The Poetry of Refugees and Those that face Chronic Subjugation

If you know me well you know that a few years back I went on a reading tour of Latvian poetry.


I found amazing lost works from countries such as Estonia, Poland, the Ukraine,  and regions of  Russia.
I know. I know.

Who has time for this?  

A researcher, such as I.

With the offerings I bring for this week’s lesson plan, I am just going to ask you to trust me.  In this poetry there is a marriage of  cruel weathers, constant threats of censorship,  and oppressive regimes.  All of the stable foundation for them shifts every few years.  Leadership is a revolving door and seldom positive in any regard. All of this travail causes the poets to write words that sing (wail) like a long lost violin.

The language form they use is sparse because each piece is written in secret. I believe reading their works will help us with our editing.  Imagine you are writing in this environment: all of the people you want to please are deceased and you have half an hour before a guard comes to interrogate you. That is the back story of the poetry of the Upper Caucasus Mountain region. As you listen try to perceive the ghosts that live between the lines.  Their suffering makes the poem lean and powerful. Like a good reduction sauce, their words are often richer than Imperial poetry, let’s say, from England or France.

Here is the audio to listen to and the text of the poem being read for you.


Anna Kamienska (1920–1986)

Those Who Carry

Those who carry pianos
to the tenth floor wardrobes and coffins
an old man with a bundle of wood
limps beyond the horizon
a woman with a hump of nettles
a madwoman pushing a pram
full of vodka bottles

they will all be lifted
like a gull’s feather
like a dry leaf
like an eggshell a scrap of newspaper

Blessed are those who carry
for they shall be lifted.

Translated from the Polish

The Sentence
And the stone word fell
On my still-living breast.
Never mind, I was ready.
I will manage somehow.

Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again—

Unless . . . Summer’s ardent rustling
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I’ve foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house.

 by Anna Ahkmatova   (Ukraine)