Russian poet shrieks with style

Carmine Starnino

After delivering a fascinating lecture on the joys of Absurdist verse last Friday, visiting poet and professor Eugene Ostashevsky, aptly described as a “reckless metaphysician,” put his teaching to practice when he joined forces with two fellow Brooklynites and three local poets for a sustained attack on normalcy.

Organized by Jason Camlot and held at Blizzarts, the evening event (dubbed “Poetry Overdrive”) capped a friendship with the St. Petersburg-born, New York-raised literary figure that dates back to Camlot's Stanford days.

“We were involved in various creative extra curricular projects that sometimes overlapped,” Camlot said. “I'd read and admired his poetry even then, and we'd performed on the same bill on occasion at events in San Francisco.”

That night, Camlot's admiration for Ostashevsky didn't need better validation than his extraordinary delivery of his poem “The Unraveller.” Chanting his rhyming couplets in a high-decibel, high-strung voice, Ostashevsky's performance left the capacity crowd goggle-eyed and turning to friends: Is he serious?

I met an unraveller from an antic land / his device was a broken ampersand // his beaver was grand, with him was a band / of bandits in pompadours layered and fanned

“Not all poets put thought and effort into their manner of reading,” Camlot said after the standout reading, “but a poetry reading can be inspirational, in the multiple senses of that word.” Which was true, but a much better description of what made Ostashevsky's weirdness so wizardly came soon after: “I'd say he's Donne meets the Beastie Boys.”

The rest of the readers didn't let the audience off easy. Concordia graduates Angela Hibbs and Jon Paul Fiorentino and New Yorkers Matvei Yankelevich and Anna Moschovakis kept alive the evening's slightly bent, preposterous-but-fun, tomfooling, and giddy quality. Rounding out this rare bill was David McGimpsey's signature, standup-worthy routine full of jivey patter and pop-culture pronouncements:

What is there to do but solder wires
and listen again to Pink Diggly Diggly?
What is there to do but admit I'm tired
and move to the west side of East Smelly?

“Bridge building” was one of the buzzwords of the night — or at the very least, as McGimpsy put it, “slight window openings.” Brooklyn was praised for its energies. Montreal was praised for being the sort of “multilingual literary culture” Ostashevsky wishes he could find back home in New York.

“Your city,” he said, “is far more adept at multilingualism than ours. French-language poetry is indeed the kind of poetry that influences American poetry most, but it’s the more canonical form of French avant-gardness, from Baudelaire to Baudrillard; nor are our texts as open to non-English languages as they might be.”

If the evening will leave a legacy (apart, that is, from the idea that poetry readings can indeed be free of mind-wandering, watch-checking moments) it's too soon to say. But as Camlot hopefully put it, “Email addresses and books were exchanged between Eugene, Anna and Matvei and quite a few local writers and small press publishers, so it's possible more will emerge from this connection in the future.”