Russian-born Irish-based poet Polina Cosgrave on the poetry affair, or the heady attractions and transformative power of an engagement with poetry
POETRY HAPPENS in isolation. It is taken like a drug, when nobody sees. You meet poetry like a lover. In a hide-out, invisible to the entire world, unreachable for the general public. It could be your first rendezvous, all sorts of magic anticipated. You are craving to find the real meaning behind their words. Is this a game? What are the rules for interacting with this work of art? How do you prepare as a reader to get the most out of it? Decipher the message addressed to you and you only? This ‘date’ will most certainly reveal some truth about you, that one indisputable fact concealed from everyone, yourself included. A poem may take you to a different destination, a place you didn’t know existed in you, or even somewhere you’d rather not go. But can you stop yourself now, after the candles are lit and the curtains are closed?
There is a secret urgency about this passionate exchange, and, if you do it right, the collision of your mind with the words typed in another time and locality will culminate in the birth of something blazing and unfathomable. A new state of consciousness, perhaps. If both, the poem and the reader are ready for this transformative union.
Yet, not every lover will stay with us for long. It is your favourite poetry that continues to haunt you through the years. In my second life in Ireland I have encountered masterpieces that enrich me and reconnect me to my acquired individuality, arising from switching my thinking and writing in the English language. You’ll recognise your darlings the second you touch them. Yes, I’m talking about that feeling in your stomach, those omnipresent butterflies of infatuation, the familiar yet never-seen-before allure. You will repeatedly come back to those poems to discover more precious layers. The works capable of evoking this much feeling are often about you and me both, regardless of our identities.
Some of my very first Irish romances are ‘A Man is Only as Good’ by Pat Boran (see graphic) and ‘Endangered Species’ by Eamon Grennan – probably, because children and animals as the central image represent the essence of existence. And when you’re lost in translation and a foreign culture, you need to check your reflection in the mirror continuously: is this still me? Do I exist? Or is this someone else living and breathing instead of me? As a result, you attempt to examine your reactions to the most crucial, the key experience – your relationship with the vulnerable and the vital. Kids and dogs.
These two poems bring back what I struggle to find at times — my humanity, the belonging to my kind, and they do so without ruining the loneliness we often forget to honour. They point to where my heart used to be in the broken system of modernity, and lead me away from its shards to the point zero, the common origin, where our super powers – the warmth and the observance – dwell, where neither social status nor nationality matters.
These poems’ significance, and the reason they take me where I long to be, is that despite their universality they do not make you look away from the abyss between us and the nature; these two texts actualise and own the otherness as opposed to running from it. We are locked in some form of perceptive contact with the core of the poem (a dog, a child), yet we leave them in their special place, and we respect the position we are put in as well. To be there fully, unapologetically, and still admire the distance. It’s a beautiful dance of imagination, this kind of poetry is built with the dark matter of dreams and true love for artistic creativity.
What’s more, I am attracted to them, because I cannot write like that, and I desperately need someone to formulate these realities for me, to invite me in, to open the door into the sanctuary of literature. That one door I will manage to enter through. And via this act of reading synonymous with communion, I can even be an accomplice to the author by sharing their vision, potentially becoming a part of their art for a split second. There are lovers that complete you, the ones that show you what you couldn’t see without their help. Watch out, because they might demand the same back. And if your gratitude is powerful enough, you will respond in kind to keep the balance.
Poetry happens in ringing silence. It is given like a goodbye kiss that will leave the lovers forever hungry for more. You make a decision to encounter another self. You chip away the too familiar bits of your psyche to dig deeper, to reach the flaming centre of your poem and get burned. It doesn’t mean you are ready to embrace that new person you are about to become. But you are already there to set them free.
Sometimes it is the excess of life that serves as a poetic impulse, sometimes the lack of it forces you to write away. Whether it is to avoid the emotional collapse or to rejoice in its cleansing fires, you do it again. On your own. Well, almost. You, that poem you are about to call to being, and potentially a few other poems you have been carrying within for months. With a reader in mind, you continue. Maybe they haven’t been born yet, but their likely future perspective has already had an influence on you. Or maybe they are long dead; however, you keep talking to them. To that mental structure you regard as your addressee. Fantasies are a necessity for this tricky business.
Yes, this kiss might be a forbidden one, and this affair will ruin the old you and the habitual predictability you hold dear in order for you to meet somebody else already ripening inside your soul. The other you. The one kinder, stronger, more understanding. Yearning to connect. Line by line you keep shocking yourself. You definitely took this too far. But can you stop yourself now, after the wine is drunk and the buttons are loosened?
The walls will be demolished, the worlds will be exchanged and the pain of creation will be faced. How far can you go with it? Is there a limit to this feeling, is it reciprocated at all? Your poem will bring you the answer, if you just shut up and let it undress you and cut you open. Not every lover is your friend. But each of them knows something you don’t. All you have to do is listen.
Poetry, always in solitude. The most intimate, most personal exploration tool. In seclusion. The antidote to mob mentality. In silence. Natural like breathing. What if I told you that one day you will find the lover you will be willing to share your last breath with? To engage with poetry is to keep looking.