Anna Akhmatova, née Gorenko, is best known for two poems (William T. Vollmann)

Anna Akhmatova, née Gorenko, is best known for two poems, first and foremost the nasty “Requiem,” which attacks the “organs” of state security, and incidentally slanders our prison system. Shostakovich was among that literary effort’s admirers; I wish I had enough space to tell you a few things about that cocksucker. (On the other hand, he did make us laugh from time to time; I don’t mind telling you that my job has its compensations. In 1953 Akhmatova was trying to impress him with some drivel she’d written about his Seventh Symphony, and he thanked her in his usual insincere fashion, then went to the Hotel Sovietskaya and said to his then mistress, G. I. Ustvolskaya, ingenuously assuming the walls don’t have ears: Basically, I can’t bear having poetry written about my music.) Our line on that so-called “work of art” was this: Since she had the good sense not to make a cause out of it, why not let her live out her pathetic little life? We’d already isolated her. Shooting her might have lost us hard currency in the West. Since “Requiem” accuses us, and we already know ourselves, it’s of zero investigative interest.

That leaves the “Poem Without a Hero,” whose publication I for my part have always welcomed. Do you remember when Hitler staged that exhibition of degenerate art? Don’t get me wrong; every time I see a German I want to string him up by the balls; nonetheless, I’m man enough to say this straight: Hitler wasn’t incorrect in that instance. Now, “Poem Without a Hero” is as degenerate as anything the Nazis banned. It portrays the so-called “life” of a clique of a parasites and intellectuals in Leningrad before our Revolution. This was the Symbolist epoch, whose atmosphere N. Berdayev aptly characterized as the putrefied air of a hothouse. My children even studied it in school (I had the teacher arrested). To me the main interest of the poem is this: All the characters are real, in which case have we identified all those bastards and sent them where they belong?

From William Vollmann’s novel Euorpe Central.

You can read “Requiem” here and “Poem without a Hero” here.

2 thoughts on “Anna Akhmatova, née Gorenko, is best known for two poems (William T. Vollmann)”

  1. That whole book is quotable. Vollmann’s great, and somehow hits this strange lyricism in the book that’s self-aware and not, really spiritual.


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