Thinking a little more about encounter with Petersburg poet A. Skidan.
As we were walking to the car that would take him to read at Wesleyan, he was limping. Had stubbed his toe badly at guest house here in Prov. WC Williams' "the tragic foot" - the goat-limp of the ancient Dionysians. Poet descends into depths - catabasis, or kenosis. Skidan seems like a strong poet who will come up for air.
His poetry is more sublime than beautiful. Violent contrasts, absurd moments, visions of squalor & estrangement.
From a theoretical perspective, Skidan strikes me as a young poet somewhat crippled by postmodern critique. The very fashionable cultural zeitgeist of the day is a fusion of literary theory and left politics. Post-structuralism emphasizes relativism, the dispersal of the subject, the deconstruction of traditional social (power) structures. In personal terms, this position facilitates either the eliding of a privileged background (what got you into college to read those theorists in the first place), or the dismantling of established power relations, in favor of previously-marginalized social groups.
Poetry under this theoretical aegis cannot assert any kind of normative social relations, but only point to their possibility through contrast. Thus Skidan's angst-tinged sublimity (ironically, quite influenced stylistically by Eliot). His poetry is akin to his political perspective - at least based upon the superficial glimpse of it I received during his visit. He displayed a firm rejection of the current Russian power elite, and a demand for human rights and social justice; but his mode of achieving these goals also includes an antagonism toward capitalism and a kind of communitarian impulse, which would unite networks of progressive artists & poets in a kind of renovation of the "samizdat" underground - based in part on the new media & publishing technologies. A kind of New Left new wave.
This is heroic, but seems to me somewhat of an illusion. From the perspective of this non-Russian outsider, anyway (certainly nowhere near the same league of informed participants as is Skidan!) - human rights in Russian society depend more than anything else upon a re-orientation and reform of their justice system. This will clearly only happen along with parallel democratic reforms of their politics. And I don't see this happening based on another wave of collectivism, sponsored by culture workers and the theoretical left. More than anything, Russia needs, I would think, a re-orientation toward protection of the rights of individuals, including propery rights.
I admit this is just the uninformed off-the-cuff reaction of an American - one who would be, I suppose, in American poetry circles, considered pretty reactionary himself.