Louis Esterhuizen. Fokus op Valzhyna Mort

Valzhyna Mort

Valzhyna Mort

Uiteraard word daar jaloers gewaak oor ontluikende digters wat op die wêreldverhoog opgang begin maak. Twee sulke “jonges” waaroor daar tans baie berig word, en dikwels by die program van internasionale poësiefeeste ingesluit word, is Valzhyna Mort en Ann Cotten. Albei dié digters woon tans in New York en skryf nou in Engels, ten spyte daarvan dat hulle nie Amerikaans van geboorte is nie. Valzhyna Mort is naamlik van Belo-Rusland, terwyl Ann Cotton weer van Duitse afkoms is. Nog ‘n ooreenkoms is dat albei in hul onderskeie moedertale gedebuteer het alvorens hulle in Engels begin skryf en publiseer het.

Onlangs het S.J. Fowler van 3:AM Magazine ‘n interessante onderhoud met Valzhyna Mort gevoer. In sy aanloop tot die onderhoud kontekstualiseer hy Mort soos volg: “The emigration of European poets to the United States appears a tradition in its own right, and a luminous one at that. The effect of Miłosz, Brodsky et al on American poetry resonates even today, perhaps even to the extent that a restrictive romanticism has emerged in the poetic consciousness of global poetics toward Eastern European poets in the US. Through the celebrated work of Valzhyna Mort that Eastern European influence continues, but abated in reconstituted voice utterly individual and unique. Winner of the Crystal of Vilenica poetry award, lauded on both sides of the continent, Mort is a resolute and dexterous presence in contemporary East coast American poetry circles. A native of Belarus, her poetry is remarkable for its elegance and fluidity, and its ability to maintain an idiom both utterly modern and somehow enduring.”

‘n Vraag en antwoord wat my dadelik opgeval het, is die volgende:

3:AM: What does it mean to be a young poet writing in a culture that perhaps does not have a strong singular poetic tradition?

Valzhyna Mort 2

Valzhyna Mort 2

VM: I think that your poetic tradition is your reading list. When your own culture doesn’t have a strong poetic tradition, one hopes for a strong tradition of translating foreign poetry. When it doesn’t have the latter one either, one goes to learn foreign languages. Before my first book came out in Minsk I had already started translating from Polish and Ukrainian. Then I received the Gaude Polonia scholarship for translation in Warsaw, Poland, and my Polish mentor Adam Pomorski handed me books by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. They were the first poets I read in English […]In my mind many poems of Hughes and Heaney belong to the same tradition as Belarusian classic Yanka Kupala’s long poems. They are talking to the same landscape with the same density of sound and image. It is a tradition of good poetry.”

Gaan lees gerus die volledige onderhoud 3:AM Magazine. En, indien jy dit gemis het, kan jy ook die onderhoud wat Versindaba met Valzhyna Mort gevoer het, hier lees.

Vir jou leesplesier volg haar gedig “Sylt” hieronder. Hier kan nog van haar gedigte gevind word. En maak seker dat jy haar bundel Factory of Tears (2007: Copper Canyon Press) in die hande kry. As toegif, ook die titelgedig uit dié versameling heelonder.



lie still, he says,

like a dog on the beach
he starts digging
until the hole fills up with water.
he has already dug out two thighs of sand
when she finally asks, what’s there,
convinced there’s nothing.

there’s nowhere he can kiss her where she hasn’t already been kissed by the sun.

every evening she goes to the ocean with her old father and three sisters.
they strip in a row,
                    their bodies identical as in a paper garland.
bodies that make you think of women constantly chopping vegetables
            – it is like living by the train station,
                                                        their father swears –
and always putting the last slice into their mouths.
for her, there is not even a knife left in the whole house.
the sound of a cuckoo limps across the dunes.
she takes a beam of sunlight sharpened side by side with stones
and cuts with it
and you can tell her vegetables from the others’
by how they burn.
long after dinner they talk in the garden.
from above, ripened in their warm breath, plums fall over the table.
they draw the plums, one by one, like dominoes from the stock,
sweet bones and crushed june bugs stick to the table.

by now they already stand wrapped in cocoons of white towels,
her teeth, crossed out by a blue line of lips, chatter,
scratching the grains of salt. her bitten tongue
bleeds out into the mouth a red oyster,
which she gulps, breathless.
their father turns away to dry his cock,
but the girls rub their breasts and crotch openly,
their hands skilled at wiping tables,
their heads as big as the shadow of the early moon,
their nipples as big as the shadows of their heads,
and black so that their milk might look even whiter.

she too, is rough and indifferent towards her full breasts,
as if she were brushing a cat off the chair
for her old father to sit down.
they drink beer in the northern light that illuminates nothing but itself.
sail boats slip off their white sarafans
baring their scrawny necks and shoulders,
and line up holding on to the pier as if it were a ballet bar.

it bothers her, what did he find there after all.
so she touches herself under the towel.
it is easy to find where he has been digging –
the dug up spot is still soft.

the water is flat as the fur licked down by a clean animal.
a bird, big even from afar,
believes the ocean is its egg.
so the bird sits on the ocean patiently
and feels it kick slightly now and then.


Factory of Tears


And once again according to the annual report
the highest productivity results were achieved
by the Factory of Tears.

While the Department of Transportation was breaking heels
while the Department of Heart Affairs
was beating hysterically
the Factory of Tears was working night shifts
setting new records even on holidays.

While the Food Refinery Station
was trying to digest another catastrophe
the Factory of Tears adopted a new economically advantageous
technology of recycling the wastes of past –
memories mostly.

The pictures of the employees of the year
were placed on the Wall of Tears.

I’m a recipient of workers’ comp from the heroic Factory of Tears.
I have calluses on my eyes.
I have compound fractures on my cheeks.
I receive my wages with the product I manufacture.
And I’m happy with what I have.


© Vertaling: 2008, Valzhyna Mort, Franz Wright and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright
Uit: Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)




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