Juraś Šamiećka Book Review

Juraś Šamiećka’s new collection of poems, Niepradkazalnae (Unpredictable), is a welcomed continuation of the poet’s earlier volumes, Šliach da viartańnia (The road to return) and Atava (Ottawa). In addition to these three books, Šamiećka’s poems often appear in Biełarusian best Journals and Almanacs in Biełaruś and the USA.

Niepradkazalnae’s subtitle is Life is like a Journey, symbolizes and, simultaneously, clarifies the author’s major themes. Here they are, to name a few: roads of life and a sincere personal tribute to it, love for family and friends, appreciation of the poet’s home country and Canada as well as the world as a whole. In fact, he is a poet whose work has been inspired by the lightness of being and gratitude to existence.

Boris Pasternak indicated two major kinds of authors in Russian literature, which could be applied to any national writings. The first type is attributed to Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. These authors, according to the writer, were interested mainly in being remembered by posterity. Consequently, their works were concerned with preparing themselves to personal demise while carried tragic nervousness about the process. Thus, they continually “looked for the meaning of life and drew up balance sheets.” The second type (Pushkin and Chekhov), while being also well aware of questions like “the mankind purpose of life,” and everyday individual problems, knew that with all their talent they personally could not resolve these “high-sounding” issues. Instead, “… these two (Pushkin and Chekhov) were distracted, right up to the end of their lives, by the current, individual tasks imposed on them by their vocation of writers, and in the course of fulfilling these tasks they lived their lives quietly, treating both their lives and their work as private, individual matter…” To continue Pasternak’s thought, we shall underline the fact that Pushkin and Chekhov were not escapists. On the contrary, both were what in current terms is known as “human rights activists.” And each injustice in relation to their fellow citizens, they treated as their own private affair but without overwhelming interest in personal recognition during lifetimes and/or after it. There are currently plenty of writers and poets that belong to either of the group described by Pasternak. And, undoubtedly, Pasternak didn’t attempt to compare stature or quality of these five giants in world literature. He just noted a sophisticated difference in their style of life. And according to a phrase, attributed to André Maurois, “Style is the man himself.” Juraś Šamiećka’s style certainly belongs to the second type.

Šamiećka is a polymath: in addition to his professional success in computer science and engineering, he is fluent in world literature, history, music, architecture, and fine art. Indeed, his life and poetic style is unpretentious, private, and comprehensible to anyone who loves and appreciates a well-worded true poetic emotion.
The poet’s latest volume has a short lyrical introduction. Three poems that comprise the introduction, not only portray the major abovementioned themes but outline them in the following five chapters. Each chapter has a telling subtitle. The first poem in the introduction has an eponymous title to the entire volume. Šamiećka identifies there his understanding of life values, which are variously present in all of his poems. Thus, he states his purpose to search both sense and reciprocity from life and names elements that are milestones on that individual journey. They include his own memory based on received knowledge and faith in God. Thus, the poet declares: “I do not reject the brave sky.” (p. 5). He also touches upon eternity and feels a connection with it through a mutual benevolence: “in opposite circumstances / we are part of eternity through kindness alone” (p. 5). In the untitled second poem, Juraś Šamiećka reveals to the reader a “kitchen” of his own creations, where he is searching for a sound that can touch and transfer his idea and emotion to a likeminded person. Indeed, his poems are full of inner musicality (melodic rhymes, prosody) and also indicates deep knowledge of professionally composed treasures in many genres. But not only. We can also compare his works to the fine art in various media: sometimes his word reminds a watercolor and/or graphic, engraving, even an easel painting (in larger poems). This connection is first transpired in “My Space,” the last poem of the introduction. In this colorful longer poem, the poet-artist describes how the two spheres of his personal life, Biełaruś, and Canada, were transformed into one picture. In the following chapters, he also often present them as if they are two different parts of the brain. This simile, however, is appropriate since together these halves belong to the same brain.

The first chapter, “I will never get lost in Minsk,” presents twelve lovely poems, each signifies apostolic faith in the poet’s native city. A theme of fine art continues in the second poem. It starts with Chagall’s poem with an eponymous title, “My city.” The poet also mentions as a major landmark the Minsk’s Fine Art Museum, sees and describes it in various colours, listens to his city’s music, and of course, feels a presence of the higher power in the skies over him. Contrasting colours of white and black continue to frame the next poem and also adds a philosophical theme. Šamiećka mentions here Thomas Aquinas’s proves of God’s existence Interesting to note that unlike Kant, who rejected Aquinas’s five proves and created his own, based on morality, the poet’s vision adds to Aquinas’s his own, the kindness: “and kindness, that is in our free thoughts/ is already expecting a new arousing sound.” (p. 13). The following poems of the chapter are like landscapes of the four seasons in the poet’s favourite city. They are full of colour, music, and sounds of Minsk. The last two are intensified with a direct address of gratitude to God “I am grateful to God for clemency…”. They also declare the men’s love to his muse, his wife, who is presented as his own talisman in the poem, titled “My road.”

The second chapter’s title is self-explanatory: “Whenever I go, I will always arrive home or peregrination in contemporaneous.” The chapter presents twenty-one poems. And though we feel the presence of the same themes as in the introduction and previous chapter, they are originally developed. In addition to his favourite two countries, Juraś Šamiećka shares his discoveries of cultural gems in Europe and the USA, where he feels at home. Fine art, music, architecture, and general culture of every place he went created a new understanding meaning of life in his poetry. Here he is a man of the World. And love for this novelty, whether it is a poetic illustration of a meeting with an ocean and/or Venices’s channels, received (men-made) or natural beauty, penetrates every one of his poems. Truly, each of his travel reminds him about home, about his mama. Indeed, geranium in Bruges brings up a heartwarming memory of his mother who lovingly grew the same flowers at home (p. 41). Tofino (west-coast of Vancouver island) with its ocean and wildlife, inspires the poet to call his mother, who at that moment washes dishes. Symbolically, his mother enhances the feeling of being at home anywhere he goes. This unity has been transcribed into one notion by the sensitive lyricist, the poet Juraś Šamiećka (pp 43-4). His larger three-parts poem, “Walking” is written in the form of a rondo. It starts with singing glory to an ocean “I will always feel you with my soul,” continues with an anthem to eternity, and closes the circle with thoughts about the inner world, where the main thing in life is “a soul tuned by love.” (pp. 46-7). The poet’s natural musicality is transpired in one of the later poems of this chapter, “Listening to Philipp Glass.” The poet in his extended metaphor opens a secret of the composer’s gift, saying that “we are an active part of the music” since it directly “connects us to the sky” [to God]. (p. 55).
The third chapter’s title, “My Minsk (Miensk till 1938) is Ottawa,” unites and includes two home cities of the poet into his private eternity. This infinity of his life’s journey is signified by a number of stopovers. Each of these twenty-one poems has the main character, either a personality or a place (city or country). They are dedicated to nature, music, God, ‘lightness of being’, a cultural figure, among whom are artists (Chagall and Malevich), philosophers of different times and cultures (Yamamoto Tsunetomo and Ludwig Wittgenstein), the modernist poet Charles Baudelaire and a genius, Josef Brodsky, family and many like-minded friends.

“Your dear voice I will be listening forever…” is the closing chapter of the poet’s collection. Like the previous one, this chapter comprises twenty-one poems. It seems that the number twenty-one could be symbolically contributed to Juraś Šamiećka’s everlasting ardour in his poetic tribute to life. Indeed, the poet’s youthful lyrical temperament is in complete concordance with a maturity of energetic knowledge received during his life.
The first poem of the chapter, “A letter,” demonstrates undying youthful mutual love that the poet celebrates in his letter to the beloved. In it he sings an anthem to the couple’s present and future: “We are together… You are with me forever … / A fate cannot be stopped and simplified / I wrote the happy letter, a reminder/ That our journey has a long, long way.” (p. 89). The next poem, “Fires of your autumn” is not less colourful and optimistic. It unites a vision of the season’s landscape with mutuality of the couple’s fate: “Our fate with unchangeable faith / entrusted us with all it ever hold in possession /. (p. 90). The same gratitude to the beloved wife and togetherness of fate permeates the rest of the chapter and sounds particularly strong in a short poem “Your dear voice I will be listening forever ” and “You are searching in my poems for a source of music’s beauty.” (pp. 92-3), as well as “Home” and “Your day” (pp. 104-05). The theme’s acme, however, is in Vergil’s inspired words: One has to love a woman more than inspiration.” (p. 106).

To conclude, in addition to the high quality of thematic and prosody lyricism of the collection, we shall underline and highlight the poet’s remarkable and, therefore, hardly translatable use of his native tongue. It is rich, clever, and sophisticated. In short, the poetry lover shall anticipate that Juraś Šamiećka’s new volumes will bring us a similar esthetic satisfaction as his artistic Niepradkazalnae (Unpredictable) has brought to the reader in 2019.

Dr. Zinaida Gimpelevich

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