Blog Post

I am Saint Wolf: Poetry Dwelling of Zurab Rtveliashvili

Graphic by Michelle Jia; photo from Levure litteraire.

I am Saint Wolf

I ran across the silver field

expecting a morsel from your hand. 

Almighty Saint!

I am held hostage by my own talent 

Oooowoooooooooooooaaah 

This is my prayer to you

accept it as sincere!

-Zurab Rtveliashvili

 

It is extremely difficult to write about Zura Rtveliashvili in the past, because for us he will never be a past; he will always be a future. He has been and he still is a futurist poet and more than just this. He is poesis that dares to breathe poetry – constantly. That is what Zura represented for the people who had the privilege to know him and interact with him and what is most important – his incredibly breathtaking poetry – which was not just a performance or a verse, but was an amazing transformative experience for all of us that has profoundly changed that many of us.  

Zura Rtvelo – that is how his friends called him – was an amazing person with multitude in his personality – at the same time – moving in like Bakhtin’s polyphonic – many different angles and points – and being profoundly humane at the same time. Extremely modest and intelligent person with whom it was a great pleasure to interact – that was only one side of his personality.  However, that was only one side. There were many others and they were no less fascinating to see and not just to see – to listen as well. There was this absolutely and incredibly true artistic cry coming out from his poem that would shake the world. At least for a moment; and gather crowds to see what is going on this postindustrial ground – who is the one that recites something as amazingly awesome that worlds wordiness and poems poemliness becomes so incredibly obvious that you want to embrace heavens – whether they exist or not. This was a different manifestation of the force of poetry – and it was not the same in any different performance or recitation of his poems. The poet who could be so brilliant at conventional style – yet, however so innovative at avant-garde of 21st century. 

[Author with Rtveliashvili. Photograph by Magda Guruli.]

Zurab Rtveliashvili was born in Kazakhstan, raised in Georgia, and always destined to live a life in poetry. To swim in poetry, to dream poetry, to dance poetry, to breathe poetry and to sleep with poetry and in the end – to die with poetry. As Holderlin has said as though he was talking about Zura:

            Full of merit, yet poetically, man

            Dwells on this earth.

When he talked to you, he was the man as ordinary as you can get. Very modest and the one with whom you would like to talk. Yet, again, when he started to recite his poems – he was becoming something else – it was like the character of another poem of Holderlin:

            The Pure, still stays with his heart, man

            Not unhappily measures himself

            Against the godhead. Is God unknown?

            Is he manifest like the sky? I’d sooner

            Believe the latter. It’s the measure of man.

It is a measure of the man. It was and is a measure of the man. It looks like man - who has dwelled his life in poetry has achieved the divine transcendence – men and women who do it they achieve this condition and this another state of mind – and perhaps not just of mind.  

Zurab Rtveliashvili was a city dweller just like Charles Baudelaire. He loved to be there in the middle of the night, where the tired salespeople have already left their arcades. He could sneak in those arcades armed with his drink and make genius pronouncement of his poetry. As Baudelaire was one of the first writers of modern, Rtveliashvili was the same with postmodern – postindustrial boy making incredible explosions to which even George Bernard Show would subscribe as a fellow destabilizer of bourgeois calm. It was more than once that him and I have walked in midnight Tiflis, reciting poetry and reading it sometimes quietly and sometimes not so – and his voice was bringing life to dead under-dwelling urban night scene. This sound would make it alive – as Apollinaire did it during his days. 

In 1992 Zurab Rtveliashvili was elected DADA-KING-PRESIDENT at Karvasla Forum of Avant-Garde performers in Tbilisi and since then he was at this place without a change.  It was his to take and occupy and it was his to pronounce the DICTATORSHIP OF POETRY in our times of neoliberal authoritarian lies about democracy. 

Zurab made it very much possible to convince many of us that art is there to transform human beings and bring progress to entire humanity. Not many people believed in this in 1992, when it looked like all human dreams about equality have dropped dead.  Zurab has embraced Varlam Cherkezishvili’s Anarchism and Mayakovski’s Futurism in those difficult days to believe – and he managed to convince many young people that this was the way to go.   

...Without a prayer, I tasted this rebellion, 

I  taught the sparrows which had been coloured red to fly, 

I  did everything I could. 

Take your hands off me! 

Don’t get in the way 

of my dreams of new kisses… 

That kind of moon, the sort the king wanted 

hasn’t  been born, 

      the sun doesn’t shine

warmed by the passionate desire of someone’s gaze. 

Move aside! 

Don’t lean against the door from the inside, 

move aside! 

So I can break new ground...

These poems by Rtveliashvili, here translated by Natalia Bukia-Peters and Victoria Field, were the ones recited with such an amazing force by an author himself that hundreds of listeners would freeze to hear what the author said and declared. This declaration of life was so powerful that many would feel that they were part of divine experience strengthened by narcotics of art.

The most extraordinary act of “dwelling by poetry” that was never described by Walter Benjamin or Martin Heidegger was on June 29, 2006 when Zurab Rtveliashvili surrounded by few of us was reciting his POETIC EXPROPRIATION in front of Tbilisi Appellate Courthouse.  It was a daytime and this was happening outside the Courthouse.  There were several of “dwelling poetry bystanders” like Jaba Jsihkariani, David Dalakishvili, Lasha Chkhartishvili, myself and our dear friend Varden Brando and the authoritarian regime decided to teach all of us a lesson, by arresting us and throwing all of us to the room where we were ordered to torture by police. The reason was READING POEMS IN FRONT OF THE COURTHOUSE.  All of us were quickly put into the chamber room, our heads were thrown against the hard tables, and hands were twisted in a very painful way.  Only Varden Brando (this was his poetic nickname – real one was Paata Vardosanidze – unfortunately he has passed away also) has managed to escape and call our friends to save our lives. Police has ordered us to shut up and to comply with orders.  They have told us that they had instructions “to teach us a lesson” for reading poetry in front of a courthouse. Zurab Rtveliashvili was especially targeted and being tortured hardly for the reason that his voice was heard hard by bystanders around the court.  His head was lying on the torture chamber table in front of me – our eyes were glaring at each other. Situation was very difficult. There was a big chance that one of us would not handle the torture, lose consciousness, and pass away.  Police officers were screaming and telling us to stop reciting.  But Zurab continued and he did not stop even for a second. He continued to ‘dwell in poetry’ like true brother of Vaja Pshavella and Holderlin, Mayakovski and Apollinaire.  Even under the torture, he did not stop reciting his great poem.

My rules for dressing obey no law. 

I  shoved my feet into a small street. 

To those who don’t comprehend, 

I  answer in poems -

I  pound the poems onto the shutters 

of paradise 

like  a hammer! 

Am I really a rose 

in this warm city 

when this avenue 

has been bewildered with rubbish? 

To be dressed according to the law 

isn’t  worth tuppence (!) 

Open the door, dear Mary…

this  flood began when I was illuminated 

and no one can extinguish me, 

no matter how frequently they try. 

Switch off the live transmission. 

I must be entertained. 

I  will  fill  every  frequency with rumbling … 

My rules for dressing obey no law, 

I stopped dancing 

and 

whispering in the street,

to those who cannot comprehend, 

I  reply in poems

I  pound them 

as if  with a hammer 

on a golden  

treasure chest!

This was an incredible picture. It is almost impossible to describe this scene. But this showed for sure that poetry lives – whatever happens and whatever physical subjects may die and all of us die – but poetry lives for sure and ‘dwelling by poetry’ is the best way to live.  

Zurab Rtveliashvili became one of the ICORN authors in 2009 and I want to thank this organization for giving him a chance to continue ‘poetry dwelling’ and his amazing performances.  Thanks to his residence in Sweden, he became one of the best-known Georgian poets in the world.  In 2012, we have won the court case in Strasbourg in the European Court of Human Rights. Zurab Rtveliashvili has won number of awards.  However, the main gift to humanity that he has presented was the amazingly beautiful poetic life that he has given to the world and to all of us. 

I would like to conclude this article by quoting one of Zurab’s brilliant poems, ANARCH

The law adjusts to blameless thumbs, 

from stanza to stanza. 

I  create a dance a rhyme. 

I  am a fire in the silver. 

I am a fire in the silver! 

I comb and tousle the words in poems. 

I  acknowledge only the rules 

and traditions of the dance 

I  temper the sounds of cheering in my mouth! 

And I search for such lines for  your sake 

that you won’t be able to erase them 

from your mind.

I  am a captain of the first rank. 

My ship is  full of grog and gunpowder. 

I  will  seize the sun-stroked coast 

with the storm! 

I  will  smash the battlement 

of the fortress with sound!… 

Whoever addresses this geyser as ‘Vizier’, 

I  address this geyser as ‘Vizier’. 

I  will  explain the reason for  this hissing. 

Show me that sun 

which shoots me with a bullet. 

Show me that sun! 

In order for  me 

to surpass the target!…

In the end, I would like to thank Natalia Bukia-Peters and Victoria Field for translating Zurab’s amazing words, ICORN and Swedish PEN and Government for giving him 10 years of amazing life and work.  In addition, I would like to thank Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Hölderlin, Vajha Pshavela, Vladimir Mayakovski and many others for reminding me once again that my amazing friend Zurab Rtveliashvili was truly a captain of the first rank

Most of all, I would like to thank Zurab Rtveliashvili for showing us that even today, in our very difficult times human beings can still poetically dwell on this earth with full force and amazing will to power of creativity.

 

Note: This tribute was previously published in June, 2021 with the International Citites of Refuge Network.

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.