The novice reader who dives into Alexander Vvedensky’s flood of words will find strange, but not un-beautiful depths: Themes float and grow like seaweed, shoals of images flash past and submerged ideas lurk in the shadows.
The writer, who died on a prison train in 1941, has garnered a new English-language audience since Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova quoted Vvedensky at her trial in August 2012. The New York Review of Books published the first English-language collection of Vvedensky’s poetry in April 2013. “Invitation For Me to Think” challenges poetry lovers and politicians alike.
Alexander Vvedensky was born in St Petersburg in 1904 and as a young adult became part of Leningrad’s Futurist movement. Much of his work has been lost and destroyed and what remains, mostly published posthumously, is not easy to understand. “The only thing that is positive to the end is meaninglessness,” he wrote.
The hundred-odd lines of “The Meaning of the Sea,” written in 1930, begin: “to make everything clear/ live backwards.” The poem has no capital letters or punctuation and nouns congregate seemingly at random: “here’s a candle snow/ salt and mousetrap.” The poem’s structure – such as it is – relies on echoes and metaphorical patterns, like the repeated images of drowning: “sea time sleep are one/ we will mutter sinking down” and “glory to heaven washed away/ my oar memory and will.”
Several poems draw on theatrical conventions, with stanzas spoken by different characters and bizarre stage directions in italics (“The servants bring in a large sofa”). The longest poem in the book is one of these quasi-dramatic verse-dialogues, “God May Be Around” (1931), a manifesto of profound nonsense to suit an era of apocalyptic doom; it ends: “A star of meaninglessness shines,/ it alone is fathomless./ A dead gentleman runs in/ and silently removes time.”