Passion in poetry

Chris McNab | 22 January 2019

Let me die. For heaven’s sake.
Let me die. I don’t need earth,
air, the moon or sun –
if I can simply see you.

Tanagoz Tolkynkyzy

Romantic love, jostling for top spot with mortality and nature, undoubtedly sits at the summit in the hierarchy of poetic themes. It has produced a cornucopia of literary output across history, libraries of verse agonizing over the passion, exuberance and the anguish of both first love and long-term commitment.

Tanagoz Tolkynkyzy – a must-read poet in the forthcoming anthology – adds to that tradition. She does so, however, in a strikingly modern way, one that explores the highs and the lows, the sheer vulnerability, of placing your heart in trust to another. On first reading of her work, I was struck by her intensely passionate voice, revealing her emotions at their most raw. Her voice speaks of love as both energizing and transforming, an electric current of excitement, but at the same time disorientating, as the surge of emotions renders a person exposed and uncertain.

Kagendo Salisbury and I had the pleasure of an hour in the company of Tanagoz, talking about her poetry and life views. She acknowledged that the openness of her work has attracted some criticism in Kazakhstan, principally from those who see such confessional and emotional outpourings as clashing with traditions of the decorous Kazakh woman. Tanagoz is gently unrepentant. She has to speak the truth, and in doing so has found a voice that will entrance anyone who has experienced love, at whatever stage of its evolution.

*  *  *

Today was our first day in Almaty, and a new opportunity to talk with more of Kazakhstan’s greatest living poets, those based in the south of the country. These included Temirkhan Medetbek and Tynyshtykbek Abdikakimuly. Both authors illustrate why this anthology offers such a fresh voice to English-language readers.

Although the poems have true universality, a point that all the poets are ken emphasize, the cultural currents running through the poetry are undeniably Kazakh. Temirkhan, for example, brings to life a centuries-old warrior spirit, verse that surges with a psychological power charged by the divine, but also blended with the Kazakh attributes of gentleness and humility. Tynyshtykbek, by contrast, explores deep-rooted and ancient systems of consciousness, tracing strategies for living back to the origins of truth itself, beyond religion and philosophy.

What was interesting about both men was that poetry, and the life of the poet, seemed to be almost independent of their volition. Tynyshtykbek commented, for example, that ‘No-one wants to be a poet’ – it is instead something approaching a compulsion. Based on those I have spoken to so far, writing poetry is indeed a calling beyond their control, the words drawn into being by the world around them and the musical, proud Kazakh language that contains its own poetry and cadence.

Tomorrow, we will talk with more of Kazakhstan’s great poets, as well as having the chance to explore this great city.

About the author

Dr Chris McNab is an author, editor and publishing consultant, who has a long-standing relationship with both Cambridge University Press and with Kazakhstan. Chris is working as the editor of the poetry anthology for this project.

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