Petersburg’s Fresh Waters

Standing by the river Neva, wanting to compose poetry in St Petersburg, I couldn’t hear beyond the lines of great poets – Akhmatova, Blok, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam. History dominates voice, especially in Russia. The Revolution, Stalin’s terrors, the siege, all produced that great heroic resistance. We’re not in the same history. We’re in a vertiginous whirl, a global mess – oy! We stare, fixated, single-minded, stuck in one voice, while the river rushes in its own voices. 
I like a multiplicity of voices, both full of critique and full of observation of humble objects that affirm our reality. So in Russia, who will write about young designers, scattering autumn leaves in its planked floor to show their rough hemp and peasant dresses? A hipster cafe by the canal, millet with pumpkin and pumpkin seeds? Restaurants that serve persimmon and yuzu over tuna. Inside the elaborate old palaces, there are concerts full of the whimsy of avant-garde 20th century music; inside the Marinksky a cleverly staged play on globalism as conceived a century ago – Puccini does the Western (Broadway, cinema) in opera, staged in St. Petersburg by a Frenchman. There still exist women guards who, if they move two muscles, it’s one muscle too many. Range of military and police in a range of colors and uniforms. But this isn’t your father’s St. Petersburg. The trudging step has picked up, the despair on faces simply has shifted. Of course I’m not addressing Putin; the polemic on both sides is hot and live; tirades against the evil imperial west is the other side of the same coin. Demonizing is not my bag. Empiricism, yes. Poetry, yes. Standing by the Neva hearing fresh rhythms and words – one hopes.

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