Songs of Dark Fire by Zhyldyz Baizakova

When I was asked to write a review of the collection of poems by Zhyldyz Baizakova called The Songs of the Dark Fire, I did not expect it to be an interesting and educating experience

When I was asked to write a review of the collection of poems by Zhyldyz Baizakova called The Songs of the Dark Fire, I did not expect it to be an interesting and educating experience.

One can read about the publication itself here: and below I would like to offer my short overview of its main topics and stylistic features.

Zhyldyz Baizakova’s poetry paradoxically combines different elements and issues: worry about the modern world, moving aestheticism of the East, symbolism close to the imagery of the Silver Age, absurdity of modernism and profound female sensitivity, supported by multiple references and allusions to different phenomena of the world’s art and culture. Zhyldyz is unequivocally clear about the sources of her poetic inspiration when she dedicated the collection to the memory of Tsvetayeva, Rimbaud and Rilke, but her poems often sound quite differently and by no means resemble imitative poetry full of sincere but shallow emotional revelations.

Zhyldyz Baizakova

The dark fire can, perhaps, be the most succinct and overwhelming metaphor which can signify Baizakova’s poetry as a whole. The first to spring to mind is the dark Eros that underlies all the collisions and experiences in Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince. This image permeates her poetry explicitly as well as implicitly: as the shining of Hell, from which Orpheus-Dante leads away his Beatrice-Eurydice, as the black crescent rotting behind the window, as the cloud of light ‘that quietly melts like a bomb inside’ and as a light eclipse. Baizakova likes paradoxes and inversions: in her poems stars fall down, while leaves as well as raindrops fly high; night dreams are open, but hearts are, on the contrary, constrained. Her characters inhabit the world where clouds of steel float across the sky, surrounded by a ominous orange halo, where artificial wounds bleed, where the souls remains in the grips of a profound unresolved anxiety and where beauty is experienced as something passing and yet sharp.

In this sense The Songs of the Dark Fire resonate with the Japanese poetry full of understatement and restrained and philosophic sadness. Like Saige and Basho, Baizakova’s verse often hangs in the air, only outlined with a vague and delicate watercolour contour. On the other hand, her poetry is dominated by elements and contrasts: fire, wind, darkness, bright light, the red of blood, the green of water, the gold of the sunset and the sinister whiteness of snow. The lyrical world that the reader enters into is paradoxically full of restrain and madness, hardly ever articulated hints and brutal images, quiet mediation and shrieks of pain; ‘rivers of blood and empty houses’ of dreams.

At first glance there is nothing in Baizakova’s poetry aside from a couple of poems that can testify to her Central Asian identity and she shows nothing of the superficial and decorative Orientalism which has become almost obligatory to many writers and artists from Central Asia. On the contrary, a whole set of images make a reference to the continental European tradition which Zhyldyz Baizakova knows well and likes. She often turns to the Christian, or to be more precise, Catholic symbolic language and imagery, thinks about ancient European cities – and remains a Kazakh author writing in Russian. It is this complex relationship between different cultural layers and not the flat grotesque ‘nomadism’ that characterises contemporary Central Asian art and literature. A true artist living in the physical space between India and the Ural acutely feels the intrinsically contradictory and polysemantic world, where beauty paradoxically coexists with lies, sacred meets absurd and where inevitable progress interacts with merciless tradition. In her Songs of the Dark Fire, Zhyldyz Baizakova asks herself and us some questions related to the nature of these paradoxes and does not fall over herself to offer ready didactic answers for which she deserves a warm thank you from her readers.

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