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Apprehension over Odesa

Once again I have been reading Christopher Reid and again finding his poetry both lyrical and accessible. I recently found a poem in his collection, “For and After“(2003) which is intriguingly entitled Bermudapest and is dedicated to Clariisa Upchurch and her husband George Szirtes. It begins:-

A place I’ve never been, but which, at back of my mind’s eye, I know I’ve seen:

its stately apartment blocks beginning to melt in the mid-morning blaze, its beach cafés

loud with the laughter of chess-players and philosophers. And there’s the postcard view you’ll know it

Now although the title has an ambiguity about it perhaps suggesting an imaginary destination, I can only read a few lines and think upon the city of Odesa. A city about which I only know but a few matters but one whose cosmopolitan nature makes it onto my wish list for a visit. Having seen those famous steps in Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” in the early 70s started my interest. Re- kindled by a minitrek to Istanbul and Princes Island then I bought Neil Acherson’s Black Sea. Then again reading about the trade of the Euphrasi family in de Waal’s Hare with the Amber Eyes stimulated my interest further.

Reid’s lovely poem talks of a lively city with…..

loud with laughter

of chess players and philosophers.

And there’s a postcard view-

you’ll know it

However, the city which has grasped my imagination through reading this poem is awaiting the armed assault of the invader. The sandbags surround the elegant statues. The town where Pushkin was in exile which was always a cosmopolitan treasure awaits another barbarous incursion .A large portion of the dwellers have already left their homes fearing the sort of destruction meted out to Mariupol now some 13hours journey away to the East.

There is a certain irony in the last lines in which a guitar playing poet flavours his words with…

a nonchalant beat added

to old Gypsy sorrows.

A good place to meet,

I feel, and clink

a glass or two

of something sombre as ink,

with a paper parasol in it.

Lets get on a plane and go there.

Tomorrow’s?

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