From Russia With Love

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A Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit inspired writer Phil Metres’ new book. Instants chronicles the life of 19th-century British photographer Eadweard Muybridge, whose work was displayed in 2004. “He took thousands of photographs of creatures in movement,” says Metres, a John Carroll University professor. “He was obsessed with the notion that photography could somehow capture movement itself. I began to wonder whether this obsession was a desire to master the movement over which he had no control.”

Metres’ obsession is Russian literature. In 1992, he spent a year in Moscow studying the writings of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov. While there, he often ventured the city’s streets, where crime and poverty reigned. “Russia was a real wild west, where Mafiosi, ex-Communist capitalists, and financial speculator-pirates ruled the streets,” he says. “I witnessed things that resembled life in a war zone. There was a game that some of my American expat friends and I invented: How many dead people have you seen today? It was a way of coping with a reality that was beyond words.”

Metres returned to the U.S. a year later to translate Russian poetry while studying for his Ph.D. at Indiana University. In 2001, he took a job at John Carroll. “I have been pleased by the secret pleasures of Cleveland,” he says. “It’s a city which has its share of struggles and pain. But what city doesn’t? It also has a vitality and character that even its own denizens sometimes overlook. To paraphrase Shakespeare, everyone has their own Cleveland.”

The city’s down-to-earth attitude has also helped shape Metres’ writing style in capturing Muybridge’s “tour through life” with lyric poetry penned for the masses. “Poetry is the cockroach of culture,” he says. “Most people fear it or fear they don’t understand it. But when the lights go out, and you’re with your own soul in the dark night, there it is.”
Sat., Jan. 13, 7 p.m.

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