Music that stirs your soul (no. 1)

Chris McNab | 3 March 2019

I’m writing this blog entry some weeks after my recent, and extremely memorable, visit to Kazakhstan. In the intervening period, I have had the pleasure of editing nearly 90,000 words of Kazakh poetry, for the first time translated into polished English.

At the time of writing this blog, this likely means that I have had more exposure to Kazakh poetry than more than 99 per cent of literary academics in the Western world. Hopefully, the publication of the anthology later this year will change this egregious imbalance.

The hope is that this work, plus the corresponding prose anthology, will reach as wide an audience as possible, not just in academia but across all ages, interests and communities.

My editorial journey has taken me through a body of work as diverse as that of any other country. The poetry crosses subject matter, mood, outlook and style with great diversity and range. And yet, I do feel that there is a distinctly Kazakh ‘voice’ underpinning it all.

Putting my finger on exactly what constitutes this voice, however, is not entirely straightforward. Much poetical content, in any language, is transmitted through evocation rather than clear statement, and an active search for ‘meaning’ can sometimes be almost wilfully missing the point.

Kazakh poetry can also be, depending on its style, deliberately difficult and evasive as much as it can be transparent and accessible. We have to be careful, therefore, of being reductionist, of trying to boil down a disparate and occasionally challenging corpus of literature to a few definable characteristics. I know the risks, but I’ll have a go anyway. Why? Because I feel that the distinct Kazakh voice has much to say to the international reader – spiritually, culturally and even socially. The core ingredients of this voice will be the subject of my next blog.

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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