Shota Iatashvili’s Poem, ‘Elegy’

© Pieter Vandermeer / Tineke de Lange

Let me paint you a picture, dear reader. As I mentioned before in passing, I grew up on Shel Silverstein poetry, which is goofy, funny and insightful through the silliness. If you took Silverstein’s poetry and made it have ugly, drunk sex with Charles Bukowski’s poetry, that’s sort of what today’s poem I read made me think about.

That poem comes from the Georgian poet, Shota Iatashvili. And no, not the state Georgia of the United States, but the former Soviet Union country situated between Asia and Eastern Europe near the Black Sea. In fact, I’m not even clear on whether it’s called Georgia to Georgians at least. From Wikipedia, they seem to call the country Sakartvelo, and themselves Kartvelians. So, perhaps it’s more apt to call Iatashvili a Kartvelian poet, who speaks Georgian, or uh, Kartvelian? Which is apparently a language unique to the country.

Iatashvili began writing poetry right after Georgia gained its independence with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, and therefore, the independence of Georgia, which came officially on Christmas Day 1991. According to Poetry International, under this maelstrom of uncertainty, Iatashvili “joined a group of socially committed artists who gathered together their literary performances and alternative actions under the name Tbilisi Performance Theatre.” They were influenced by the American Beat Generation of the 1950s and 1960s, so that’s pretty neat.

I’ve said it before, but I think people underestimate just how powerful and far-reaching the United States is. We in America often think of it as “military might,” which is certainly true, but it’s also culturally. Our people through our culture have influenced people the world over, and that’s a beautiful thing. More culture, less military, please.

Poetry International validates my sense that Iatashvili has a bit of Silverstein in him by noting his mad frenzy for humor as it “unceasingly bubbles to the surface.”

This particular poem demonstrative of that is, “Elegy,” from the collection, pankari tsasji (“Pencil in the Air”), published by Caucasian House, Tbilisi (capital of Georgia) in 2004, and translated by Donald Rayfield.

Here is the poem in full, and here’s an excerpt:

I stood there,
Leaning against a tree,
And I wanted
To yell out at it,
“Wait a moment, wait, friend!”

What I absolutely love about this poem is that it’s a completely ordinary scene and moment in someone’s life that we can all relate to and understand immediately: Iatashvili is describing a moment where he saw a vehicle stop in the street, linger, and drive off. It sounds so simple, and it is, but that’s the beauty. As he mentions, for some reason, he remembers the vehicle number in that moment. A random, chance moment, and for some reason, that number sticks in his head. We all have examples of random moments in life like; those little moments that stick in our brain years later for some reason.

But there’s obviously the hint here of something more Bukowski-like, a bit darker and more gritty, where Iatashvili has internalized the “very sad vehicle,” with its worn-out tyres, tired-out headlights, dithering there, dragging itself off, going in a vague direction, and the sluggish motion of it all. Internalized or metaphor, or is that one and the same? He certainly feels some sort of kinship with this sluggish lorry, as he calls out to it to be his friend, and seems sort of sad that the friendship didn’t get to happen.

Whether he’s internalized the lorry or is using the lorry as metaphor, I dig the idea of observing a common moment in time, freezing time, and writing about it, as Iatashvili has here. And of course, then relating that common moment to all of us, and himself. However, as I said, it’s a nice blend of both Silverstein and Bukowski. It’s something I could see and have seen Bukowski write, but there’s also a flavor of Silverstein’s playful goofiness here.

Poetry can be all the things. That’s the beauty of poetry. And of life.

It’s also worth remembering (as I sometimes forget to do) the title, which is elegy, aka, as the dictionary helps me with, “a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead.” In that framework, who is dead here? The sluggish lorry or the man? Or both?

What do you make of this poem?

2 thoughts

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