Poems of oppression and liberation: “I Set It Free: An Anthology of Georgian Women’s Contemporary Poetry”3 min read
In this bilingual poetry anthology, Georgian poet Nino Varada introduces English readers to a wide range of contemporary female Georgian poetry, reflecting the boom that has occurred in female authorship since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I Set It Free consists of 50 poems by 18 female Georgian poets, all of which date from the second half of the 20th century up to the late 2010s. The youngest poet featured, Nini Eliashvili, was only 25 at the time of publication, making the book a truly contemporary collection.
The poems vary in style — from the abstract and allegorical to the more direct and fast-paced. Repeated throughout the collection are themes or motifs related to womanhood in Georgia, particularly surrounding what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal society where personal freedom is limited. For example, all three poems by Dalila Bedianidze — including the title poem of the collection “I Set It Free” — emphasise escaping the trappings of society and finding or granting freedom to everyone and everything. In her poem “A Poplar Tree,” she writes how she could not become a central pillar of a family, instead growing as a free poplar tree until a man chops her down for firewood. Similarly, in an untitled poem by Qeta Didishvili, men with their axes come to cut down the female trees, degrading nature as they similarly demean women.
The trees are swaying by the wind,
The trees are swaying like a reed.
The men with their axes are coming and they
Are undressing these trees right in front of my eyes.
Ხეები ქარდაქარ ირწევიან,
Ხეები ლერწანივით ირწევიან.
Მოდიან კაცენი ცულებით და
Ხეებს ჩემს თვალწინ აშიშვლებენ . . .
Two of the most emotional poems examine the degradation of women more concretely, focusing intimately on sexual assault. In the three-page “Prayer for Shamelessness” by Nino Darbaiseli, the poet addresses victim-blaming in a patriarchal society, praying to God to help the girls and women who are shamed while their male abusers are exalted. In Irma Beridze’s poem “Death in the Lemonade Factory,” a woman abstractly contemplates the drudgery of her work — which includes sexual coercion by the factory manager — and continuously promises that she will not stay like the other women, even as time passes on.
A plant manager used to make me lay down on that table,
A plant manager pot-bellied and bald headed.
I had to reach the bottoms of his sweet bottles
With my brush,
He was moving his brush-like tongue at me…
I was promising myself over and over again
“I will not leave you here, I will not!”
Სასადილოს მაგიდაზე ზე მაწვენდა ცოლმე
Ქარხის უფროსი —
Მელოტი და ღიპიანი.
Მის ტკბილ ბოთლებს ჯაგრილებით ვწვდებოდი ფსკერზე —
Ის ჯაგრისივით ენას ჩემში ატრიალებდა
Არ დაგტოვებ, აქ! Ვჩურჩულებდი
Few poems focus on the political; instead, the poets contemplate more personal topics, including finding joy in simplicity. As Nana Kelekhidze writes in her poem “Casuale-2”:
My grandparents defeated fascism and other “isms”,
My parents built communism and a bright future,
I only wish to have a cosy house,
My own house, with the milk white ceilings
And the hardwood floors, with a human being inside.
Ჩემმა პაპამ და ბებომ დაამარცხეს ფაშიზმი და Რაღაც “იზმები”.
Დედა და მამა აშენენბდნენ კომუნიზმს და ნათელ მომავალს.
Მე მხოლოდ პატარა ლახლი მინდა.
Ლაკუთარი. Რძილფერი ჭერით.
Ხის იატაკით. ადამიანით.
Detracting from the poetry are the common misspellings, small grammatical mistakes, and even one misprint where a page was reprinted where a new translation should have existed. Given that the editor Nino Straughn was admired multiple times in the introduction texts for her ability to translate between Georgian and English, it is a shame that not all the poems were as beautiful in the English language as they might have been.
Nonetheless, this anthology is one of the few to bring female Georgian poets to the eyes of Western readers, making it of interest to those seeking to broaden their literary horizons. Perhaps in the future we may see further anthologies of a better quality, giving true justice to the voices of these poets.
Book details: I Set It Free: An Anthology of Georgian Women’s Contemporary Poetry, compiled by Nata Varada and translated into English by Nino Straughn, 2019, Intelekti Publishing. Buy it here.