Runa Svetlikova

- Belgium -

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.


Dieuwetje Mertens