Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Transformations, Sergey Biryukov (translated by Erina Megowan and Anatoly Kudryavitsky)

SurVision Books, 2018   £6.99

Lyrical images of the avant-garde

Biryukov writes in the abstract, examining the shadows and apparitions of the human condition. He engages in the poetry of Zaum (meaning beyond the mind), a school of thought which explores the transrational, trans-sense and ‘sound as such’ defined in Nancy Perloff’s book, Explodity — Sound, Image and Word in Russian Futurist Art. I prefer to focus on the lyrical quality of the images on the page and the nature of their measured tones.

In ‘The End of August’ the poem is shaped in short musical three or four word lines, telling in sensory detail of a memory on the eve of school beginning again: ‘the scent of apples in the briefcase / the whiteness of a notebook sheet’ and later, ‘the smell of  baked potatoes / the smoke of a bonfire’. It finally ends with the question ‘how does it continue / in this incredible play’.

‘Lighting one cigarette’ evokes a silence, a contemplation of life’s consequences as the anonymous narrator observes:

how blazes up in darkness
a fiery-red light
grinding pebbles
of yesterday
as instantly
as a flash of magnesium
as a Latin saying

In ‘Sphinx’ this taciturn creature is found at ‘the maritime gates / of St Petersburg’, awaiting the return of sailors. Sinister watcher-spy, its part in the poem is played by the second person point of view, heightening its presence:

stillness does not frighten you
and rush of waves
and mysterious
quiver of silken cloth
on hips of a girl
who came out towards
one returning from sail

‘The Golem in Prague’ offers up the clay supernatural figure which stalks the alleyways of the city and snaps into action. The golem strolls around ‘spicy Prague’, along Surrealism Quay, Poetism Prospect and jumps over Kafka Square. No one sees him as he leaps and makes ‘divisible movements’. Finally, like so many of the poems in this pamphlet, the golem

tunnels
between
night and day 

Maggie Mackay