“You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.”
I have Kit Stolz to thank for turning me on to Vera Pavlova. I devoured her first collection in English, aptly titled If There is Something to Desire. Keen, startling, and erotic — poems of such love and longing have not made as deep an impression on me as since I first discovered Pablo Neruda. And it occurred to me: I have been attending the erotic in poetry with shyness and apprehension. For example, although I love and support the Artists’ Union Gallery, each year when their erotic poetry fundraiser reading rolls around, there is always some good reason I cannot attend.
Toward the end of my study in the Pacific MFA program, the poet Marvin Bell suggested in one of his lectures that instead of writing so many elegies to the dead, we might do well to write more love poems to the living. It occurred to me in that moment that I could be rightly accused of giving too much attention to Thanatos, at the expense of Eros. My recent reading of Vera Pavlova only added evidence to the prosecution. In fact, she might be speaking directly to me when she writes, in poem 15, in her characteristically direct manner:
Do you know what you lacked?
That dose of contempt without which
you cannot flip a woman on her back
to make her flounder like a turtle,
to make the heartless fool realize:
she cannot flip back on her own.