Poetry as Design: The Anna Akhmatova House

Poetry as Design: The Anna Akhmatova House
Museum Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sun 10:30-6:30,  Weds 12:00-8.  Closed Monday. Admission 200 Rubles.

Anna Akhmatova is Saint Petersburg’s most beloved female poet. Her home, tucked behind the portal of a common leafy courtyard, serves as a place of pilgrimage for legions of literary admirers. A literary museum, Akhmatova’s apartment operates as a museum of witness of her complicated and often tragic life as a writer struggling to speak in the Soviet era.

Exterior of the Anna Akhmatova House. Photo by SRAS student contributor Evan Fishburn.

Exterior of the Anna Akhmatova House. Photo by SRAS student contributor Evan Fishburn.

Akhmatova’s verse is admired for its economy of sentiment. In few stringent words Akhmatova is able to conjure intense personal and complex emotions which other writers struggle to achieve in the lengths of novels. The contents of Akhmatova’s home, her furniture and personal belongings, express the critical relationship between her poetry and her prudence, a union developed by necessity in a time of thin walls and mercurial politics.

The provenance of Akhmatova’s apartment is complex. Once a portion of the Sheremetev Palace, the rooms were inhabited as communal apartments during the Stalinist regime, where Akhmatova lived amongst others in cramped and narrow chambers.

Simply to identify and access the Akhmatova residence amongst the rest requires effort on behalf of the visitor. Guests must scale three flights of stairs and enter through a plain and unmarked door, indicated only by a small sign on the landing below.

Akhmatova’s rooms are preserved in her minimalist Art Deco style, reprieve to city visitors overwhelmed by what some in Saint Petersburg refer to as palace fatigue. In Akhmatova’s quarters, visitors are not suffocated by the superfluous silks and ornaments of the upper class. (She certainly could not afford these.) Instead, the lines are simple and the lights are warm. Her palette is of earthy browns, dark woods, deep green velvet and yellow cottons. Meticulous attention is paid to appropriate space between objects, as it is in poetry as the breath between words. It is evident that Akhmatova did not collect what was not truly valuable to her. The few small figurines and paintings positioned on tabletops are the work of her foreign contemporaries, correspondence with whom for which she often risked her life. Her trinkets are more than mementos; they are monuments to those who refused the cautions of Soviet artistic censorship. 

Workspace in the Anna Akhmatova House. Photo by SRAS student contributor Evan Fishburn.

Workspace in the Anna Akhmatova House. Photo by Evan Fishburn.

Dining room of the Anna Akhmatova House. Photo by SRAS student contributor Evan Fishburn.

Dining room of the Anna Akhmatova House. Photo by Evan Fishburn.

A visit to the Akhmatova apartment is regrettably brisk, as the limitations of the layout and constant influx of admirers require a constant flow of foot traffic. It is possible to circle the path from the shared entryway and exit as many times as desirable. However, if the airs of Akhmatova’s immense tribulations are too saddening, it is best to sit in the verdant garden after a pass, pet the resident tomcat, and admire the resolve of such a woman who risked everything to write.

A collection of poems by the Anna Akhmatova. Purchasable at Dom Knigi for 284 rubles.

A collection of poems by the Anna Akhmatova (pictured). Purchasable at Dom Knigi for 284 rubles.

Sophia Fisher is currently studying Russian as a Second Language with SRAS Saint Petersburg, Russia. Sophia believes that the exponential development of communication technology has made Russian language skills critical in all professional fields. In August, Sophia will return home to her native Ohio for a final semester at The Ohio State University, where she will receive a diploma in art history and Russian language. After graduation, Sophia plans on pursuing a career in arts management or public relations.
Sophia Fisher
Sophia Fisher
Sophia Fisher

About Sophia Fisher

Sophia Fisher is currently studying Russian as a Second Language with SRAS Saint Petersburg, Russia. Sophia believes that the exponential development of communication technology has made Russian language skills critical in all professional fields. In August, Sophia will return home to her native Ohio for a final semester at The Ohio State University, where she will receive a diploma in art history and Russian language. After graduation, Sophia plans on pursuing a career in arts management or public relations.