Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Gennady Aygi

It's a New Morning, at least for me, on each new book publication in English by the Chuvashia born poet Gennady Aygi. Aygi wasn't published in the Soviet Union until the 1980s, and since then he has been widely translated by Peter France and others. . .the most recent gift through the skilled eyes of Sarah Valentine which shows an immediate freshness and Aygi's connection to the outdoors — of both landscape and language. I also much like Valentine's direct speak and thought around modern poetry:

"I think many poets in the United States today struggle with a feeling of irrelevance, of impotence in the face of global-scale crises. Sidelined in a mass-media, technology-driven culture, the American poet seems to have a slim chance of connecting with an audience, and even less of a chance to effect large-scale change through poetry. But elsewhere in the world many poets, like Aygi in the Soviet Union, wrote and continue to write poetry at the risk of losing their lives and livelihoods. For them poetry is an ethical act, an act of humanity, regardless of the cost. Many of Aygi's poems confront the political and social crises of his age, but many others are small poems about the beauty of fields and flowers, the birth of a child. Some consist of only a few lines, a few words, or a single word, or a single letter.

Why bother? What difference could jotting down a few lines about flowers possibly make? The answer, I think, for Aygi was that each word of each poems was part of a grander project, an exploration of the nature of existence, of our place in this universe — whatever that is — of what lies beyond the limits of our knowing, and of how, through a humane art, we can maintain our connection with all of it. Also, and perhaps most importantly, each poem is a celebration of mystery, of the fact that, though we pursue these questions, life in all its forms is a mysterious gift. That, if we can find it, there is always enough light — sometimes even on the petal of a flower — to dispel the darkness."

GENNADY AYGI (1934-2006)


and you begin to sing — and I am disappearing

slowly into the snow (like before : a figure

darkening in the dusk

somewhere far away) and the broken board appears

there — among the ruins

in the abandoned shack (they sang whispered


cried long ago — it seems

from great joy) and in the distance the forest

as if

in a dream

opens — and you are singing

(though — you needn't

for it's already over)

you go on

(though even without us eternity

is already ripening


like gold)

you go on

though you're becoming too muffled

to sing


she goes out

like a bright breath into the field

like board-white buckwheat

cuts through the woods

birds like straw

take the forest sounds on their backs

her pigtails on her back without a plan

as in a dream begin a village

looking over the fire tower's edge

and there in the clearing in the wind

beyond the far heart of the golden rain

a birch plays with out a birch

u without u



in the invisible glow

of pulverized melancholy

I know uselessness like the poor know their last piece of clothing

and old utensils

and I know that this uselessness

is what the country needs from me

reliable like a secret pact:

muteness as life

indeed for my whole life


Muteness is a tribute — but silence is for myself


to grow accustomed to silence

like the beating of one's heart

like life

as if a well-known place there

and in this I am — as Poetry is

and I know

that my work is both hard and for itself alone

like the sleeplessness of the night watchman

at the city graveyard


I took a pail and went for water

because we had no water.

I sat next to my pail and cried

because we had no joy.

Back in those days

I was no taller than the pail.

"Mother" I whispered — the meadow hushed,

"Brother" I said — and sleep fell silent.

What was I trying to name was silence:

sun, oak forest, wormwood.

Only to my song,

beyond the aul,

I silently cried — "Sister."


my cap goes off to
Wave Books
for making such a gift

see an earlier Birdhouse for Gennady Aygi :