Blog Post

Against Self-Deceit: The Poetry of Yana Djin

Poetic genius is measured, firstly, by a poet's ability to subject time to language. This is, to internally overcome time, or, to be more precise, to overcome what time does to language. I was struck by the realization that time does not figure in Yana Djin's poetry at all... It is overcome by complete omission of it, by squeamish disregard of its particularities and limitations. In this way, a prophet overcomes the daily life and looks beyond it - to the future. The contextual virtuosity of Yana Djin’s poems needs no confirmation. It is enough to read them... This poet is a representative of an ever-existing, yet rarely-discovered keenness and wisdom which overlaps with mastery of words and virtuosity of sound.

Joseph Brodsky

 

Fazil Iskander says that Yana Djin’s poetry reminds him of early Mayakovski. It is so much filled with pain. And, naturally all poets experience so much pain. But I would like to add that her poetry gives me some hope, while seeing this pain, she has the strength to generate incredible hope and joy. This is truly amazing in today’s age of total commoditization of emotions. It is soon that market will tell us how much is pain, since they already sell happiness for $5.99 at the department stores and you can even get it for a wholesale price at your local market. There is something amazing in Yana Djin’s rebellion against the mundane existence of today’s mis-employment. All of us running around serving nothing or almost nothinghow can one generate hope in these circumstances?

Here is Yana Djin’s noble calling of this century. In her foreword to her book Realm of Doubts she writes:

Poetry is a civilized leap towards the impossible harmony and its nobility lies in the violence and rebelliousness of that inward leap which is the only thing that could protect us from the violence from without. It is the imaginary and the wishful pressing back against the flattening pressure of reality. And this imaginary pressure could only come us a result of thorough and entirely painful, surgical examination of the objective reality.

I could not help but copy and paste those words. You could not say it better. The reality that we grew up in was in a way ruthless. There were two empires facing each other—both lying about themselves and about each other and those of us who grew up watching both of them, life became a constant struggle with reality. Poetry goes beyond any politics or ideology or even a religion. The depth on Yana’s poetry is impossible to capture by any religious language—it’s pain is beyond comprehension—but yet, she has the courage to challenge the reality between two empires—somewhere there in the sky—on the board of “PanAm” plane that went bankrupt in early 1990s. I guess the poetic spirit around the world followed “PanAm” in disappearing. Brodsky and Ginsberg died by mid 90s and we were left with non-poetic language of diversified portfolios. Only those portfolios did not offer any hope besides numbers—it was a hopeless picture of our civilization by Y2K.

And, again the fact that Yana Djin persevered in her writing is another confirmation that as long as humanity is alive, poetry will never die. It might disappear for a while, but it will never die, since it can survive those winds of violence over words and commoditization of soul. Last year, at PEN World Voices festival I was asked who was my favorite female author and not thinking I answered without any hesitation—Yana Djin. But then something felt wrong—I could not explain it first. Then I sort of realized that giving Yana a label Female Author is totally unjust, since her poetry is much more than primitive gender and identity politics of today. Her words are above the primitive justification of mediocre life. She is too brilliant to be placed in any box—be it gender, race, religion, sex or ethnicity. And her life is example of this.

She was born in Soviet Georgia, when USSR was still a strong power, considered a formidable Empire even by its adversaries. Growing up in the family of Nodar Djin, himself a great writer and thinker, was not an easy thing. Dealing with high expectations is not easy, especially when your parents set up very high standard. I know many people, who did not manage to handle the pressure. At age 15 Yana emigrated to the United States with her family and continued her education in English. She has been exposed to different languages and cultures from the very beginning. Georgian, Russian, English and maybe more..

I was born in the land in which I will not die.

It looks with a cruel, Eastern eye.

There was no poet who hadn't been deceived

by its viscous lies.

But you won't find me there.

I bid it farewell.

Good bye.

This is uniquely painful experience of moving between the continents and discovering so many differences and so many similarities at the same time. In the beginning of the 1980s it looked like the Cold War was a confrontation between two so much different powers and things looked so different back then. Streets, shops, Churches, Synagogues, cars, swimming pools, jeans, TV sets were so different—but again there was some similarity. Coming to the United States was an incredible experience—finding this new world. And it looked so different—so was so similar in some ways. Those different department stores of nothingness—filled with so many products to kill our poetic productivity.

There is something inherently polyphonic in Yana Djin’s poetry. Since she is thinking and writing in English, Russian, Georgian, Hebrew and maybe other tongues. This makes her so contemporary—we are all being globalized with time and information technologies.

I'm glad I have an accent

implies the knowledge of another home.

another time.

of abandoned trace.

of deserted crime.

of another Rome.

of another dome.

Yana Djin talks of her accent—this is a genius of her. Yes, indeed it is so good to have an accent, since everything is rushing to become so much the same. Accent is needed to remain different—our UNIFIED CIVILIZATION is erasing all real differences—it hates a real DIFFERANCE—it loves uniformity, while acknowledging the sovereign right of Nation-States to exist. Do human beings have a sovereign right to be different from commercial dreams? What about the slavery to mundane life? Is there any escape from that? Today’s postmodern civilization apparently celebrating diversity. Is it?

Generations of idiots.

Scoundrels.

Vileness everywhere.

In everyone.

What makes us different from

others in the past?

Our desire to last.

Yana Djin’s poetry talks about this very well. Biopolitics of transforming humans into ITMs or Rational Robots of Destruction (RRBs) are always here to remind us about next bill to pay and the next resume to write. And it is like that around the world—it is same in Russia—even worse, since they don’t have social security reform yet. That is why many people miss last century with its differences between Communists and Capitalists. Nostalgia towards Communism became stronger, since it is ironic that the humanity started to miss spirituality after the most materialistic country is gone—I guess you needed dialectical materialism to appreciate spirituality. Today, in the world of competing fundamentalisms—all religions are becoming a commodity and there is almost nothing spiritual in neoliberal order of things—it is a paradox of today. And rebellion of Yana Djin filled with pain is the best way to deal with this reality—to escape it we need to reject it forcefully—almost to the point of violence. This is the kind of violence that even Gandhi will accept—since as he said violence is still better than the fear. To overcome the fear—this is what we miss as humanity today. Those guys to manage to say no to consumerist lifestyle we call suicide bombers—but I guess we should look to poetry and call rejection a poetry. Saying no requires a courage—you can never prove this kind of courage by an empty rationalistic arguments. Life is beyond this argument—it is not rational sometimes. It is a rejection of mundane slavery or meaningless existence—and that is a heroic act. As much as social scientists and philosophers will tell us the opposite—rejection has its affirmation in its heart. It is an affirmation of a Dionisian spirit and humans were always good for doing this.

You told me: Don't climb too deep.

The depth of the hole is the measure of

difficulty to rise back up.

But what is "up"?

Is it not another hole?

The "down" - upside down.

That's all.

This civilization of diversified portfolios tells us not to go too deep—it is not good for it. Not to oppose this global commerce and global prostitution—it is not good for your health. Now, I want to say that this is a lie—it is a wrong diagnosis that today’s social doctors give to us. It is much better for your health not to deceive yourself and be true and be happy, therefore. It is not easy to face the truth—sure. But, it is much worse to lie to ourselves and to others and pretend that things are going well to discover one day that this was a lie. No—truth is much better than these lies of zero existence. Careerism will never make up for a real happiness—that is filled with suffering. It is not an escape. Nor are diversified portfolios of stock and bonds—they cannot buy us happiness—nor is the false rationality of reason. There is something beyond the reason that is much more deserving and fulfilling. Yana Djin gives one of the best verdicts to today’s civilization. She chooses not to buy the commodity of self gratification that is offered every day on the market called life.

Listen.

I don’t believe

in Your splintered order

inside my head.

You might as well

just stuff the fairy tales.

And as for me,

I’ll flip the coin,

but I won’t give you head,

or pet your many tails.

I’ll flip it purely for the sake

of being just like You:

Productive. Restless. Fake.

Indeed—this poem that some might think is very painful, is the most optimistic poem I have read in contemporary poetry—this is indeed an affirmation of life. Rejection of the false values of petty existence is an act of affirmation of life—and it comes from a woman who knows what is pain and is not afraid to face her humanity. Not buying diversified portfolios of life today is a heroic act of civil disobedience and that is what Yana Djin has done not just through her poetry but through her life as well. This point is not to idealize anything but to give an understanding of a truly different lifestyle—that is looking for humane and not super-sophisticated. Escape from super-sophisticated is the semiotics of rejection. And rejection is affirmation.

Humane as opposed to productive, restless, fake—isn’t this indeed a wonderful thing? Being restless and fake in our age of consuming each other’s stare and breath of idealizing dehumanized merchandize—is an act of heroism. This is something to stand—for a much longer period than any commodity on any market of the world.

It is incredibly beautiful, since it is not commercial at all.  Here you go:

http://yanadjin.narod.ru/realm_of_doubts.html#AGAINST            

I would like to thank Yana Djin for being such a wonderful Human Poet—indeed a human—this is the only identity that can fit her.  When I read her poetry I still believe that one day we can become Born Again Humanists, as Merab Ninidze said in his Ananuri speech.

The happiness that comes out of pessimism and despair can be valued so much.  Indeed, here she talks about what could be done in life.  Like Emma Goldman, she refuses to give up to despair and to the fake existence. 

And at the yellow hour of death, 

When time cuts off the cord 


connecting me to space

Like some obstetrician in the ambulance, 


and you will ask with roving eyes: 

"What have you done?" 

I'll answer: 
"I have danced!"   
         

Indeed, Yana Djin has already proved that you cannot kill humanism and cannot kill poetry—no matter how sophisticated the tools of the murderer are.  

Irakli Zurab Kakabadze's picture

Born in 1969, Irakli Kakabadze is a Georgian writer, performance artist, peace and human rights activist. His first prize was awarded in 1990 by the TSISTAKRI MAGAZINE for the best creation of 1990 - Allegro or Chronicle of one Year. In 2009, he was awarded the Oxfam/Novib PEN Freedom of Expression Prize. Kakabadze's articles and stories have been published in Georgian, Russian, and English newspapers and magazines. In 2007 he received the Lilian Hellman/Hammett grant from Human Rights Watch. From 2008 to 2012, Kakabadze was based in Ithaca, NY, where he developed a new method of integrating performing arts and social sciences, called "Rethinking Tragedy" or "Transformative Performance." Kakabadze has also pioneered a multi-lingual and multi-narrative performing style, called Polyphonic Discourse. Irakli Kakabadze's work as an artist-activist is subject of an American verite documentary At the Top of My Voice filmed by Indian American Director Sudhir Venkatesh and Larry Kammerman.
In May 2008 Kakabadze shared a stage at PEN World Voices Festival in New York with György Dragomán, Hasan Elahi, Asli Erdogan, Péter Esterházy, Chenjerai Hove, Jenny Marketou, Ivy Meeropol, Francine Prose, and Ingo Schulze, at the Writers and Artists Against the Surveillance State. In November 2008 at the Miami Book Fair Kakabadze shared a stage with Sarah Mkhonza, Russell Banks and Derek Walcott to perform another piece of Polyphonic Blues. Kakabadze has performed his polyphonic style of poetry at the Frankfurt Book Fair (2009) and “Free the Word” in London (2010) (23). At the 2010 “PEN World Voices” Festival in New York Kakabadze performed Polyphonic Discourse at the Cabaret Show that featured the author with Natalie Merchant, Ben Okri and Ariel Dorfman. He has performed at many literary and peace festivals including in Berlin (2014), Palma De Mallorca (2016), Valencia (2016), ext. His book 'Umberto vs Ernesto' or 'Marginal Delirium' was published and has introduced polyphonic discourse in December 2013. In 2017 publishing house 'Intelekti' has published another book of his essays "Love Doctrine" that is highly influenced by the works of Mahatma Gandhi.