May 292011

Poems from Microscope

by Maya Sarishvili

Translated by Timothy Kercher and Nene Giorgadze

These rare English translations of the Georgian poet, Maya Sarishvili, come to us through the work of Tim Kercher and his translation partner, Nene Giorgadze. Of Tim’s many translation projects (see another Kercher translation here on NC), I am particularly drawn to Sarishvili’s poems as her work creates a meticulously urgent consciousness—her writing reminds me of the startling humanity of Anna Swir’s poetry mixed with elements of the mysteriously resonate, vulnerable work of Mary Ruefle.

Tim Kercher and I became friends at Vermont College, having survived the famed Lasko pivo, DG-infused Slovenia residency of 2008. Originally from Colorado, Tim currently teaches high school English in Kyiv, Ukraine, his fifth overseas teaching appointment. Tim lived in the Republic of Georgia for the past four years, where he started editing and translating an anthology of contemporary Georgian poetry. His manuscript, “Nobody’s Odyssey,” was recently selected as a finalist for the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and his poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Iron Horse Literary Review, Quiddity, The Dirty Goat, Poetry International Journal, upstreet, The Minnesota Review, and others.

Co-translator Nene Giorgadze holds an MA in Georgian Literature from Ilia University (Tbilisi, Georgia), has lived in US since 1999, and speaks three languages: Georgian, English, and Russian. She has written poetry and prose since childhood. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Ann Arbor Review, Raleigh Review, Rhino, and others

Maya Sarishvili won the SABA Prize for Poetry, Georgia’s top literature award, for her collection, Microscope, which includes these three poems. She is the author of one other poetry collection, Covering Reality (2001), as well as three radio plays. She lives in Tbilisi, Georgia where she works as a third-grade teacher and is mother to four children, ages 5 to 12. Her work has is forthcoming or has appeared in Crazyhorse, Versal, Nashville Review, Los Angeles Review, Guernica, and others.

What a pleasure it is to grapple with and savor these poems.

-Martin Balgach



[Now, the storm has arrange the insane,]

Now, the storm has arranged the insane,
set down a different order.
Those at the end are children, like rhymes.
A lunatic poem started as a protest.
My smile is thrown down
like a wounded wing
—clumsy me—
I can’t lift it, can’t grip it.
A crowd tramples my lips—
it gets worse in the throng’s midst.
I look up—drops like mini-megaphones.
I chase them down and to each one,
read my poems.
It’s odd. Not a single drop lingers with me.
And I remember the sticky stage
in a packed-out house
where, once upon a time
as a child, I foolishly rose
when my mother was dying
and clumsily climbed up on the table
to make God better hear my prayers…



[It doesn’t work this way—]

It doesn’t work this way—
even when you knock down an entire forest,
you won’t find a single root anywhere.
When not fixed to the earth, the universe
is a nightmare.
Towns float atop asphalt,
seas harden.
Wherever the earth collapses,
it drifts away—
like enormous razors
sliding uncontrollably.
And how enthusiastically we all strip
our bodies
one by one of the ancient veins—
and soon enough
even the bees can’t sting our ceramic children
any longer, children meant to be displayed
on top of grand pianos…



[Do you hear the shallow breaths?]

Do you hear the shallow breaths?
Here, my room possesses the night
—as a maid—
from growing old, being unable to manage
to ghosts bred in torment,
in-your-face laughter can’t be held back—
the curtains, too, can bear no more light
entering from windows—
sleep, caught by
sharp neon beams—
the glimmering ads
charming blood from words,
with letters that pity me—dumb slaves
lined up and made to scream till dawn.
The full milk glass is wrapped in black cotton.
Everything that doesn’t break—even the address book
is wrapped in black cotton—
and there, in the alphabet’s impractical manner,
my invented friends are waving goodbye.


  9 Responses to “Three Poems — Maya Sarishvili”

  1. Thanks, Martin. A lovely first post as a Contributing Editor. Now I will have to learn Georgian.

    • Thanks, Doug. I have to say, the last lines of these poems are all stunning, and the original Georgian is beautiful. The letters have so much expression and detail and essence–in comparison, the English language letters look so linear and truncated. I think it’s great the Tim and Nene are getting these poems new readers!

  2. Now, the storm has arranged the insane,
    set down a different order.
    Those at the end are children, like rhymes.
    A lunatic poem started as a protest.

    These are stunning poems, Martin, and I assume the translations do them justice. I like reading them without thinking about the context, but I assume the context is the Georgian conflict (about which I know little)?

    • Interesting–I wasn’t thinking about the poems in any other context beyond the poetic, existential consciousness–which is a bit of an [all too common] limitation on my part–but the struggle you mention is obviously a valid interpretation. I will ask Tim to chime in on Georgian politics and culture in relation to the country’s poetics and Sirishvili’s work–I’m sure his perspective will be enlightening.

      • Not a limitation! That is one strength of the poems, that they transcend local experience and speak universally. But they seem to refer to something specific–war and relocation–with which I am unfamiliar, of which curious.

      • I think Martin is on the right track. Maya is not a very political poet (although her husband, Shota Iatashvili, is—he writes a very different sort of poetry). The first poem here is the opening poem of “Microscope,” the book from which all these poems are taken. And maybe the title shed some light on how she writes—she is taking a “microscope,” so to speak, to her life. I think the protest may be a protest against life’s existential cruelty, her poetry as the protest.

        That said, a lot of Maya’s imagery is very Georgian, and protests in Tbilisi are normal. When I lived there, we saw mass demonstrations at least every six months or so, and this has been happening to one degree or another since the fall of the Soviet Union.

        Shota once told me, “Our country is caught in a revolutionary cycle. We never get anywhere because we are trying to make one drastic change after another, as opposed to your country, where things change, but slowly. We aren’t going to move forward until we fix this.”

        Thanks again, Martin & Numero Cinq!

  3. Thanks for bringing Nene & Tim’s translations back to NC. Seeing the original poems in Georgian is beautiful.

  4. very nice poems , Maya Sarishvili 🙂 ))

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.