There’s a vertical momentum to some poetry that results in total immersion of the reader into the poet’s setting. While being transported to another place and time has been a daydream for many of us during Covid, Siberia as a destination may not have been top of your list.
But reading Life in Space is indeed deep submersion. Withhistory going back to Paleolithic man, the poverty and depression so tangibly described, Galina Rymbu has you smell the factories, taste the bread, stand on Steppe soil.
Sex is set against a backdrop of war and politics, so devoid of emotion and joy you can “count the bites and hickeys from dead lovers.” Images of weapons and war, “military vehicles along the roadside,” are juxtaposed against the sweetly intimate and erotic – “so lightly touching my tongue to your tongue…”
Rymbu takes you to the banks of the river Irtysh, where a45,000 year old leg bone of Ust-Ishim man was found, and plays on our fascination with the atavistic, the idea that “we are stuck in history” – a history that will keep repeating itself.
“Again will I hear familiar songs,
Again the spring streets are filled with antifa combatants.
Again I can love you,
Again and again, until the world night fills with peace,
And our victory is laid open.”
Another piece of the experience is the language. The layout is such that the poems in their original Russian run down one side of the page; the English translations on the other.
The result is when you emerge from this collection, you’vebeen dipped in the “muddy waters of the river.” It’s what we all crave from reading: to feel like we’ve been there.