“Nina Kogan’s Geometrical Heaven”: a new poem by Clive James

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Two of her little pictures grace my walls:
Suprematism in a special sense,
With all the usual bits and pieces flying
Through space, but carrying a pastel-tinged
Delicacy to lighten the strict forms
Of that hard school and blow them all sky-high,
Splinters and stoppers from the bombing of
An angel’s boudoir. When Malevich told
His pupils that their personalities
Should be suppressed, the maestro little knew
The state would soon require exactly that.
But Nina, trying as she might, could not
Rein in her individuality,
And so she made these things that I own now
And gaze at, wondering at her sad fate.
She could have got away, but wished instead
Her gift devoted to Utopia.
She painted trams, designed official posters:
Alive until the siege of Leningrad
And then gone. Given any luck, she starved:
But the purges were still rolling, and I fear
The NKVD had her on a list,
And what she faced, there at the very end,
Was the white cold. Were there an afterlife,
We might meet up, and I could tell her then
Her sumptuous fragments still went flying on
In my last hours, when I, in a warm house,
Lay on my couch to watch them coming close,
Her proofs that any vision of eternity
Is with us in the world, and beautiful
Because a mind has found the way things fit
Purely by touch. That being said, however,
I should record that out of any five
Pictures by Kogan, at least six are fakes.

 

Clive James (1939-2019) was an Australian author, critic, broadcaster and poet, best known for his autobiographical series Unreliable Memoirs, his chat shows on British television and his prolific journalism. He contributed several original poems to the New Statesman

This article appears in the 06 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, An empire that speaks English

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