A Poet in Conversation with the Unseen: Iryna Gumyrkina’s “Through Darkness and Light”

Ирина Гумыркина. Сквозь тьму и свет. Алматы, 2020. 60 pages. ISBN 978-601-06-6382-4. The book is available at no cost here.

Through Darkness and Light brings together poems Iryna Gumyrkina wrote over a span of five years. As Yuriy Serebriansky aptly puts it in his introduction,

this is a debut collection, but one that is distinguished from many other debut by a very important characteristic: patience.

Black-and-white cover of the poetry collection Through Darkness and Light by Iryna Gumyrkina. The cover features the image of a light-bulb with small moths flying toward it.

Gumyrkina’s command of the Russian lyrical mode is outstanding. Stripped of affectation, but powered by assertive trochees, eminently physical and syllabically limber, Gumyrkina’s language is honed into an instrument fit for the hand of the mature, worldly poet.

Through Darkness and Light can be interpreted as a chronicle of this poet’s journey. Poems in the opening section of the book convey the experience of grief and loss. The speaker’s displacement from reality is familiar to anyone who has gone through a life-changing calamity: one is stunned by the fact that the everyday, things-as-they-had-been, continue unaltered despite one’s world having come undone. Words, very often, fail:

We will take this silence and jar it;
it'll keep through the winter
for us to be fed upon

The speaker is not concerned with a search for meaning (meaning is not a phenomenon of her world)—but she would, the reader senses, welcome a chance to build a narrative, to find a few footholds in the smooth walls of grief. Hence, a conversation with her mother, in which the speaker becomes, again, a child (“Mama used to say as she braided my hair:/Listen to no one, be afraid of nothing”) or an elegy for a black cat.

Likewise, to say that the poems of the next section offer a possibility of resurrection is not entirely appropriate. Rather, the imagery of the sea offers a gentle reminder of the cyclical and self-reconstituting forces of the universe. Resurrection might qualify—as incidental to weather.

Throughout the collection, Gumyrkina’s poems address a ‘you’, and in the second part of the book I sensed the nature of this addressee changed. It is still someone irretrievably lost, but the poems’ dialectic shifts subtly. There’s a departure, a decoupling of focus. The reader can no longer be certain that the ‘you’ being grieved is the same as in the opening sections of the book. This is still someone distinct—separated, severed—from the speaking self, but perhaps no longer an altogether different person. Personally, I chose to interpret this ‘you’ as a lost part of the same self, one that could, in fact, find meaning; one that had faith.

Through Darkness and Light rewards patient, slow reading, with pauses to contemplate the beautiful illustrations by Konstantin Barkov. It will not yield any obvious answers—but the reader will come to know every sharp edge and corner of the questions intimately.

People from the underworld came to visit.
They walked in my hallway, scared my cats. 
They wore strange clothes, these people
from the past. 

They closed the door to the bedroom
and sang there softly, but as soon 
as I entered, fell silent and looked 
straight through me. The cats lapped

the light, moony and silvery, that had spilled 
on the floor. It tasted a lot like milk. 
People came to visit me
when my Jesus died.

Iryna Gumyrkina

Iryna Gumyrkina was born in 1987 in Zyrianovsk in Eastern Kazakhstan. She is the editor of Daktyl, Kazakhstan’s online literary journal. Iryna’s poems have been widely published in Russian-language journals and long-listed for the Russian Award (2016), the I.F. Annensky Award (2019), and Litsey Prize (2020).

Author: Houndart

Poet, photographer, reader, translator. Ukrainian. Read now: Fifty-Six North, poems. https://amzn.to/2Qck2J3

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