Into the Arms of Pushkin: Poems of St. Petersburg

Carol V. Davis

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Winner of the 2007 T. S. Eliot Prize

Carol V. Davis is the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Russia. Her fascination with Russia, aided by a Fulbright grant, drew her to St. Petersburg in the mid 1990s.

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Winner of the 2007 T. S. Eliot Prize

Carol V. Davis is the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Russia. Her fascination with Russia, aided by a Fulbright grant, drew her to St. Petersburg in the mid 1990s. Over the next decade, she divided her time between the U.S. and Russia, where, as an American-born Jew, she was an outsider in Russian society. This collection of poems expresses the struggle with language barriers and cultural differences—struggles heightened as Davis helped her children adjust to their new daily life. Inspired by Russia’s rich history, its economic changes, and landscape, these poems express a unique perspective of Russia.

Russia centers this world, in person and at a distance both. The casual detail and patient telling add up everywhere, giving us meaning where difference had been. Showing us what this particular life in Russia feels like makes it our world, even when the speaker struggles to draw meaning from confusion or frustration. In one poem, the speaker tells of laying out the language of the next day on the back of the chair, quite as if it were clothing. We grasp this moment with depth, startled to make the connection between language and clothing. These are great moments in their small detail, abstractions given recognizable form. Finding meaning—a continual act of translation and its failure in so many things—propels the poems in this book.

—Alberto Rios

Struggling to speak a new language, while immersing herself in Russian culture, becomes Carol V. Davis’ trope for a spiritual quest in this book-length narrative of sensuous, tangible, shape-shifting poems. I feel constantly enticed into her richly textured world.

—Diane Wakoski

Rich, resonant, Russian—these alliterative adjectives barely begin to describe the charisma of Carol Davis’s evocative engagement with Pushkin, St. Petersburg, and  a mythic yet quotidian country whose archaic capital, Novgorod, is a city “so ancient / its language oozes out of the dark soil.” Plucked (like the beets on which she broods in several poems) from the earth of Russia and the groceries of St. Petersburg, from the “arms of Pushkin” and the streets he once wandered, Davis’s wonderful poems transcend the “struggle of translation” between one culture and another. To read them is to love them and to sigh with sympathy!

—Sandra M. Gilbert

Contents

Acknowledgments

Part I
The First Nights in St. Petersburg
Living in Another Language I (Winter)
Dreaming of Vegetables
Light
Need
In Translation
Jars of Pickles, Jars of Beets
The Hours Between Hours
For the Man Who Is Not My Lover
Day Trip to Novgorod
If Now As I Wait for Your Call
Language
The Fisherman and the Golden Fish
Buying Seeds in the Snow
Phone Line
Living in Another Language II (Summer)

Part II
The Violin Teacher
The Violin Teacher Comes for a Lesson
The Violin Teacher Gives a Lesson in How to Sing
The Violin Teacher Plays Bach
The Violin Teacher Imagines
The Violin Teacher in Rehearsal
The Violin Teacher Plays with His Orchestra
The Violin Teacher on Tour: Russia to Italy
The Violin Teacher Returns Empty-Handed
The Violin Teacher Conducts Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony

Part III
Cleaning the Graves: Bolsheokhtinskoye Cemetery
The Summer Gardens
The Prison of Crosses
Teaching Holocaust Literature and Living Across From the Prison of Crosses
The Exotic: What the Locals Eat
Crowded Prison Turns to Tourism to Fill Coffers
The Honey Sirens of Kuznetchny Market
Choral Synagogue I
Choral Synagogue II

Part IV
Stravinsky Revisits Oranienbaum
Fairy Tale
The Poplars of St. Petersburg
Birding
Naming
Needle Arts
Salt
The New Russia
Are You Ever Going Back to Russia

About the Author

Authors

Carol V. Davis has also authored a bilingual collection, It’s Time to Talk About, Between Storms, and two chapbooks, Letters From Prague and The Violin Teacher. She was a senior Fulbright scholar in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1996/97 and 2005. She teaches at Santa Monica College, California.

 

Reviews

Russia is a culture like no other in the world. Into the Arms of Pushkin: Poems of St. Petersburg is an anthology of poems from Carol V. Davis, a woman of Russian heritage who has embraced it well with her poetry.

Midwest Book Review

This is a marvelous book of deep and varied poetry.

Poetix

Carol V. Davis knows Russia the way other people might know a lover or a business, or the episodes and characters in a favorite sitcom. She seems to know every person, every street corner and every marketplace, and she captures them all in a beautiful and descriptive book of poems.

West End Word

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