringe en ego. Daar is baie maniere om persoonlike teenwoordigheid in digkuns te verdoesel: fiktiewe sprekers in gedigte kan gebruik word; partykeer kry hierdie sprekers name en word spesifieke karakters, ander kere is hulle net derdepersoon sprekers.

    Wanneer die woord “ek” in ‘n gedig gebruik word, neem die leser aan dat die digter self aan die woord is, behalwe as dit anders aangedui word. Dit is dikwels problematies – wie van ons is interessant genoeg dat ‘n leser wil weet wat aangaan in hierdie “ek” se binneste?

    In die humoristiese gedig “Unreal, man” is die spreker in die gedig ‘n geskepte karakter, professor Vaghue, wat namens die digter praat oor sy persepsie van die werklihied.