Valzhyna Mort skryf oor klein letterkundes

Valzhyna Mort is ’n Belarusiese digter en sy is 28 jaar oud. In ‘n artikel wat Louis Esterhuizen oor haar op sy Nuuswekker geskryf het, vind u biografiese feite omtrent hierdie interessante jong digter.

Mort skryf in Belarusies, die inheemse taal van Belarus, (’n land wat voormalig deel was van die Sowjet-Unie).


“We’ll die not in Paris…” and we are already over it.

Valzhyna Mort


If it is true that we write from the wound inflicted upon us by other writers, this being not even a question of writing but remembering what we have read, and we keep reinventing this over and over again, then what determines a metaphorical cosmopole (I would prefer to speak figuratively here because the geographical notions of cosmopole and province seem to be too narrowmindedly culturally managerial) is a language with a rich literary tradition – in other words, a major language that has been stretched by classical authors far beyond an average school dictionary.

Provinciality is not a failure of one or two generations of writers to produce important world-class work, but the failure of centuries of writers to do so, the failure that a contemporary, a doomed to be a provincial writer gets born into, as into a kitchen where there is only an old axe to cook a soup from. We boil that old axe and taste the soup and it doesn’t taste like anything we’d want to eat. So, as the well-known (“well-known” in our village at least) tale goes, we ask if, by any chance, there might be some translations of Homer lying around, and we add these into our axe soup. Then we find some translations of Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, and mix these into the broth too, and we serve the dish, and it is delicious. Of course, we had to use some imported ingredients, but if these have been incorporated with care, if they are duly preserved, who would dare to take the morsel out of our hungry mouths and say it is a fraud? (I spit into the faces of those who suspect poetry translation of every mortal sin, for there is no other art more selfless, more dedicated and more true).

Once the foundation is laid, once the “canon” of the major culture is appropriated by the minor, what then prevents  “provincial” writing from moving on? Only this: the ungrounded awareness that it had been stealing and that it lacked that which it had stolen, I believe. Thus, instead of taking full advantage of this foundation, provincial literature, to prove that it is in fact a literature to be counted on, starts frantically writing about itself. The futility of translating most of contemporary and often quite brilliant Belarusian literature, is that this literature deals exclusively with itself, remaining at best incomprehensible, and at worst, immature, to a foreign readership.

But let’s say we are over that and we are moving forward. Sooner or later we hit the ceiling of our minor language once again – it is the problem of a small readership, the problem of translation againbut this time of our provincial literature into a major language. This, however, does not interest me one bit as it is a problem of the book market, of certain infrastructures, not the problem of the quality of the written work. I have a strong belief that it is inevitable for a truly good work to be discovered by a wider audience – by the audience that needs it, and to be translated and made available.

The answer to what the “cosmopole” gains from translated poetry is as old as the history of colonization (omitting, however, colonial connotations). Poetry deals with constant reinvention and the revaluation of language, and these processes are impossible without the new blood brought in by translation: The invention of a foreign poetry language within a native language, the dance with that native language and the consequences of that dance and a couple of drinks, the language left impregnated with a different kind of figurative thinking, with a new foreign syntax, and fresh foreign imagery (foreign only for a time being, as poetry, as none other art, when appropriated, starts living on the most personal, most intimate levels.)

Contemporary poetry is altogether a provincial form of arts compared to fiction or visual arts, for instance.  It has been marginalized both by the academia of the cosmopole and by the similarly boring clichés of the provinces.

The voice of poetry, good poetry no matter where it comes from, is a voice constantly renewing itself, conscious of its diverse memory, unconscious of the expectations forced upon it, dismissive of the format of magazines and festivals and those voices which feed off the old voices and should probably shut up and let the old speak for themselves, but cannot help to echo their every word.

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