Friday, January 25, 2008

Abai and Aitys

"A clock is a ticking thief
stealing life daily, taking it unnoticed,
so that without love and constancy
life is nonetheless just fleeting deception."


Do you think now that (for the most part) we have taken the tick out of clocks and replaced the relentless metronome beat with a hum that we are more or less conscious of time passing? I used to have one of those clocks that dropped a slat every minute with a distinctive click. I threw it out within a week because it made me nuts, but was it the sound that made me crazy or the concept? I remember reaching into the belly of my cousin Karen's grandfather clock to stop the pendulum swing so I could sleep. Time may be passing, but I sure don't want to be reminded of it when I'm trying to sleep. Abai, Kazakhstan's most famous poetic son, lived from 1845-1904, and his writings now seem almost as ancient as the images of petroglyphs pictured above. (photo taken at a restaurant where I did in fact sample horse and camel meat and I don't want to talk about it.) He didn't much like the Russians invading, time passing or sloth. He liked summer. Who wouldn't dining on horse jerky and living in transitional housing, a yurt on the bleak steppes where temperatures nosedive below zero for more than a third of the year? His themes are universal, but his poetry is very dark.

I go down to the bottom, and thirstily drink
the venomous poison of days I've lived through . . .

Man, have I had days like that. If there is anything more wasteful than just cruising through days unmindful of the clock, it has to be savoring the poison of the past. And some days I just can't resist picking up that cup and gulping it down. This is why we invented TV and other mind numbing drugs, so our minds don't take us to belly up to that bar and overindulge on regret. Even in happy times, that cup is there, steaming, its aroma tempting the senses. Maybe this is part of what makes a poet, the nerve (or the obsession) to drain the cup, examine the tea leaves and write to tell about it. The inability to find one's way back from the past is insanity, always a constant threat.

Modern Kazakh poets compete in slam-like contests (Aitys) on television, ranting about all the same things poets rail against here -- the government, the corporations, lack of individual freedom. I didn't see it, but I did read about the poetic Aitys, which apparently the government tolerates because it is an age old tradition for poets to rant. Pretty surprising for a government that does not let anyone take photos of the post office. Rather than try and silence the poets with incarceration, apparently they buy them off with foreign cars and other rewards. Welcome to the twenty first century and the gulag of assets. For more information on the aitys:

Time hums, poets rant, and the effervescence of universal themes bubbles up across cultures.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

where do i sign up for my free foreign car and other rewards?

i'm a ranter, i need to be bought off.