Regarding the Next Big Occasion, Larissa Miller (translated by Richard McKane)
Arc Publications, 2015 £6.30
These poems date from 2000 − 2014 and are presented with the original Russian opposite the English translation. It is a collection of untitled poems whose bleakness often took my breath away. It’s also about birth, and life, and human connections — especially connections with children and childhood.
For me, one of the most startling images came in the poem about a child lying in a pram. No gender is mentioned so might this child be all of us?
The taut, new little body
of the infant, the pilgrim, the stranger,
who looks at the clouds,
not yet having set foot on the earth.
And surely only a mother could speak of jam the way jam is spoken of here:
‘How are you doing?’ they ask me.
I reply: ‘The grass has been scythed.
August lavished us with apples.
My son made jam.
The world has never known
more fragrant jam since the Day of Creation.’
One night, when there is a blizzard, Larissa Miller says, ‘I can’t manage on my own’ and calls on the snow that is falling in a solid wall to embrace her and ‘take me away as in childhood to my Mama, / if you know where she is’. Where indeed?
It’s not just human birth that Larissa Miller explores:
The little song was born
fused with my breathing.
I don’t know whether I’m singing or breathing.
I pass through the flocks of birds,
they’re singing and I’m singing too,
but each one our own song
The poet speaks of the little horse in the following poem with the tenderness of a parent, the little horse that must have begun as an idea in the mind of the potter, then (after the vase was shaped and fired) come to life as the glaze was applied:
There’s a little horse on the vase with graceful legs.
She’s taking part in an ancient race.
The little horse runs. Her mane waves.
She is drawn so meticulously.
Let’s stand and look at her a bit longer.
Let’s warm the horse with our attention.
She has to run and run, poor thing, through the ages,
until the vase is smashed into fragments.