Oriana Ivy — APRIL SNOW

THURSDAY, June 20

I first met Oriana Ivy at a poetry workshop in Venice. While the ongoing Wednesday night workshop at Beyond Baroque is the most famous of these weekly gatherings, that workshop has been subject to periodic succession movements over the years as various clusters of poets made claims to being the “Venice Poetry Workshop” (as distinct from the Beyond Baroque Workshop). At least two of these splinter groups met at one time or another in the Old Venice Jail facility, which is adjacent to the Old Venice City Hall. The former has been the esteemed home of S.P.A.R.C. (Social and Public Art Resource Center) for many years, while Beyond Baroque moved into the latter in late 1970 and was in full gear as the new year started.

Oriana Ivy was born and immigrated to the United States when she was seventeen. My understanding is that her mother was a scientist. Even though she was a relatively recent arrival to the various scenes in Los Angeles, Oriana’s writing was strong enough that I included her in POETRY LOVES POETRY in 1985. Her first chapbook, APRIL SNOW, was the winner of the New Women’s Voices Prize in Poetry in 2011 (www.finishinglinepress.com). How a poet such as Ilya Kaminski gets fawned over by award committees and Oriana Ivy has to wait longer than a quarter century for a chapbook remains one of many inexplicable travesties in contemporary poetry in the United States.

One of my favorite poems in APRIL SNOW is “Stalin’s Mustache,” which blends together Osip Mandelstamm and Percy Shelley as vatic legislators of the world. In a longer collection, the following poem by Oriana would also have appeared in juxtaposition, as a way of providing an adumbration for the events of 1989:

A FAILED PROPAGANDA MEETING 

AT CINEMA DESIRE

 

Since earliest childhood we were told

the red in the Polish flag stood for blood.

Now on the stage, two colossal

 

bouquets of red gladioli.

In the haze of upward petals,

the balding propagandist blossoms:

 

Isn’t the Soviet Union

the greatest, the most advanced,

the most democratic country in the world?

 

He raises his voice: “Let us

salute our brother: Long live

the Soviet Union!” He lifts his arms

 

like an orchestra conductor,

motioning us to respond with a choral

Long live! I move my lips

 

in a mute shout,

raising my chin to mime

the final vowel like a howl.

 

Long live! the political educator

strains at the top of his amplified voice –

along with a squeak

 

of a few voices from the front row.

I look around: my classmates are

moving their lips without making a sound.

 

The theater is filled with classes

from several schools –

more than three hundred students.

 

The propagandist shouts even louder,

Long live the Soviet Union!

Again the sweeping motion of his arms.

 

This time a stumbling chorus

of six or seven voices.

Once more the educator tries

 

to rouse us to the correct zeal –

then shrugs – then strides –

then breaks into a run

 

toward the side door.

The wind of his retreat

barely musses the heavy gladioli.

 

 

Lest we be tempted to be smug about the embarrassment of the “balding propagandist,” let us consider how we were asked in 2008 to join in a similar chorus: “Love live Bank of America!” Not enough of us were brave enough to move only our lips. Within that context, those who participated in the Occupy movment deserve even more of our gratitude for having offered some measure of resistance.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s installment, here are two additional pieces I wrote back then.

BAILOUT FUROR

As Liberals descry a rear-view mirror

And fault a smug, prevaricating Fuhrer,

Conservatives aspire to be more pure

And flense the present for their futures’ cure.

 

THE DEFICIENCIES

Abundance is redundant

Claim parsimonious pundits:

Let prosperity accrue

From the many to the few.