"Nabokoviana" by Bree Huntley

Submitted by dana_dragunoiu on Sat, 08/01/2020 - 05:10

Bree Huntley studied literature with Brian Boyd at the University of Auckland. After several years studying and working abroad, she recently returned to Auckland where she works as a lawyer and enjoys writing fiction and poetry. 

She agreed to share with us the sestina below, inspired by Nabokov's "strong opinions" that still linger in her mind.


When I’m bored I sometimes like to play this game

I call “What would Nabokov think?” Of the acrylic nose

Affixed to the wall of this gallery

In this case. Previously: an ad for milk, a shade

Of lipstick, a friend’s book of poems. His views are distinctly,

Unmistakably his own—it’s fun to take on his character.


“This snout,” he might say, “lacks the character

Of the fugitive one in Gogol’s wonderful game

Of signs and symbols—so obviously, so distinctly

That of Major Kovalyov. Note that this nose              

Is poreless, hairless, a single flat shade

Of apricot, sleek as the marble floors of this gallery.


The little white index card the gallery

Has placed beside it sheds no light. Just a character

Sketch of the artiste, one Maud M. Shade,

Deceased. Perhaps it’s all a subtle game:

To evoke the freakish body to which the nose

Was once attached? Monochrome, spaniel-shiny, distinctly


Slippery, like a bar of Pears’ soap.” I think it’s distinctly

Possible that every single work in this gallery

Would revolt Nabokov. Yes, he’d be wrinkling his nose,

Making a moue of disgust, like his cruellest character

Watching two shapely ladies playing a game

Of tennis. In matters of art, he was an absolutist. No shade


And light. He despised the canvas daubed with a single shade

Of blue or ecru, the sculpture resembling nothing more distinctly

Than scrap metal. “Art is a game,” he’d say, “and there is no game

Without rules. This here is all gloss and dross; a gallery

Of Americontempo bluff-by-numbers guff—without character,

Without charm, without inspiration. Nose


Around and you’ll only find more of the same. This nose

Is just the beginning (though it haunts me like a shade).”

How I envy the ardor of his rants, the unwavering character

Of his opinions; rarely have I expressed a thought distinctly

My own. Maybe I should be judging the works in this gallery

For myself. Part of me thinks that this game


Is distinctly unhealthy, that I’m cowering in the shade

Cast by his character. But why speak from the peanut gallery

When I have the game? No one beats N at narrating a nose.



This is great fun, Bree, and well-executed. Thanks for sharing it.

Matt Roth