Poetry Turnstile*: Natalya Gorbanevskaya

Taken just after her release.

Sometimes I ban myself from reading poetry books. Most of the time, however, when I’m able to retain a modicum of self-discipline I carry a volume or collection with me tucked in between thesis drafts and anthropological texts.

Reading poetry at opportune times during the day serves as good n’ well as an afternoon nap for refreshing one’s thesis-writing brain. Today, however, was one of those days. It took me forever to get out of the house this morning and then when I was finally nearly ready to leave I couldn’t decide between Elizabeth Browning and Post-War Russian Poetry. I was dallying.

I’ve posted one of Natalya Gorbanyevskaya’s poems hereon before. Natalya was a civil rights activist and agitator, who organized against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. She was one of the seven to demonstrate in Red Square on the 5th of August in 1968 and was subsequently (involuntarily) committed by Soviet authorities to a psychiatric ‘prison-hospital’. Natalya was incarcerated for two years during which time she was involuntarily ‘administered’ various kinds of ‘psychiatric medication’.

There is something about the way she writes though, that is gently carrying (for want of a better description) and each poem in its own way sets one down gently, near or at the last line. As the editor of this particular volume writes, ‘Gorbanyevskaya had the immense courage to remain vulnerable.’ If I was someone annoying like Phillip Adams I would breathe into the microphone and describe her poetry as “transporting.” It is truly beautiful – her writing – and never fails to buoy the spirit.

This particular poem is untitled. It is included with a number of others under a general umbrella title, ‘Unfinished Poems.’ Yo, ma.


The cricket sings on Twelfth-night

on a January Monday,

and the ringing of the bells floats among the snow-drifts,

barely, barely touching

their edges with its wing.


On Twelfth-night sings the cricket,

my chance visitor is silent,

and the ringing of the bells

drowns in the deep snow,

melts in the high sky,

in space that is cornerless.


But, in the corner by the stove,

like homunculi, the crickets

chirp, while all around

the ringing melts, and drowns,

but touches, in departing,

brushes us with its wing.



* ~ I have grown tired of having to type the ‘y’ in the brackets. Apologies.

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