Tanagoz Tolkynkyzy: ‘Poetry is a food for our soul, when your heart aches verses are born’

Haddy Ndure | 3 July 2019

Tanagoz Tolkynkyzy is a poet and journalist. She has worked in a range of mass media, and is currently a producer at the national TV Channel Qazaqstan. Her debut poems, published when she was eleven, won numerous literary contests among young poets. Since then she has appeared frequently in literary periodicals, securing her reputation as a striking emerging writer. Her verses are regarded as a fine example of contemporary Kazakh poetry for their daring expression of the most intimate feelings common to many Kazakh girls, nevertheless underwritten in official Kazakh verse.

Your debut poems were published when you were eleven; what prompted you to start writing at that age?

I remember the day when I was eight and I thought: ‘I’m late. I’m 8 already, but I haven’t done anything so that the world would remember me.’ I don’t know why this thought visited my little head, but I feel like I was always sure that I have to accomplish some important mission in this world.

I was raised in a happy family with my parents both mathematicians. My father taught me literature, chess and sport, and he ensured that I learned French. Nevertheless, I was a very sad girl. Because I wasn’t able to explain it myself.  My parents got married when they both were students and I was raised by my grandma until I was 2. Now, as an adult, I can guess where the sadness and longing came from.  I missed my grandma. This feeling of longing for a close person made me a poet and still persists in me. 

As a celebratory, affirmative poet in many respects, why did you choose to place an emphasis on love and vulnerability in your work?

My poems relate to everyone, and that’s why people read them. It’s hard to be too tender-hearted, because you can easily get hurt. Everything I feel is common for all people. The only difference is that I can express it in a poetic form. Revealing your true feelings is not easy, especially if you are an Eastern woman. The most difficult part is that even married, I fall in love very often. That’s how poems are born. My poems revealed who I am, how I love, burn and feel sad. These feelings made me who I am and destroyed me. If I lied a tiniest bit, I’d cease to be a poet.

Where does poetry come from?

Poetry comes from emotions. It never comes from reason. Poetry is a food for our soul. When your heart aches, verses are born. Controversial feelings urge one to write poetry. Poetry is an incredible moment of trance for a poet.

Do you feel writing poetry and writing creatively can be taught or is it a gift?

One can teach the technical aspects of poetry writing, but it’s impossible to teach how to become a poet and I think it’s a gift from the heavens.

What kind of books do you usually enjoy reading?

Lately, I’ve been interested in psychology. It’s a science of the soul. I read religious books as well, because these books, after so many centuries, are still relevant. I read poetry a lot. It depends on my mood as to which authors I prefer at a moment.  

Which ones do you stay away from?

I can’t read fantasy and detective fiction. I can’t stand popular books designed for entertainment. 

What do you think are the greatest works of Kazakh prose and poetry?

There are plenty of great works in Kazakh literature, it’s a vast literary landscape. I’d say the greatest poet is Abay, and the greatest prose piece is a novel Abay Zholy (Path of Abay) by Mukhtar Auezov. When it comes to children’s literature, Berdibek Sokpakbayev’s ‘Menin atym Kozha’ (My Name is Kozha) is the piece I most admire. There are a lot of authors whom I read a lot, and every time I discover something new.

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