Irakli Qolbaia: Three new poems in English, with a note on poetics by the author

[An important poet, writer, and translator in his native Georgian, Irakli Qolbaia is in a line of modern and postmodern poets who have used English or other foreign languages as additional and particularized mediums for poetry. There is more to be said about this, but Qolbaia’s poems and notes presented here are a new start in that direction, for which we should be duly grateful. (j.r.)]


Onirocritique I


In dream I was writing, but writing a real book (for I believe there are real books, the books behind books, that deepest in the roots of our books of which only shadow casts itself on the ground once we put up the copy we create or rip off it to stand like a tree). This real book, in that dream, was written in this manner: I was not sitting at the table, with papers laid out and a pen pointed to them or with pencil and an open notebook in front, but was, rather, as if branched to the source, or, better still, as if I were the source, branched to the primal sea, and through this me-source flowed in me-head the real, real, complete words, phrases, paragraphs, unchained all of them, wild, loosened, unhinged from all the limitations we normally impose on them, with which we cripple all that comes through us out the other end, and me, also, equipped with unheard of, unbelievable conduction, imagining the kind of which is otherwise quite beyond me, I let them pass through me and thus they were entering the book, and if I try looking back down where I then was, I should say it sounds frightening, like a peach ripe to the brim, as some poet had it, as we, too, sometimes are filled with exuberance quite exceeding what we can contain or handle, like sperm as the tides of fog, issuing from the penis of the one you love and into one of your vessels, yes, this, this exuberance, sounds, I say, almost frightening, now that I think of it, but back then I was not thinking but sensing only, not even, glowing, beyond imagining, with the joy without limit, filling and refilling with depth, being charged and recharged, charging and recharging, as if the bottomless depth dressed my bones like skin, and the book was, shall I say, adding up, self-creating, becoming, gaining flesh exactly in that place where before there was nothing, and its appearance was that of a labyrinth, that primal book, that original poem, that is, not a page gridded with lines but a construction, this book was, a building in some perfect space, and was I to bend over with my bodiless body I would be able to peek inside and see how these spatial word-formations, these moving, vibrant hybrids, armed with all the senses and more, were weaving a labyrinth in this well, in this human well, this name of which I was to know much later but knew already though know not yet, and was I reading them! How to put it, in what words, now, am I to say this, how I was hearing and sensing the multitudes of thought, while reading, each and every face, facet or plane at once, each one of them complete, self-contained, closed in itself and open, but one part, myriads of sentences just one and a single word thousands of other words at the same time, and the act of reading itself meant moving through the maze, and only later, later, much later, at the very last did I realize that I was in fact reading a tiny piece of my own, one of those, maybe, though I don’t know, that you’ll come across in the pages to follow, but not that I was reading what I have written, groping as I do through darkness, but the origin of it, that vision that has announced itself to me, angelically showed itself and that I have crippled in transition and tied it to my flat, sad page, crippled the original angel, carnal, that one, uncreated, with our words manqués; then I knew, also, that these visions come to us from, or should I say take us to, or tell us of that very same place where our dream soul prowls … I knew, then, how I am punished.



       A Rhizome of Unknowing


   It dreads him to imagine a bird

                   where before there was

     himself         this bird        that flounders

             cruelly     somewhere      that resembles

   an abyss at the outmost limit of his psyche

                  a bird or a butterfly or a wound

   where this wound is hanging         ends

        himself and begins the dream    but himself

   was over before                                     nor before,

 has not been          i am not                      no, more

         i is not i is not i is

not        (sorry John Clare, your sonnet’s lovely, but

             you will say the same thing

in the letter that lacks vowels)    is    is not      this

    shell carcass    this cabinet of curiosities      to develop

false pictures    to project faux light        where

     the pain suddenly silences itself       dandelions itself

up the hole as a fuzzy smoke that cigarette end

engenders     and further up the air, compounds itself with dust

    slowly disappears        there, for a second, is permitted

to enlarge the wound, the crevice, open it a door     step inside

once inside this door   to go outside       the void, where there

was a wound before     I follow up and down with the tips of my fingers

        thousands of foreign bodies inhabit this room

(room? a hollow where a minute ago there was the void)

that go way too close    to the edge       look

deep   down into   where    am no more      depth opens up its

hollow heart to them    after which they vanish inside it      where

do things   that disappear   go?     the bird, for example    that he

left      way behind, at poem’s threshold      or else the butterfly

flutters on the fields of poem, forgotten,   near

the place where the dream’s memory is where the dream suddenly

recalls some past poem . past dream      most

stick to the space that was given them so hard     won’t let in

anything from the outside     stuff themselves with themselves   covers with scab

the place from where blood must have drawn             thus

is unable to also be a woman, even though he is not, to be

another even though he is so incorrigibly     himself alone

             beyond the abolished wall what will remain       frightens him

I am so little even inside the confines where I was given a word

to speak      a space to use up with my dance

                                   dance first           but feels already

breathing from the threshold    of a giant    how it will enter dressed

uniformed as sentinel or with janitor’s broom      with owner’s chains

to chase out whoever he finds there    to empty the space for those

who are to come after            (and those who come after? Those

after me      (no more i among them?  no more

place for me           (among them                   unless

I be   where   I am not             then I am nothing

but the sentry at this borderline   where I end       then I’ll have to

sing nothing but the words that someone wrote for me

before me                                                                        it dreads him

to imagine this        as the moon probably dreads

its cue, the moonless blue sky, clouds               this

is exactly      where I begin       a little more         than

was I to re-arrange the words? reshape my

deal                  let it lead on with             that which I

began, that began   so by chance       with me        but

so     as if no one asked me         and if it is

so    if I change nothing  if the wound itself chooses me

for its inhabitant       then    I am indeed beyond

this life                                                if there was something I could do

or say        has lifted, or fell down the crack     that same instant

when it came to me           where the sleep began

                 I merely glimpsed and that too barely

how   the bird flew    inside the door     that the dream

cut        inside the wall behind my forehead           cut it and

closed behind him          then I unscab the scab

watch for a second     how it accrues      rose-dead

butterfly leaves     then the cold blackred   pond     then

I sneak one finger (one that will fit) inside the hole    the dream left

for the doubting ones                            this path, he tells me

this blood-trench     that’s lefts on your hands     you shall never

step over                      through this ditch                beyond-the-real

comes inside the real      and will go on to      go on with the delivery

of what you’ll never know      how to use

that is why whatever     I adorn these walls with     often

are called strange                  while there’s nothing strange

about the way one suddenly loses oneself in any room in any

mirror in any


        the way the stray dog never asks for food

the way two threads weave     on their own    hair fingernails and

grass grow on their own       the way the ink

leaves blots      the way everyone you

ever saw    you’ll see again   and again      and

again    no end               exactly the same

but another

the way everything you ever lost somewhere    only then

begins its true life     in you and without you       much

larger than ever          until you lose so many things

that there be no place left in you       to store them

and will appear       as before    as always

in you a formula        magic goes hand in hand

with pain          pain is several colourful balloons

   in my grip    and not vice versa        as almost everyone

  thought was the case for such a long time         the way

you listen to me    your ears pricked up   whenever I come   though you

know not why I come or what I tell you     or for what reason    or what’s

the meaning of              is an answer         to no

question                                 the way no question ever knows

the answer to itself thus is born on the hopelessly wrong ground

only I am                 the question in no need of answer            or an answer

                                                in no need for question           light

in darkness         though everyone thought the other way around    the way

I stir your most profound conceptions      the way a tiniest thought before sleep

can stir the bed of your sleep, the way sea gets stirred     

your once-white dream-stained sheets          the star torn off

no sky          will stay as a stain          on the pillow

find you waking                                             imagine,

then, for a second:          you close your dream eye       always

only then       where the other’s dream begins       look

you will see how it runs:                  all that has happened

here once                   will hence happen endlessly


Shipwreck Hotel

                                            Common Era


It often happens that I like what people write

while roaming

                              any given field has a single ear

for any given passerby                       one line

or a sentence                                     in the field where

we gathered stones     the ants           and our sentence

vanishable volatile     ephemere                 where you begin and

I leave off                                                                   described us

while coiling out a scolopendra                                 while I

searched for I       turned into a couple of eye-babies    in your

apples                                             it sometimes happens that I like

what people write          magnetic words            somehow

while stranded    in spite of strand                    no

sentence, naturally, has ever taught             anyone

how to live                but how to take           one

more step, would be enough      ahora             yes, Cesar

which trilce was preparing me for the stray dog

one look at which was enough for it

to dodge me last night,

                              to see me home            where (did she know this?)

I’d shut the door in its muzzle                      “when most I blink

then most I see”             and each new word

further mutes me                      sth       (the wind? a cigarette?

coffee? might be the same thing) in the after of this noon    takes my thoughts

ceaselessly back        en nueva york, where Lorca

once stopped       some other spring (or some other season

                                                                                           of some other year)

                                                                                                           in the shipwreck

hotel (or some other

chateau) (or was that another poet?)    shipwreck hotel         where the key

to every room is made of                     a Neanderthal

skull                            every curtain is made off Isis’s

veil        + female           where every man should finally get trapped

in the veiled skull of the female oppression         that which no one has ever

lifted           as I shall never lift the burden that sleeps

between these words           shall never uncoil a sestina off the words no one

has lifted her veil           

                         (in the dream I had in this sleep

did not write down and forgot        I am eating peachmeat and spit out

the stone           that rolls down from (circle)

to (circle)                                          on the table of the hotel room

which is my skull                      (the peach, the stone

this room: which?) is my brain         the same table I know

from a past dream                                        the two meet

by the edge of the table                 fall beyond             as I keep

hearing how they complain about the weather      tonight

the weather that found me in the dream to come       and takes me back

to a poem now past



            And my desire            to disappear, like

a grain of dust          is vain, I know          I know, I merely

delude myself believing that this grain between my

fingers     contains, multitudes      or au contraire        it

is contained        — no, with one grain that was given me

       I do not receive the world, with flowers that I saw

this morning    I did not see all the flowers

      in the world     and the ones I saw       have withered

already                            and all         that I did not see

  that I left out      or, moreover       what I did not

notice          will come back to me      in some final

dream     a bulk of these grains — whole desert

       to drown me                    what will kill you is what,

the sum of whatyou failed to pay its due        I greatly fear

and marvel at the thought that hastily slid among the other

      thoughts          thought-plants                  every

thought, consider, is otherwise a plant, and vegetal-

one, therefore tellurically free?                     this

is what two poets said before, or did they          this is

what my desire promised me in the first line, or

did      it                                                          the thought

          goes as far as the desire will, I hear

the echo mutter               but will it go somewhere

     further     than what the confines of my world are?   and

if not          why does it move in the first place — is it not already

it is there where it would finally arrive            today by chance

I glimpse       these words in Thoreau            “why do precisely

these objects which we behold make

      a world?”                 make a world?       a

and not our world                    and what we cannot

     behold?        what we fail to behold makes, it seems to me

the worlds      makes more than what I am, what I

behold,    what I do        my unknowing / unseeing

is the way to let my thought go further        than as far as

desire will, the desire conditioned by what

I know or have seen,                is the way to turn thought-plant,

fruit, this tree    into a rhizome                 imagine, not

      the tree of knowledge      but the rhizome of unknowing

not the world tree from everybody’s mythology and

      cosmogony        but         I-know-not-whose-tree

=world set loose    set mongrel      imagine then a poet

both Rimbaud and Olson     denuded of gendernation

   hunting among stones in Abyssinia       humming

heavily, asthmatically,      I cared not for Bible nor for myths

        was playing my own tune              I’m hungry for

earth and stones only            flower the dream

    where there once was the conscious            let

them        all slowly in this        consciousness shaped after

the garden of Eden      where man and woman his suckout

    are licking the toes of father           let all in

until all this will chase away completely       what used to

flourish here                 not man and woman     then

but combined hermaphrodite that

        invents endlessly      its nonexistent

origin                     makes and unmakes

              the worlds                   as a single

grain of dust        that this room is so

full of                     full of everything I

cannot behold


IQ’s note:


These are a few pieces from a longer cycle or a serial poem (or, as I sometimes happen to see it, maybe even a long poem) called Rhizome of Unknowing, that I first wrote in Georgian, my “first” language. As I was using the rhizome (in its initial biological meaning as well as, I hoped, in the sense of Deleuze’s and Guattari’s twist on it — think, above all, their delicious concept of the book-rhizome as opposed to the book-root) as my central image and a point of departure, it is my hope that it can be read as whole as well as in any diverse combinations, as, for instance, presented here. Anyway, for the reader interested in the general compositional principle, I could quickly note that the whole thing is meant to be (dis)organized in twenty-two parts of different size, nature, or shape, each named after the twenty-two Hebrew letters, going, in a reversed order, here, from Tav to Aleph, corresponding, also, with twenty-two Major Arcana of Tarot, from The World, XXI, to The Fool, 0 (here, for instance the letter is ש or Shin, corresponding with the twentieth Arcanum, The Judgement). Thus, I imply that the image of “rhizoming the (a) tree”, as the poem has it, should or might involve engaging the Kabbalistic Tree with its ten stations or sefirot, and the twenty-two lettered paths that tie them, and using that, in itself, as a sort of departing principle for working out or organizing or simply carrying forth a poem (when such principle is needed).


This aside, I should also underline the pertinence, to my mind, of presenting the English versions of this poem-in-making, the language-crossing/multilinguality being at the core of this or any of my practices (and to back this up, I allow myself to quote Pierre Joris at length: “A nomadic poetics will cross languages, not just translate, but write in all or any of them. If Pound, Joyce and others have shown the way, it is essential now to push this matter further, again, not as collage but as a material flux of language matter, moving in and out of semantic and non-semantic spaces, moving around & through the features accreting as poem, a lingo-cubism that is no longer an ‘explosante fixe’ as Breton defined the poem, but an ‘explosante mouvante.’”). How this came to be the core I am not too sure, but I gather it may have much to do with the practice of translating which began almost simultaneously with the practice of writing, related to my very clear sense of translation as the only (for me, definitely not for everyone) possible initiation or apprenticeship to that outlandish, magical, or simply other language we call poetry. To put it a little too simply, I see the poet/translator himself (that is a man whose body of work/writing comprises not only his “own” words but also those of “others”) as a rhizome. If the works and words of those I have read, loved, and translated often seep into my writing, it is only to my greatest contention.


Having said all of the above, I want once more to go back to Deleuze’s and Guattari’s take on rhizome and point out that it occurs in the book largely concerned with the schizophrenic modes of mind. Which allows me, one hopes, to further point out that I, along with so many others, see poetry as a useful, maybe even crucial tool or instrument for unearthing and exploring the “other,” “alien,” or “estranged” states of psyche and presenting them in inspired and imaginative ways. Thus the poet himself is a sensuous, passionate creature engaged in assimilating that which has hitherto been outsided and suppressed (and here I want very much to point to Rothenberg’s and Bloomberg-Rissman’s Barbaric Vast & Wild, and, through that, simply to Diderot’s definition of what it is that poetry should contain).


Could the embrace of all languages and all consciousnesses not then be seen as only an initial stage on the journey beyond the strictly human and into all-language/all-psyche: vegetal-language, animal-language, night-language, dream-language? If so, then I hope this may be our contribution to Paul Celan’s command: “there are still songs to sing beyond mankind.”


And, finally, in evoking dream or dream-language or dream-work, I also have in mind Stevens’s “the vast ventriloquism of sleep’s faded papier-mâché” which, of course, ever leads to “a new knowledge of reality.”