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Pictures at an Exhibition: A Petersburg Album (Akron Series in Poetry) Paperback – February 15, 2016
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"Metres has taken the stranger in his shadow and followed it back through an ekphrastic wormhole to Russia, excavating the dolor and glory of Mussorgsky's bass line. Stylistically poised and nimble, full of rupture and impressionistic repair, Pictures at an Exhibition opens up the camera obscura to show the jeweled contents therein, the bevels and fractures through which we see the past and our own troubled culture. Like Gogol carrying an aesthetic suitcase nuke, Philip Metres slips past our defenses and invites us into the dazzling espionage of these crucial images."--Simeon Berry.
"Weaving between Gogol, the Neva, currents of river, musical suite, and electricity, the synesthetic panorama of Pictures at an Exhibition: A Petersburg Album invites us on a journey through the fugue of a city embodied by Saint Petersburg, and tempts us with never wanting to leave"--LynleyShimat Lys, Drunken Boat
"Pictures is ultimately a formally deft and intellectually challenging engagement with some of the most lasting, because most vexing, problems in poetry. In poem after poem, Metres uses his localized experience in the ruins of post-Soviet Russia to imagine how poetry itself might better attend to the economies of suffering--another kind of ruin--it often quite powerfully protests. 'Because ruin,' as Metres writes toward the book's close, 'is the mother of future.'" Christopher Kempf, West Branch Wired.
From the Back Cover
In Pictures at an Exhibition, Philip Metres has done for contemporary Russian literature more than any American of his generation that I can think of. To this remarkable work, he brings the full richness of his poetic gift. As a native St.Petersburger, I recognize the very essence, the hidden, ever-evanescent core of that unreal, strikingly literary and literal and palpably artificial city captured in these poems. His writes with love, he writes with verve, and with passionate skill. What he does is both beautiful and important. *Piter* owes him a debt of gratitude.--Mikhail Iossel, author of Every Hunter Wants to Know: A Leningrad Life
Pictures at an Exhibition: A Petersburg Album takes its name from Modest Musorgsky's moody music meant to simulate a stroll through a gallery, but the "pictures" Philip Metres describes are fraught with all the tensions that place, history, language, and self can mingle . . . . Inventive and various in its approach to what structures a poem, here are constant risks and delights in the "album" of observations deeply informed by the emotional history of what it means to know a country, a city, and a language both translated and untranslatable.--Maxine Chernoff, author of Here and The Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin
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Destroy this album, but save whatever you have inscribed in the margin out of boredom, out of helplessness, and, as it were, in a dream.
The poems I mentioned are in the margin and are thought provoking: the unconscious / is not just the seeing beneath / but the upper reaches"
The 'normal' poems - the ones found where we usually find poems - have titles inspired by the movements in Modest Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. (A connection to Mandelstam's 'album,' perhaps?) But the poems are also pictures - in a museum and of the Soviet Union. Metres' other epigraph, from Paul Griffiths:
Cast in the role of the anonymous observer who, in the "Promenade" music interleaved with the pictures, walks from one painting to the next. . . He seems to have no authority over the parade of images.
Although he clearly has precise control over the form and content of his pictures, Metres plays in the open field of the page. Words are everywhere. So are various forms of brackets. The reader is Griffiths' anonymous observer. I stopped for a longer time at "Interlude: Letter (Never Sent) to Volodya and Natasha," "Scratched Track List for Hieromonk Roman's 'Holy Psalter,'"Ninth. Ballet of the Unhatched" ("so many wrong ways / to hold a thing / in your mind"), as well as several others.
In the end, this collection reads like a love letter by a lover who is aware of and admires all of the contradictions of his beloved. Metres writes -
here, at the river of never / I want to burn posthumously like a word / to say farewell & beg forgiveness / in one breath & cede you to youMussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition