I was browsing the Greenlight Bookstore in my Brooklyn neighborhood and I came upon this incredible book of 100 short poems by Vera Pavlova, a Russian poet. While select poems of hers have been published in the US, this was her first full collection (way to go Knopf!).
I couldn’t put this tiny book and its endless wisdom down. You can look no further than the title poem (and cover art) to realize that Pavlova is in touch with truths and emotions that we women – especially – should heed.
If there is something to desire,
there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret,
there will be something to recall.
If there is something to recall,
there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret,
there was nothing to desire.
Way to spin my mind in circles! But I know exactly what she means.
Regret appears more times than any other word in this syllogism. What do you regret? Sleeping with that guy too soon. Not giving in to someone who was showing you real love. Refusing to believe the worst – or best – of someone, when you should have known better. So echo a thousand “I should haves…” As women, we beat ourselves up.
At the center of the poem is a contradiction: “If there was something to regret, there will be something to recall. If there is something to recall, there was nothing to regret.” How many times do we tell each other, “Well, it didn’t work out, but at least you’ll always have the MEMORY of the good times” or “Well, yeah, you shouldn’t have done that really but at least you LEARNED from the experience.” As gfs, we always mean well, but the fact remains that we cannot both cling to our selective memories and expect not to feel the awful pangs of regret.
Of course, we begin and end with desire. The peskiest and most powerful of all. Without desire, we have nothing. We feel nothing. There’s so much that we desire – love, affirmation, transcendence, comfort, challenge. No wonder our love lives are a confusing morass. As painful as the longing is, I have to believe that numbness would be worse. But sometimes I wonder.
Pavlova started writing poetry at the age of 20 after the birth of her first child (she had been a musicologist and composer up til then). I can imagine the rush of emotions she must have felt as a young mother – and how they manifested in her poetry.
But Pavlova’s writing is deeply self-reflective. At least in this collection, her focus is on the erotic and desirous inner workings of her mind. As I curled up in the Greenlight Bookstore arm chair, I felt like I was being taken down a dark guided tour of my psyche. And of my own fucked up love life.
No love? Let us make it!
Done. Next? Let us make
care, tenderness, courage,
jealousy, glut, lies.
There’s a daring intensity about every word Pavlova conjures. She owns herself and her feelings: “I spin my destiny myself, in this I need no help.” And that’s the REALLY cool thing. I researched her when I got home from the bookstore (by way of all the fun boutiques on Fulton Ave in Ft. Greene - the couture jumpsuits and Vivienne Westwood dress I picked up represent desire and abandon of a whole other kind – no shred of regret! more on this later! ok, moving on.)
It turns out that Pavlova’s translator is her husband. This doesn’t seem shocking necessarily, but I cannot think of another luminary couple where this is the case. Especially considering the erotic depth and consuming passion of her work, the fact that her husband could not only support her endeavors, but immerse himself in her work and serve it – this feels like a revelation, or maybe a revolution.
Yet as empowered as Pavlova’s self-expression is, she is also in touch with the self-effacing longing I’m sure we all feel as women accustomed to nurturing and supporting our loved ones in relationships. It feels like she could be pleading with her husband/translator when she writes:
Eternalize me just a bit:
take some snow and sculpt me in it,
with your warm and bare palm
polish me until I shine…
So is this our ultimate desire? To be able to express and explore our complicated emotions, with the full support, understanding, and devotion of our life partner. To both claim our identity, while asking him to shape us? Can I contradict myself, speak of deep longing, hurl complicated feelings at the world – and still have someone who loves me, who will eternalize me, just a bit?
I would love to hear what Pavlova would say. Maybe she’d call us all neurotic and crazy, but my hunch is she would get it. After all she wrote:
A beast in winter,
a plant in spring,
an insect in summer,
a bird in autumn.
The rest of the time I am a woman.
Yeah. She gets it.
Rebecca Coale - aka Becky - is a writer, musician and producer. She and childhood best friend Jessica Donalds created Dating & Hookup and founded J&R Creative Media. Becky blogs about love poetry and modern life & womanhood. She lives with her husband, Howard Coale, and their family in Manhattan and Philadelphia.
datingandhookup.com is a website that explores modern romance in the Millennial era – which, let’s be honest, looks nothing like we were taught to expect. We feature essays, advice and social commentary with humor, compassion and brains, and we vow never, ever to publish a piece called “The 10 Best Ways to Satisfy Your Man in Bed”. Do click to submit your work to us. We love you.
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