Runa Svetlikova (1982) believes that it’s impossible to capture reality but keeps on trying to do it anyway in both image and word. She studied graphic design and is currently studying languages and literatures but thankfully it hasn’t helped.
After a few years of testing her work on a live audience she made her debut in 2014 with the poetry collection This Soft White Room, published by Marmer Press. This Soft White Room won the Herman De Coninck Prize for best debut, the Jo Peters Poetry Award. In 2016 fot this book she won the international poetic award “Bridges of Struga” for best debutant book is awarded by Struga Poetry Evenings together with UNESCO. She does regular readings and organizes small poetry festivals.
In her debut the Flemish poet Runa Svetlikova tries to explain life and especially those things that are so difficult to explain: the alienation or distance that one can experience after the birth of a child, the way a relative works themselves to the bone day in day out – why?! -, dying. Svetlikova does this in the knowledge that every word is a lie, or in any case not the truth.
In the title poem she describes a blind woman who each night assigns meaning to every coincidence: In the morning she forgets that the meaning was given by her. //A woman sings cheap songs and quotes expensive philosophers/in a darkness that she shares with you, and us for want of better/a whole life long in this time, this head, this body.
Svetlikova vacillates between coincidence and the truth we confer upon it. Life isn’t the only thing that’s temporary (the user of this body), language is too. Writing poetry is a search for a truth. Language has a life of its own, as she realises when her child begins throwing words back at her: Now that you call us into question on a daily basis I can do nothing else/ but admit that you are right: this bringing a child into the world business is outrageous/ but I don’t take back a word.
The poet doesn’t take anything back, she adds to it and – indeed – sometimes a little outrageously, as in her poem Classification, in which she tries to explain life gone by: It’s a suppurating pin feather/ a manic licking of dry lips/ an eternal drone. And all of it is reduced to a corpse and a coffin. Language has lashed out (desperately) but remains just a piling up of images. Yet perhaps that also fits with the quest for the right words that defines the collection.
Nothing is fixed in the poetry of Svetlikova, as the ingenious structure of the collection further serves to underline. The poems in the first chapter Big Bang form a prelude to the remaining sections of the same names, at the end comes the valedictory The big rewind, in which the opening poems are reviewed. Conclusion: everything is pointless. Or as she writes in When I gave birth to two stones (2.0): As if the timeless (…) the pointless/ repetition of stories is the essence/of this unavoidable protest/ this silent disappearance while everything carries on. In any case, this idiosyncratic and intelligent exploration makes one curious as to where Svetlikova will go next.
Our padded white rooms /
In a room I’ve built myself
Four straight walls
And day after day, I wake up feeling
Day after day, I wake up feeling, feeling
Suspended and open
‘Open’Translated by Willem Groenewegen
A dead bird lives here
in a box of threadbare shoes.
It doesn’t take its last breath here
but keeps heaving, up and down.
Here that tangle
curled about that russet tongue
through the gullet right into that stomach
has not yet been seen
Here you haven’t pulled at anything
there’s nothing bleeding,
bare skin that is far from going cold.Translated by Willem Groenewegen
Guard it in a cage of fingers.
Warm it with your breath.
Fold its wings.
Carry it through the day in a box.
Let it sleep.
Watch it gasp for air
with shoulders raised.
Caress it and then close the box.
Tomorrow it will be colder
smooth out all goose bumps with a kiss
wake it with a breath and carry it along.Translated by Willem Groenewegen
It resides in pictures and a tea set
in the dog that died.
It resides in taking chronic detours
on your way to anywhere.
It resides in little white pills
in taking them so you can take it
till it all dissolves.
We all gasp for air
in our padded white rooms.
It’s a festering pin feather
the maniacal licking of dry lips
the endless pouting.
It’s the insatiable drinking
the boorish bellow of laughter.
The shivering in the bath.
It’s the shapeless prayer
said in front of every altar, any god
it’s the unshaken heretic.
It’s everything you once forgot or lost, destroyed
the blessed body in your grave.Translated by Willem Groenewegen
We tripped over the edge, were pushed
or let go tried to save ourselves.
The perps are at their best when you love them
the love then gnaws its way in
like semen does into an egg. Revolt
will only hurt ourselves. There is no black and white
we flutter with clipped stumps it’s just conception.
There are no victims.
There is no perpetrator.
There is just posterity.Translated by Willem Groenewegen
Fold in on yourself with your head
beneath the blanket. Rock to and fro.
Take in your own breath. You are
a naked bird in its hermetic nest.
Think. Think. Sleep.
Get up. Walk. Your arms are free now.
It carries itself. Carry yourself
closer to me. Carry yourself out of your body
and totter into me.Translated by Willem Groenewegen
THE BIG REWIND /
There are no witnesses to the retreat to yesteryear, the ascent of
14 times 13 steps, the right hand on a banister that she
slid off long ago, a little suitcase in the left. No-one
to see how callous, liver spot and wrinkle disappear. In the house
that was taken from her no-one ever lived what she lost never
existed. Muscles grow stronger hair regains its colour drooping breasts
dissolve in baby fat a child that died was not begot. She stares
over the edge at the traffic and all who inexplicably continue
focuses on falling. She cautiously looks left then right and left
again, goes into the street with the suitcase. Each moment is possibly
the moment in which she reaches the shortest possible distance to the ground
implodes in space and time. Each moment is possibly the moment
in which it’s tomorrow, an alarm rings. Someone has escaped the fall.
Someone yawns, rubs their eyes and gets up.Translated by Willem Groenewegen
You’re not sure where that thirst comes from
the courage to swallow. Sometimes you’d rather sleep
but closing your eyes is looking inside: a different
awakening, when light enters already while it is still
the middle of the night. Each cut is a step on a ladder
I say and I’m not sure if we should want to be sure
where that thirst comes from, if people are sculptures,
how hard we should hack to complete them
if we hadn’t rather be fluid, leaking on all sides,
be drinkable.Translated by Willem Groenewegen
I can no longer be your tender border
today I have to strike the first few wounds
let the world bleed into you. Tomorrow
you’ll be just itchy scabs and later perhaps
dead meat where time and again
I let you fall because you lacked the callouses.
But child do not forget our lullaby and how I
stroked your hair by night: too hard is also
FIRST AID FOR THE INNOCENT /
Since you’ve spoken and thrown my words back at me
all I can do is confess that we are no more
than a vague approximation of what we want to be.
And now you read and lose the final claim
to artlessness I hear myself carefully suggest
reality is a fluid concept that we
inhabit circular arguments that to speak is to bear
that words or children are not good or bad but live
their singular lives and that perhaps I’m now mistaken too.
Now you question us on a daily basis I can only
confess that you are right: this bearing is beyond the pale
but I will not retract a single word.
THIS SOFT WHITE PAGE /
We read cerebral light pollution, streetlights
on a world gone mad, with photons jumping from this black-on-white
colliding with the dark side, it takes no longer than 150 milliseconds
to read a word (which word? – this word: word).
Each line of every letter fits each cortex perfectly, meaning
is burned into our brain – but poetry makes nothing happen
someone said who knew he was lying even before this poem
lit up intelligently connected sections of the brain on the scan.
Even analogue we’re binary: now the epic stories were declared dead
all that’s small gains meaning. This poem is also a biological incident
with possibly far-reaching consequences. We shifted our orbits
but are still no closer. Words continue to count
in contracts, laws, on borders, on everyday paper crude deaths
occur for want of the applicable stamp. Only poetry
fortunately makes nothing happen.Translated by Willem Groenewegen
THE OTHER USER OF THIS BODY /
We are a charged body in a city square. We are not aware
if this body leads or follows we are not aware who stayed behind
we forget the face of the one who sunk into this body
we forget the cracked body under our body, head
tilted towards the wrong sky. The face is of no
importance as it’s unrecognisable. Only a mother
manages to bring home the logo on the sleeve, the jeans,
the worn down shoes: this emblem was my child.
The body keeps rolling, information is laboriously transferred
words are dropped from an old context, no-one knows who spoke
who heard, who carries a throbbing seed in their fist
the body rolls in on itself topples across itself. Where there’s friction
wounds arise, acid leaks and blood. We are a body
in a city square, an autoimmune disease with slogans, banners
and tear gas against ourselves.Translated by Willem Groenewegen
THE BIG REWIND – REVISITED /
Each moment is possibly the moment in which we reach
the ultimate border, where we don’t drift further apart but implode
in total silence in space and time – the big rewind.
Skyscrapers no longer soar but are unbuilt brick by brick
by dilapidated cranes highways become dirt roads
become muddy paths no longer appear to exist
the voice box that descends mid-sentence word becomes a growl
the gaping jaw the disconcerting recourse to four limbs
on their way to work, a double speed rewind where fur and feather
devolve into scales, the earth cools down, heats up, gigantic insects
settle on obscenely disproportionate flowers volcanoes unerupt
continents rush towards each other. There are no witnesses
to this shameful retreat to the primordial soup: procreation
proves to be no more than a unilateral division into the past
planets and stars are simply scattered mass
we all fall back into the very same bang. There is only beginning –Translated by Willem Groenewegen