Poetry with a Conscience: reviewing Life in Space by Galina Rymbu4 min read
The readers of Galina Rymbu’s poetry are on the Web. On Html-constructed pages were where her words first spoke to me. As a millennial, Rymbu prefers to share her poems online because, at the very core, she believes that “poetry must work for a utopian exclusion of the languages of violence, but it can only do this with the help of a certain violence of its own, fiercely struggling with those languages for a future of peace.” Rymbu’s poetry is for every man fighting to live in this capitalist hellworld. The internet is a utilitarian vehicle for dissident voices like Rymbu and her poetry embodies that revolutionary charge.
Russian-American poet, translator, and professor Eugene Ostashevsky first encountered Rymbu on Livejournal. He is a literature professor and poet and wrote the forward to Life in Space. He writes that Rymbu’s “moves are modernist, relying on disjunction, montage, and ellipsis, or omission of information. There is a lot of sound work, called paronomasia – the locking together of words by similarity of form – which sometimes undergirds apophatic, or unimaginable… There is a great deal of defamiliarization of objects and processes, a perspicacious looking achieved by unusual intellectual angles, that in her more recent pieces enables the construction of vaguely allegorical future worlds.” I like Ostashvsky’s words as he accurately describes Rymbu’s unique voice better than I ever could. Rymbu’s poetry is experimental and paints a picture of a different way of being.
Ostashevsky writes that to best understand poetry is to understand it in the original language. “An American poet who reads only in English will always be simultaneously an imperialist and a provincial” and demands that creative writing programs make second language education compulsory. This bilingual collection of poems contains both English and Russian side-by-side. It is simple enough that an intermediate Russian student can understand both sides, as even the Russian translation is simple and egalitarian in nature. Where there is Ukrainian present in the original text, the translation uses Spanish. It is a marvelous parallel.
Grey realities with little hope
The geometric Suprematist cover reminds me of an early Kazimir Malevich work. In essence, it matches her grim picture of life in modern-day Russia. Lines like “the torn mouth of state television” and “the gray intestines of the independent press” remind me of the grittiness of early 2000’s Russian films like Brother and Nightwatch. Themes of feeling disembodied and being faceless in a greyed-out environment inhabit her narratives. These remnants of a socialist past inform her existential ponderings: “how can we avoid the eternal aggression of participation?” she asks.
Like many artists before her, she explores this mundane existence with a little bit of magical realism, a little bit of postmodernism. The last stanza in Life in Space reads, “What does he feel, moving along the same route every day, what does she see without leaving the room of sense; time has passed since bodies, alienated from the forms they have produced, glowed with seizures, cleaving apart the arms of those moving under the sun’s influence; glacier and animal flow together in the fire of the state of things things crowd one another, forming likenesses from language on that piece of the earth where something happened after you”?
Life finds a way
Amidst the “heaps of governments, like the heaps of trash on our Earth, that there is something else besides time, crammed into rooms, that there is something else in bodies, besides words and thoughts”. Rymbu points to her own pregnant belly as a sign of hope in this dreary landscape. Her little son sees his mom with extraordinary capabilities. In There is a Monster Living in my Ovary, she finds ways to reconnect with life even when people “stop being people”. Institutions hide our humanity and it is our job to remember the miracle of life. One of Rymbu’s many glimmers of hope is birth itself.
This very avant-garde collection of poetry is written by one of the newest Russian authors to break into the indie publishing scene. Rymbu’s Life in Space makes you feel less alone. I enjoyed the experimental metering and simplicity of the prose. It reminds me of the words of Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelstam that they offer utopias in a time of hopelessness.
Book details: Rymbu, Galina. Life in Space. After Hours Editions, 2020. It is available to buy here