I am Saint Wolf
I am Saint Wolf.
I ran across the silver field -
expecting a morsel from your hand.
I am held hostage by my own talent
and I am its guardian.
This is my prayer to you
accept it as sincere!
by Zurab Rtveliashvili
It is extremely difficult to write about Zura Rtveliashvili in the past, because for us he will never be a past – he will always be a future – he has been and he still is a futurist poet and more than just this. He is poesis that dares to breathe poetry – constantly. That is what Zura represented for the people who had the privilege to know him and interact with him, and most importantly, interact with his incredibly breathtaking poetry, which was not just a performance or a verse, but was an amazing transformative experience that has profoundly changed that many of us.
Zura Rtvelo – that is how his friends called him – was an amazing person with multitudes in his personality. At the same time, moving in like Bakhtin’s polyphonic, many different angles and points while being profoundly humane at the same time. He was an extremely modest and intelligent person with whom it was a great pleasure to interact. However, that was only one side. There were many others and they were no less fascinating to see and not just to see – to listen as well. There was this absolutely and incredibly true artistic cry coming out from his poetry that would shake the world at least for a moment. Crowds would gather to see what was going on this post industrial ground – who was the one that recited something so amazingly awesome that worlds’ wordiness and poem’s poemliness became so incredibly obvious that you wanted to embrace heavens – whether they exist or not. This was a different manifestation of the force of poetry – and it was not the same in any different performance or recitation of his poems. The poet who could be so brilliant at conventional style – yet, however so innovative at the avant-garde of the 21st century.
Zurab Rtveliashvili was born in Kazakhstan and raised in Georgia, always destined to live a life in poetry. To swim in poetry, to dream poetry, to dance poetry, to breathe poetry and to sleep with poetry, and in the end, to die with poetry. As Holderlin has said as though he was talking about Zura:
“Full of merit, yet poetically, man
Dwells on this earth.”
When he talked to you, he was as ordinary of a man as you can get. Very modest and the one with whom you would like to talk. Yet, again, when he started to recite his poems – he was becoming something else – it was like the character of another poem of Holderlin.
“The Pure, still stays with his heart, man
Not unhappily measures himself
Against the godhead. Is God unknown?
Is he manifest like the sky? I’d sooner
Believe the latter. It’s the measure of man.”
It is a measure of the man. It was and is a measure of the man. It looks like man - who has dwelled his life in poetry has achieved the divine transcendence – men and women who do it they achieve this condition and this another state of mind – and perhaps not just of mind.
Zurab Rtveliashvili was a city dweller just like Charles Baudelaire. He loved to be there in the middle of the night, where the tired salespeople had already left their arcades. He could sneak into those arcades armed with his drink and make a genius pronouncement of his poetry. As Baudelaire was one of the first modern writers, Rtveliashvili was the same with postmodernism – he was a postindustrial boy making incredible explosions to which even George Bernard Show would subscribe as a fellow destabilizer of bourgeois calm. It was more than once that he and I walked in midnight Tbilisi, reciting and reading poetry sometimes quietly and sometimes not so.a His voice would bring life to the dead under-dwelling urban night scene. This sound would make it alive – as Apollinaire did it during his days.
In 1992, Zurab Rtveliashvili was elected DADA-KING-PRESIDENT at Karvasla Forum of Avant-Garde performers in Tbilisi and since then he was at this place without a change. It was his to take and occupy and it was his to pronounce the DICTATORSHIP OF POETRY in our times of neoliberal authoritarian lies about democracy.
Zurab made it very much possible to convince many of us that art is here to transform human beings and bring progress to entire humanity. Not many people believed in this in 1992, when it looked like all human dreams about equality had dropped dead. Zurab embraced Varlam Cherkezishvili’s Anarchism and Mayakovski’s Futurism in those difficult days to believe and he managed to convince many young people that this was the way to go.
“..Without a prayer, I tasted this rebellion,
I taught the sparrows which had been coloured red to fly,
I did everything I could.
Take your hands off me!
Don’t get in the way
of my dreams of new kisses…
That kind of moon, the sort the king wanted
hasn’t been born,
the sun doesn’t shine
warmed by the passionate desire of someone’s gaze.
Don’t lean against the door from the inside,
So I can break new ground...”
These poems by Zura, translated by Natalia Bukia-Peters and Victoria Field, were the ones recited with such an amazing force that hundreds of listeners would freeze to hear what the author said and declared. This declaration of life was so powerful that many would feel that they were part of divine experience strengthened by the narcotics of art.
The most extraordinary act of “dwelling by poetry” that was never described by Walter Benjamin or Martin Heidegger was on June 29, 2006 when Zurab Rtveliashvili surrounded by a few of us was reciting his POETIC EXPROPRIATION in front of Tbilisi Appellate Courthouse. There were several “dwelling poetry bystanders” like Jaba Jsihkariani, David Dalakishvili, Lasha Chkhartishvili, myself and our dear friend Varden Brando. The authoritarian regime decided to teach all of us a lesson by arresting us and throwing all of us to the room where we were ordered to be tortured by police. The reason was READING POEMS IN FRONT OF THE COURTHOUSE.
All of us were quickly put into the chamber room, our heads were thrown against the hard tables, and hands were twisted in a very painful way. Only Varden Brando (this was his poetic nickname – real one was Paata Vardosanidze – unfortunately he has passed away also) managed to escape and call our friends to save our lives. Police ordered us to shut up and to comply with orders. They told us that they had instructions “to teach us a lesson” for reading poetry in front of a courthouse. Zurab Rtveliashvili was especially targeted and tortured brutally because his voice was the one heard by bystanders around the court. His head was lying on the torture chamber table in front of me – our eyes were glaring at each other. The situation was very difficult. There was a high chance that one of us would not handle the torture, lose consciousness, and pass away. Police officers were screaming and telling us to stop reciting. But Zurab continued and he did not stop even for a second. He continued to ‘dwell in poetry’ like a true brother of Vaja Pshavela and Holderlin, Mayakovsky and Apollinaire. Even under torture, he did not stop reciting his great poem.
My rules for dressing obey no law.
I shoved my feet into a small street.
To those who don’t comprehend,
I answer in poems -
I pound the poems onto the shutters
like a hammer!
Am I really a rose
in this warm city
when this avenue
has been bewildered with rubbish?
To be dressed according to the law
isn’t worth tuppence (!)
Open the door, dear Mary…
this flood began when I was illuminated
and no one can extinguish me,
no matter how frequently they try.
Switch off the live transmission.
I must be entertained.
I will fill every frequency with rumbling …
My rules for dressing obey no law,
I stopped dancing
whispering in the street,
to those who cannot comprehend,
I reply in poems
I pound them
as if with a hammer
on a golden
This was an incredible image. It is almost impossible to describe this scene. But this showed for sure that poetry lives – whatever happens and whatever physical subjects may die and all of us die – but poetry lives for sure and ‘dwelling by poetry’ is the best way to live.
Zurab Rtveliashvili became one of ICORN’s writers in residence in 2009 and I want to thank this organization for giving him a chance to continue ‘poetry dwelling’ and his amazing performances. Thanks to his residence in Stockholm, he became one of the best-known Georgian poets in the world. In 2012, we won the court case in Strasbourg in the European Court of Human Rights. Zurab Rtveliashvili went on to win numerous awards. However, the most important gift to humanity that he gave was the amazingly beautiful poetic life that he led.
I would like to conclude by quoting one of Zurab’s brilliant poems, ANARCH:
The law adjusts to blameless thumbs,
from stanza to stanza.
I create a dance, a rhyme.
I am a fire in the silver.
I am a fire in the silver!
I comb and tousle the words in poems.
I acknowledge only the rules
and traditions of the dance
I temper the sounds of cheering in my mouth!
And I search for such lines for your sake
that you won’t be able to erase them
from your mind.
I am a captain of the first rank.
My ship is full of grog and gunpowder.
I will seize the sun-stroked coast
with the storm!
I will smash the battlement
of the fortress with sound!…
Whoever addresses this geyser as ‘Vizier’,
I address this geyser as ‘Vizier’.
I will explain the reason for this hissing.
Show me that sun
which shoots me with a bullet.
Show me that sun!
In order for me
to surpass the target!…
To end, I would like to thank Natalia Bukia-Peters and Victoria Field for translating Zurab’s amazing words, ICORN, Swedish PEN and the Swedish Government for giving him 10 years of amazing life and work. In addition, I would like to thank Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Hölderlin, Vajha Pshavela, Vladimir Mayakovski and many others for reminding me once again that my amazing friend Zurab Rtveliashvili was truly a captain of the first rank.
Most of all, I would like to thank Zurab Rtveliashvili for showing us that even today, in our very difficult times, human beings can still dwell poetically on this earth with full force and through the power of creativity.
Irakli Kakabadze is a Georgian writer, performance artist, peace and human rights activist. He has been awarded the Lilian Hellman/Hammett grant from Human Rights Watch and the Oxfam/Novib PEN Freedom of Expression Prize. Due to the persecution he has suffered for his writing and political activism, he was a writer-in-residence in Ithaca City of Asylum and an ICORN writer in residence in Barcelona City of Refuge.