Decoding Bella Axmadulina’s “Sozercanie stekljannogo šarika”

Christine Rydel, Grand Valley State University

Though principally known as a poet, Bella Axmadulina began her professional career as a journalist. As she continually honed her poetic skills, Axmadulina never abandoned prose, which she has published intermittently since the1960s. In recent years she has been turning more and more to experimenting with various prose forms, combining autobiography and fiction, lyric poetry and narrative sketches, as well as biography and fantasy in an attempt to create new genres. All of her work, whatever the form, is self-referential and deals with what she calls the essence of her inner life: the creative process. Over the past thirty-five years she has developed a symbolic system that simultaneously functions as a vade mecum to her work and as an invitation to her reader to engage in the process of unlocking the secrets of her poetry through contemplation of the sources of her inspiration.

In a recent (1997) piece, “Sozercanie stekljannogo šarika” (“Contemplation of a glass ball”), Axmadulina progresses beyond literary criticism, textual commentary, and autobiographical asides by combining all of these forms with a lyric poem to create a work that defies classification in traditional terms. She begins with seven stanzas of a poem that describe the symbiotic relationship her palm establishes with an exquisite, little glass ball which she admits is ultimately indescribable. Axmadulina then informs her reader that these stanzas serve not as an epigraph to the prose but exist independently as the beginning of a poem. However, the remainder of the work alternates prose with more stanzas of the poem and thus forms another symbiotic relationship; the poetry and the prose sections not only cannot exist without each other, but also create each other. By resorting to her already established poetic code, Axmadulina indirectly provides a context for the glass ball and obliquely exposes the process of creation the glass ball engenders. Close reading of the text reveals how Bella Axmadulina engages in dialogue with the glass ball and draws the reader in to what ultimately turns into a three-way conversation.

On the surface the various images Axmadulina employs throughout the work bear no relationship one to the other; in fact, they seem random and chaotic. However, the underlying poetic logic that ultimately gives form to the work also reveals the meaning and cohesion of the images as the latest manifestation of the symbolic system Axmadulina first set up in her celebrated “Skazka o dožde”. In that early narrative poem, the elements break through the confines of a house to reach the object of their affection—the poet/lyrical narrator herself. In the 1997 work the poet/narrator looks into an even more confined space, a glass ball, to discover the entire universe in her grasp. The implications of what she holds in the palm of her hand open to her the prospect of an infinite variety of creative sources that serve as her inspiration. What Axmadulina does with those sources of inspiration becomes not only the subject of my paper, but of “Sozercanie stekljannogo šarika” itself.