There is a peculiar phenomenon at work in contemporary Moscow, notes Mikhail Iampolski in his 2018 book Park of Culture: Culture and Violence in Today's Moscow: a discomfiting correlation — or perhaps more precisely, a consent, a complicity — between the rise of arts and style culture in Moscow (which, when not funded directly by the Moscow Department of Culture, is often in some way enabled by it) and a parallel rise both in
It’s February. The shortest month by the calendar, but by the senses’ tally the longest: across Moscow low liverish sky, damp chill. Snow is melting, disclosing the months’ accumulation of trash, giving the passerby a sense of return without the warmth of a homecoming. The worst of the cold gone, lone figures in a motley cast of costumes (mice, medieval European kings, rabbits, comic-book pharmacists being the most popular) take up their posts on the streets — handing out fliers for discount haircuts, free lawyers’ consultations, happy hour pelmeni at rock-bottom prices. Public spaces give off a new whiff of creatureliness, of steam, damp, the stock and store of dailiness.
In a conversation with the Moscow poet Maria Stepanova, she noted that “unlike Petersburg, which preserves the surface of its history and so forgets everything, Moscow remembers itself in a way by forgetting — by tearing down its buildings and putting up new ones. It remembers itself by being destroyed, preserves itself in crenulations.” This peculiarly “Muscovite” image of memory and history undergirds Stepanova’s work as well, in both its form and content — her poems very often enact what they describe — and it haunts the work of other Moscow poets I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks. Because Moscow is central to this series and to the poets that figure in it, and because it is often — not only in the west, but to itself! — obscured behind a gloss of stereotypes, fictions, and historical positionings, in this preliminary post I try to give a sense of the place, however provisional and subjective. Further posts will focus more scrupulously on poets and their work and on poetry events across the city.
Twelve gates to the city: contemporary Moscow poetry