Bezdelki, Carol RumensThe cover has a wallpaper background which is a leafy branch in brown on a lighter brown background, though both are pale enough for the large title, centred on the page in white caps, to read legibly. Below this author's (Carol Rumens) and illustrator's (Emma Wright) names in black, small lowercase.

Poems and Translations in Memory of Yuri Georgievich Drobyshev, 1932-2015

The Emma Press, 2018   £5.00

One inconsolable consonant

‘Bezdelki’, the title of this pamphlet, is a Russian word meaning ‘trifles, small things’. It was no small thing when the poet’s partner, Yuri Drobyshev, died. But death leads the surviving half of a couple to focus on the tiniest of details — even individual consonants.

I relate closely to a particular small poem in this pocket-sized (A6) pamphlet. It’s called ‘Vidua’, which in Latin means widow: it’s where we get the word, via medieval forms such as ‘widewe’. In Latin it also means ‘unmarried woman’. A widow has lost her husband. But an unmarried woman never had one.

Carol Rumens and her partner were a couple but they didn’t marry. So how should the surviving half describe herself? ‘Vidua’ begins:

I wasn’t a bride.
I wasn’t a wife.
I’m not a widow.
I’m no-one, trying to gather
all the ‘we weres’ together.

The consonant ‘W’ in English is good at conveying sadness, I think. It does it in ‘widow’ — and, in the opening lines above, there it is in ‘wasn’t’ (twice’) and ‘widow’ (twice more), then two more times in ‘we weres’. It’s as though the ‘W’ sound has already voiced a lament. You can even hear a W, if you read the word aloud, in ‘no-one’.

Then think of the name of this consonant — W — double-you:  

Widewe, wuduwe —
two double-yous, one an echo,
one a shadow.

Every letter W holds an implication of ‘you’ inside it (as does the letter U in ‘wuduwe’) — it sounds again at the end of ‘shadow’; its phonetic sound is in ‘one’ (twice).

In the concluding stanza, W appears in ‘wear’ and ‘twice’ and ‘two’ and — with painful irony — in the word ‘hole’, since you can’t hear the difference between ‘hole’ and ‘whole’ in English spoken aloud.

In the final sentence of the poem, ‘I’m two ruined overcoats’, you can hear W in the middle of ‘ruined’. You might even notice the two ‘O’s in the overcoat, looking not unlike two holes. I could say much more, not least about Gogol’s story, The Overcoat, and how it fits in. But already I’ve written 349 words about a poem that’s only 55 words long.

That’s how intricate and intense this poet can be. And here, how very sad.

Helena Nelson