Pictures at an Exhibition: A Petersburg Album (Metres)

As in his incredible Sand Opera, Metres treats the page “as an open field.” If I am reading it thoughtfully, there is a poem that scrolls along the top or header of the page and another along the bottom. In one of his epigraphs, Metres quotes from Osip Mandelstam:

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 you


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