A Note on Sarah Valentine’s Genady Ayigi

by Ilya Kaminsky



Beautiful poems of insight and wisdom of otherworldly seeing, where each girl in childhood “goes out / like a bright breath into the field / like board-white buckwheat” and we see ourselves “as if the soul were in a burnt-out barn / at night” while “like snow the Lord is all there is / when all there is is snow”


These poems of Genadyi Ayigi, Russia’s most innovative poet of the second half of the 20th century, gorgeously translated into English by Sarah Valentine, are filed with elegiac whisperings and bright sensual turns, and “the sleeplessness of the night watchman / at the city graveyard,” whose spiritual longing shows us how this poet is climbing the air, “as if / through bloody branches / you clamber towards the light.”

      Combining what he learned from Celan, Char and other Wester Europeans and what he loved in the old Chuvash tradition, Ayigi gave us poems like:




it is


the wind

that rocks this too light
(for dying)



Clearly, Ayigi's are verses whose co-author is the silence itself. Thinking of him, several years after he passed away, one is tempted to repeat his own words: “The earth and soil he knew were more raw than that in which we bury him today,” but the poems remain, and in Sarah Valentine’s versions they are more alive than ever: “god-fire! – this clear field»