6 contemporary Georgian poems that embrace life

6 contemporary Georgian poems that embrace life
Image: Liya Morozova

10 July 2020
Selection and intro: Paata Shamugia

Georgian poetry is a time-tested tradition, which is both a blessing and a curse. Its antiquity, while valuable, imbues poetry with the status of immutable tradition, creating barriers for those who wish to revitalise it. As a result, bold contemporary works often cause scandal.

The first Georgian rhythmic poem was found on the walls of the Ateni Sioni Church in the 9th century. The tradition reached its first peak with the creation of the most influential Georgian epic work, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, written in the 12th century.

Ever since, Georgia’s geographical location between Asia and Europe has meant that Georgian poetry revels in both Western and Eastern cultural influences. This synthesis has continued in contemporary Georgian poetry, which offers a diverse range of thought and form, including both free and rhythmic verse, feminist and conservative ideas, social as well as more individualist themes.


Salome

Written by Bela Chekurishvili and translated by Dalila Gogia



“Dance, Salome!” –

The teacher was strict

And did not care that I was tired

Mother kept saying that

I was complaining in vain and

Nobody would have pity on me.

“When you conquer the best knights’ hearts

With your dance,

Think of me” –

Was her reply for my tears.

She would leave me in the mirror hall by myself.

Sunshine rang on the palm branch outside

And my feet longed to run away where

Girls were laughing in summer houses

And whispering about knights all the time.

“Dance Salome,

If you want to learn

You have to dance

From dawn till dusk

Your heart should dictate your feet and arms

The music

Listen not with the ears but with body!

Dance Salome,

Jungle your bracelets!

Hands are capable to say a lot more than lips,

Do not bend your head!

Look straight forward!

Look up the sky

And if you devote your look to any particular knight

Do not let a smile appear on your forehead.

The teacher was inaccessible and demanding

And even amused to care for the princess.

Dance Salome,

“Your body is created to get whatever you wish

Without saying a word.

And when you grow up

For just one dance

The whole kingdom

Will be spread under your feet like a carpet;

For just a single dance

Thousands of heads will bow before you,

And you will choose the only one

That will lead you into infinity.

Dance Salome,

You have to dance a lot till that day comes.”


All aforementioned is defined in the school of chrestomathy as one poem. Bela Chekurishvili is a Georgian poet and prose writer and journalist.


***

Written by Giorgi Lobzhanidze and translated by Manana Matiashvili

People standing in the shadow and people standing in the light, – I saw them both. Sohrab Sepehri


I don’t remember exactly when

but I remember it did happen:

I saw people happy together,

they strode so archly you would think

they were happy balloons filled with gas.

I saw people in gas chambers

before those chambers were filled with gas.

I saw two fellows on gibbets

with their heads in nooses.

They were looking into each other’s eyes

as if looking at other parts of the body

(which is usually called love)

would lead to the death penalty,

because in their country

that kind of love is punishable.

And they were hanging there

full of death after love

or – call it what you want -

love leading to death.

Hanging stiff, they continued to look

into each other’s eyes.

People in the dark -

looking toward the light

with beseeching eyes.

People in the light -

with shadows of their elongated bodies.

People in side-view,

people seen in direct view.

People with clothing

and people without clothes –

naked as they were at the moment of birth.

I saw all of them and the naked people said:

know that even nakedness can turn out

to be the best clothing ever worn

only if you wrap in it

(as in a monk’s robe)

your innocent heart!

I saw people bathing in money and bathing in shit.

I saw people sleeping and I saw them in sober vigilance.

I saw people in sorrow and in joy.

I saw people in wealth and in poverty.

I saw people singing mirthfully and I heard their songs of lamentation.

I saw people in their faith,

I saw them in their unbelief and got to know

the skepticism of some people usually works better than other people’s faith

as it happens when the death of certain people is livelier than other people’s life.

I saw people when it was cold and I saw them in warmth.

I saw people when it rained and I saw them when it was stormy.

Yes, people I saw… I mean… I remember I saw human beings.

I remember that it did happen

but, unfortunately, I can’t

remember

when it happened

that

I saw people

last.


Giorgi Lobzhanidze is a Georgian poet, orientalist, translator, and professor at Tbilisi State University.


The Song of a Miner’s Wife

Written by Eka Kevanishvili and translated by Manana Matiashvili


My husband is going to come home late tonight. My smoked husband.

As he comes his teeth will glare white.

Only from the teeth I can differ my husband from others.

He was light-skinned when I first met him. Now the colour of his skin is near the colour of dust.

Even his voice sounds as if the iron has dissolved in it,

And his eyes are lit up with the heated oil.

My husband changes a lot after being back to this world from a long tunnel deep.

Now he will come soon. He will be muddy. He will enter the doorway bringing some smell.

That’s the smell of the intestines of earth. That’s the smell of the men working side by side with him,

the smell of exhausted workers.

He will come home soon with an empty food container in one hand and with a smoked loaf of bread in the other.

The essence of my husband has touched even a loaf of bread (like me before) and made it black

after he had eaten a small piece of bread when he got hungry on the way home.

Later he sits at the table waiting for a long time for his portion of soup that is followed by

some of my words to be said quickly about the big loans from banks and small ones

from the local grocery store,

and about a new pair of shoes belonging to a neighbour’s child and our children’s shabby school-bags.

There are my words of despair.

He is still sitting looking through the window to the sky.

Then he says: I miss the sky, and stops talking.

I stop to say a word about the books and colouring books and chocolates and new dresses

and a necklace over there in the window of the shop, in short, about everything a human being needs.

And I think: if only he would never lose his hands and feet to be able to go down in the mine.


Eka Kevanishvili is a Georgian poet, prose writer and journalist, currently working as a reporter for Radio Liberty in Tbilisi.

Drawing a Line between Meteorology and Poetry

Written by Shota Iatashvili and translated by Donald Rayfield



I

Finally one should refuse to use

Words denoting elemental phenomena,

Especially when depicting

Human spiritual experiences and frames of mind.

Poetry of the present and the future must be able to do without.

II

I watch through the window.

The rain rains in poems sung for the thousandth time,

The snow snows in poems sung for the thousandth time.

I go outside.

There’s nothing poetic about the wind.

It just makes my trousers flap,

Strikes my face and confuses my thoughts,

Which pretty well confirms

My theoretical deliberations:

Poetry and meteorology

Have over time come to quarrel with each other,

And now’s the time for them

Each to mind their own business.

III

My grandmother (on my father’s side), Mariam Iatashvili,

Was a meteorologist.

My grandfather (on my mother’s side), Parmen Rurua,

Was a poet.

Since childhood the things that sounded most poetic to me

Were the names of various types of cloud.

My grandmother would point to the sky and teach me,

“Cumulus, stratocumulus.”

But a lot of time passed after that.

And today I,

However regrettable and odd it may be,

Am coming out with an exposé

Of the unpoetic nature of meteorology

And the unmeteorological nature of poetry.

IV

I expect you realise,

This is no easy subject.

All the more so if you’ve written lines, like:

“The wind is in the soul, o watery-eyed Maria,

The wind is in the soul, whether it’s dark or day-long light…”

And quite a few similar other things.

Yes this is no easy subject.

But I am nevertheless doing this

So that in future life and poetry

There should be no rain falling from my eyes,

No snow falling on my hair,

No wind lurking in my soul.

V

I wrote this poem

As a weather forecast for poetry

And I walked out into the street,

Where an unpoetic wind

Flapped my trousers and

Hit my face.


Shota Iatashvili is a Georgian poet, prose writer and literary critic.


[Now, the storm has arranged the insane]

Written by Maia Sarishvili and translated by Timothy Kercher and Nene Giorgadze



Now, the storm has arranged the insane,
set down a different order.
Those at the end are children, like rhymes.
A lunatic poem started as a protest.
My smile is thrown down
like a wounded wing
—clumsy me—
I can’t lift it, can’t grip it.
A crowd tramples my lips—
it gets worse in the throng’s midst.
I look up—drops like mini-megaphones.
I chase them down and to each one,
read my poems.
It’s odd. Not a single drop lingers with me.
And I remember the sticky stage
in a packed-out house
where, once upon a time
as a child, I foolishly rose
when my mother was dying
and clumsily climbed up on the table
to make God better hear my prayers…


Maia Sarishvili is a Georgian poet and a primary school teacher.


​Solution

Written by Paata Shamugia and translated by Manana Matiashvili and Kristian Carlsson



When the sky is about to crash down,

the highly-qualified God

lowers pillars of rain

to support the leaning sky.

That’s why it won’t fall down on us.

That’s why we always can take our chances

when it’s raining.

As it is raining — we have survived…

so many times.

Paata Shamugia is a poet and the President of PEN Georgia.


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