Alexandr Skidan’s mentor, Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, describes Red Shifting as “[s]omnambulistic.” Indeed, Skidan creates dream-poems. What is at play in the dream-poem? Incest and GAS! The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Bely and Blok. Vladivostok and St. Petersburg. In this exploration of the inside versus the outside, the reader must first accept being trapped in a dream. Next, the reader must become Daniel, deciphering the secrets and codes Skidan has hidden in his dream-poems “like Nebuchadnezzar.”
In “Delirium”, Skidan’s subject is the biblical story of Lot who God instructs to flee Sodom before the city is destroyed. Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt when she looks back at the destruction of the city. Lot flees to the desert, alone with his two daughters. Uncomprehending, the daughters believe it is the end of the world. That only procreation with their father will ensure the continuation of the human race. They get him drunk and seduce.
(…) the fading of the annihilated echo. lot,
falling like a stone in the oblivion of a sling,
conceives the unknown, led by
the degree of “fall;” the daughter enters him and again –
the daughter, another. A daughterly darkness, cascading down,
A self contained ellipsis ushers in this velvet destruction of the echo creating a vacuum of sound. Throughout the poem, the echo will reappear – “[b]ut these dances by the fire fire.” Dance implies music but the only music is Lot’s drunkenness and incestuous sex. In the end, the annihilation of the echo will be complete. There will be no words in the last stanza, instead a series of dots representing words, lines left unspoken, silence.
Skidan uses his intellect as reflective armor. Each poem contains a riddle in which he confesses through masque. In the world of Red Shifting, characters from mythology, critical theory and literature coexist with Skidan’s intimates from contemporary St. Petersburg. At times these friends, acquaintances and civilians are signified by a single letter, at times by entire first names. The title poem, Red Shifting, is possibly the most direct poem in the collection. It is a day in the life, where the poet shifts in and out of conversation with those around him while observing and contemplating everyone that he encounters. He desires the cool G as they smoke cigarettes.
(I take out a cigarette, and before my eyes are these two
photographs; I want to forget them, want to see them, but in order
to forget them, I need to write about them, and in order to see
them – I need the opposite: to be with G.)
The poet plays with repetition but does not literally repeat himself. Skidan’s echo theme now plays out through doubling, or two-ness. Through the two photographs of the quote, then again in “I have two dead people on my hands.” Taking it further, Skidan introduces two-ness in love—Blok and Bely, both in love with Lyubov Dmitrievna, then The Sheltering Sky. This bread crumb trail moves away from G to the absent A. A may return and this possible return rattles the poet and again the dream-poem ends in silence, “The thought which I didn’t have the power to say out loud.”
In “Red Bridge”, and again in “Piercing of the Lower Lip”, it is San Francisco reflected across the Pacific Ocean as Vladivostok that the poet contemplates – “I heard a pacific newspaper rustle in the wind, and standing at the far end of Golden Gate Bridge…I saw Vladivostok.” Through poetry, Skidan allows himself to exist in two places, at two points in time with the Pacific Ocean serving as an enormous mirror warped by distance. This writing from an intentionally distorted perspective is what Dragomoshchenko refers to as Skidan “building a backward mirror.” But there is another mirror, the mirror of translation. Principal translator Genya Turovskaya, has successfully created a mirror image in English of Skidan’s careful and intentional Russian language while preserving Skidan’s uniquely erudite voice peppered with controlled bursts of vulgarity. Retaining Skidan’s love of vocabulary rooted in Latin, Turovskaya’s translations are astute echoes, clear reflections containing microscopic detail.
Alexandr Skidan was awarded the St. Petersburg-based Andrei Bely Prize in 2006 for the Russian edition of Red Shifting.
By Alexandr Skidan
Translated by Genya Turovskaya
Ugly Duckling Presse
170 pgs, $15.00