Expansive Poetics – (The Stray Dog Cafe)

File:Stray dog logo 1912.jpg

Stray Dog Cafe, St Petersburg  (1912 logo)

AG: The Stray Dog Café There’s a little tiny footnote on it in a Russian literary quarterly, which also has translation of a poem by Anna Akhmatova of the (19)40’s,(19)50’s, and (19)60’s, which she compiled secretly, and was published outside of Russia, her major poem. “Poem Without A Hero”. – “The dog that she mentions is a vagabond dog, a bohemian St Petersburg cafe, decorated in part by Olga, Sergei Sudeikina‘s husband, habituated by most of the writers and the artists of the period, 1912-1915. Before the Revolution, it was named The Cellar of Comedians, or Actors. Akhmatova, who was.. (Anna Akhmatova was a great Russian poetess who survived from that period up till (19)65).. “Akhmatova was a regular visitor. Her friend, an actress Olga (Glebova) Sudeikina performed there, as did Mikhail) Kuzmin another actor (and poet), Alexander Blok (who was a great Russian Symbolist poet) also went there, however, he disapproved of his wife’s being there – “dead people performed there” – Kuzmin and Olga Sudeikina. Akhmataova wrote a little decadent poem called “Cabaret Artistique  (“Artistic Cabaret”) in 1930, the Russian playwright,(Vsevolod) Meyerhold put on little playlets there, Mayakovsky declaimed there, (Sergei) Esenin (who was also a great Russian poet) came, (Boris) Pasternak visited, (Osip) Mandelstam visited..” – So it was a place like..it was the central bohemian spot – St Petersburg, just before the Revolution – where all the poets were getting up on stage, calling for revolution, calling for Futurism, calling for the advent of the machine into poetry, calling for supernaturalism, starting movements, starting magazines, meeting together and having a literary ferment, which was actually one of the great world moments in poetry – sort of,  the rise of Futurism. What there had been before was one great poet – (Alexander) Blok whose poem ,“The Twelve” we went over also before [Editorial note – did we? – Allen must here be referring to < another, earlier, Naropa class here] – Blok was called a Symbolist

Alexander Blok (1880-1921), aged 27

How many have heard of Symbolism as a poetic school? So that’s 1890-1910. As it looks now by hindsight and under the criticism of Ezra Pound and others, the trouble.. what Symbolism tried to do was gather impressions, basically, using symbols for actual events. So that it would transfer over to the reader some impression of the mood or emotion, but not definitely name it.
The gang of poets who came to the Stray Dog Café were beginning to revolt against that, because this was an era of realism and they wanted to introduce taxi-cabs and trolley-cars into their poetry, which hadn’t been in the symbolic Symbolist poetry. Symbolist poetry is more like the New Age, granny-dress, 1960’s posters which show LSD characters wandering through fairy lands with little.. big starry flowers in their eyeballs and birds singing on the trees, and romantic vampirish girls with long flower-print granny-dresses wandering over meadows. In other words, something of an other-worldly idealismThe group that followed it, both in America and in Russia, and in France, was more realistic. They wanted to modernize it and bring it up to the twentieth-century. So, in America, we had the Imagists, and the Objectivists(who were led by Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and others) who really tried to update and modernize the language, the diction, the rhythms. They said that we should write in the language that we actually talk rather than in a literary and artificial synthetic language. That’s what Pound and Williams said in America.

And in Russia(n) – the Acmeists and Imaginists. The Imaginists were picking up from the American Imagists, actually. There was a Russian movement called “Imagism” which came from American Imagism, which was Pound and Williams. And the Acmeists also said that what they had to do was get back to really basic practical reality in diction (which is the language, the talk they used, the words they used) so that you could talk the way you were talking actuallyon the street, think the way you were thinking on the street. And compose your poem, of elements of that reality of your own life.

Image from www.dustyattic.ru

Nikolay Gumilev (1886-1921)

The great Acmeist, and Acmeist theoretician was a man named (Nikolay) Gumilev who was married to Akhmatova, the great Russian lady poet. Gumilev wrote a poem called “The Lost Tram Car”, which it might be interesting to check out . We have it in our anthology here in various versions. I’ll bring that up and start with that, because it’s the one poem that actually begins to introduce a tram-car into the scene – “The Lost Tram” – This is 1886, in the anthology (the way this anthology is set up is chronologically, so you can find people by their birth-date. And there are several versions of it, so I’ll read you a couple (of) different versions. One is called “The Tram That Lost Its Way”, another is “The Streetcar Gone Astray”, another is “The Lost Tram” (another, “The Streetcar That Lost Its Way”)

[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately ten-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately seventeen minutes in] 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.