Ben Winch's Reviews > The Stray Dog Cabaret: A Book of Russian Poems

The Stray Dog Cabaret by Paul Schmidt
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Sep 17, 12

bookshelves: mainland-european, russian, poetry

This is brief, but really something special. Its aim is modest - to represent a night at the Stray Dog Cabaret, a poetry club in St Petersburgh in the years before the 1917 revolution - but it fulfills that aim admirably, and in doing so bears testament to a golden age of Russian poetry. That all these talents could have been present in one room at one time seems scarcely credible, and points to a flowering of culture that we may never truly comprehend given that it was subsequently trampled beneath the boot of Stalinism. Is it coincidence, this raising of voices on the eve of destruction? I think not, and yet these poems seem, for the most part, touchingly innocent of the violence to come. The young Akhmatova, it's true, shines brightest - and we sense the love of her fellow poets for this prodigy - but all around is creativity of the highest order, eclipsed in our cultural memory by the Cabaret Voltaire perhaps only because, after all, this is Russia - a place more foreign than Switzerland could ever be - and because these voices seem to come to us from another epoch, an alternate reality even, in which they groped forward towards a modernity that was never to be, a Russia they saw only in their imaginations. In a culture that celebrates the Beats ad nauseum yet knows next to nothing of the Stray Dog Cabaret, this little book is a cause for celebration. And if we take as a given that it contains seeds which sadly never germinated, mightn't we use it to cultivate a new strain of our own poetry, and take a rest from our endless, incestuous sifting through the many-times planted seeds of our own culture?

Sisters, brothers, welcome to the Stray Dog Cabaret. If you'll grab yourself a drink and take a seat, the proceedings will begin.
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