Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Poem: "Irina"

In my luxury there is shame,
using my thin, Western excuses
to hide from my art.
When I read your story
I heard a trumpet of glory
and a stern rebuke
from a creativity so compelled
that, denied the tools of your craft,
you carved your daily poem in soap
and committed it to memory
before washing your words away.

When the days pass me
with the pen's call unheeded
and my reluctance comes
from seeing the word as a foe
then I'll remember you, Irina,
and how the word set you free
from the darkest confinement.

I wrote this poem in 1987 when I read an article by PEN about the release from a gulag of the dissident Russian poet, Irina Borisovna Ratushinskaya.


I come back to this old poem and post it now because, as a poet, I feel that I will need "the word" to set me free from the confinement of life in the Eastern suburbs of Christchurch which threatens to stagger on for months, even years. As quake-affected Cantabrians, we don't want pity, but we can always use some empathy, something my fellow Tuesday poets have in spades.


  1. I know I have heard this story before, of the poem carved on soap, but it is good to be reminded of it again, particularly in poetic form.

  2. Oh I hadn't heard it of it before, Helen! And it moves me deeply. The compulsion to write so strong that soap has to be the medium... but then having to use soap for what it's meant for... and losing those words. Thank you, Andrew, very moving indeed. And I can understand your not wanting pity - no-one does, do they? But empathy yes. And support. How old are your boys btw? I'd love to send them each a cheering up book (I work in a bookshop ... )

  3. That would be lovely, Mary. My boys are voracious readers. They'd get a real kick out of your generosity. Not being a boastful Dad, but it is school-verified that they have advanced reading ages. Ryan is 8 but can easily read to a 12-13 year level. He's just read Helen's "Thornspell" and is keen to tackle "The Heir of Night" next. Thomas is 12 in April but can easily read to 16-17 year level. He reads a lot of fantasy and stuff like Skulduggery Pleasant.

    By the way, Irina Ratushinskaya memorised 250 poems from her disappearing soap poems and apparently published many when released and living in the States. I'd be lucky to remember three! Amazing feat not only of creativity but memory. You can't suppress the creative spirit or the human spirit. Witness Libya et al.

  4. She memorised 250 poems!!!! Amazing. I can believe your kids are advanced readers, I saw them do their U2 song! Ryan seemed much older than his years especially. I love Skulduggery Pleasant! Leave it with me...

  5. It's a moving story and a fine poem to express it. Thanks for the posting.

    As for Christchurch - I'm not sure about pity, we are all thinking about you - but it's more with kind of tempered pride, all the best for your rebuilding efforts.

  6. Thanks, AJ. They say rebuilding Christchurch could take up to 5 years to complete, so we'll need to practise patience.

    My younger brother who is a maths and statistics whiz says that now we've had 2 earthquakes, we shouldn't get another for at least a thousand years. I sure hope he's right!