Schizo Poems, Paata ShamugiaThe jacket is mustard coloured. There is a block of fully justified text at top and bottom. This consists of wide spaces caps, more decorative than immediately legible, flagging Versopolis, the Festival and the Flemish Georgian and Italian poets featured. Centred between these two blocks, in the centre of the front page and in smaller, lower-case font, is first the pamphlet title, fiers tin English, then followed in a cyrillic(?) script, then the name of the author, also in both scripts. Below this, much smaller, the name of the translator.

Translated by Manana Matiashvili, Kristian Carlsson and Inga Zhghenti

Versopolis at Ledbury Poetry Festival, 2020

Keeping it light

Paata Shamugia is a Georgian writer with a reputation for encouraging a healthy disrespect of traditional political and religious values. ‘Schizo Poems’ is a selection from his 2015 prize-winning book and was compiled for last summer’s Ledbury Poetry Festival, sponsored by Versopolis — a European-wide platform enabling poets to reach wider audiences.  

My point of interest is how Shamugia plays with language, so the poems are light, whimsical, ironic; but his strong social statements still come across.

In ‘Correction of Mistakes’, for example, he turns the idea of regret upside down by writing about errors he hasn’t made, rather than ones he did:

I have special regret for not making the mistakes
I could have made,
But I didn’t
And missed
The very opportunity
To make a number of great ones.

We can stay the same or we can change something, maybe move on. (As a writer, I ask: do I keep doing what I do best, or risk a better kind of failure?) Regretting the past might be a waste of energy (‘No use in fighting with the shadows — ’) but the future is wide open. 

Shamugia thrives where scepticism and optimism co-exist. He mixes serious with fanciful, perhaps because taking ourselves too seriously constricts. If we dry up, we can’t talk or move.

In ‘Hero’ he instructs how to ‘make things happen’. He wants us to stay ‘flexible towards the dream’. He advises: ‘hang your anger on the tail of winds’. Because anger weighs us down.

Sometimes he provokes by taking a known text, and imposing his own version upon it: ‘In Hero’, it’s the Biblical message about reaping what we sow:

Sow drought in the throat, already ripen,
and reap the water, the wine, the Coke,
whatever you reach, as long as it’s liquid.

If drought can be planted like a seed, what lubricates and liberates us? By combining deceptively simple language with original inverted images, Shamugia invites us in to take a good look around. I can easily picture him reading in either English or Georgian to a Zoom crowd last July.

Candyce Lange

Schizo Poems are available as a free download from Ledbury Festival website.