Pamela Renner is a writer from New York City, currently living in Almaty, Kazakhstan. She is a Senior Lecturer in English at KIMEP University. A former Fulbright Scholar in arts criticism, she resided in Tbilisi, Georgia from 2007-2009. Interested in poetry, theatre and art since childhood, Pamela has been writing creatively since the age of 8. She has also enjoyed attending theatre performances since her early years, when she often accompanied her aunt and parents to see Shakespeare performed in New York City’s Central Park at the Delacourt Theatre.
For much of the past five years, Pamela Renner has resided in the post-Soviet regions of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, living first in Tbilisi, Georgia and currently in Almaty, Kazakhstan. This ongoing encounter with Eurasia has inspired many of the works in her book of poems, The Silk Road Wanderer. She believes many of these poems would not have been written without that experience as a forge.
Pamela’s work as a theatre journalist has appeared in American Theatre Magazine, the New Yorker’s Going on About Town, the Village Voice, and The New York Times; her poetry appears in Four Quarters magazine. Pamela has received poetry awards from the W.B. Yeats Society of New York, the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, as well as Yale University’s Veech Prize for Most Distinguished Imaginative Writing and Yale’s Cook Prize for best group of unpublished poems.
A Senior Lecturer in English who enjoys teaching international students, Pamela Renner has taught writing at the City University of New York and Empire State College. She has also been a faculty member at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA), and at the KIMEP University Language Center.
The Silk Road Wanderer
Poetry book (fragment)
State of National Emergency
As we watch, two men on the balcony cut down
every banner hanging from the Opera House.
Only a fat Spanish soprano survives
the state of emergency ban.
Oh but maybe she’ll sing Wagner now?
Around the corner a khaki truck
hands out fifty cold cokes
to fifty men in camouflage.
At the center of Tbilisi—
wheezing silence, an older fear
unpacked from its suitcase, its camphor.
One more young revolution betrayed
in a small country far away.
On the southern rim of the former USSR,
where Lermontov, Tolstoy, and Mandelstam came
to taste peaches, wine, and dark-eyed girls,
to see the young men leap on their toes,
and fly: spirit warriors of the wood.
Two months ago, I was new to town.
The hills smelled of pine needles.
Caucasus peaks scraped the stars raw.
Summer seemed endless.
During the days leading up to
The Rose Revolution, four years before,
Nino left her nursing son,
to join the crowds of people marching
in front of Parliament,
to oust a corrupt president,
and build a new government.
“Today my country needs me.”
His grandmother took the child in her arms.
In the street, students held roses.
Nino, returning after dark—
milk streaking down her shirt—
sat with her child,
her eyes tender and wild.
Four years passed.
The cycle spun,
streets filled again with protests,
then riot police, a futile, weary violence.
Who could know the deadness
of those days afterwards,
when the television news goes dark,
the radio sputters out?
And when the paramilitary troops have gone
wherever bogeymen go,
is inhumanly slow.
Lado and I walk past the rows of regular Georgian troops
forming in mid-day processions.
In a vacant café off Freedom Square
(formerly Lenin square)
we talk of Pirosmani’s work.
“As a Georgian child in Soviet times,”
Lado says, “Pirosmani existed,
so I wanted to paint.”
Because we are all fated to imitate
our worst models; because it is difficult
to make a new state from the wreckage of the old:
because democracy is a child of passion
(easily abandoned by its father
when it starts to teeth and wail),
we talk of art, the paradox of fragile things
that cannot be broken by blows.
November 8th, 2007
Alma-Ata father of apples
contain my sadness.
Father of apples
contain my sadness
among your infinite fountains,
your Soviet memories,
bazaars and gelid mountains.
Contain my sadness, muted
by voluptuous snow.
Give me shelter, Alma-Ata
among the nomad ancestors’
migrant souls. Empty is my hand;
I have left my mother and father
far off in an occupied land.
Already the leaves are russet
the vines a canopy
over the final apples
which no one will taste.
Violet sky above the jagged Alatau
offers what there is of heaven
laying bare the illusion below.
The paths of Tengri-Umai come alive
languid as a bear rising from long slumber.
What now? Slow to wake, in a woozy hall
of broken statues, he’ll claim as his own
ardent poppies; a new year’s sunrise,
snow fall, sunset, ice melt, thunder.
If earth convulses before our eyes
is it his doing, our wonder? A quake splits
fields asunder, torn at the seismic girth.
What life comes next, what birth?
The suckling bell of a white cloud
clasped lean on the mountain breasts,
heaves suddenly, and belches twice,
and on this night the winter crests
ineffably to equinox. Two shudders
crack baroque thresholds of the rich,
begrimed Khrushchevski of the poor.
In the teeming markets there is awe.
A shepherd brings a lamb to slaughter,
idling his truck along a trembling road,
wet with the mold and mulch of thaw.
To raise the spirit in the horde one man
plays his long-necked lute, dombra,
dombra, his threnody of just two strings.
In Kurmangazi’s eternity, one hears
rhythmic hooves beat golden wood;
it may be thus some unknown God
quickens his creatures and heats their blood.
From dry-headed mountains, batyrs ride
through miasmas of dioxide, radioactive
riverbeds, steel skymalls and beveled
bank towers—capitalist and Soviet hubris
lacerating landscape block by block.
Enduring, they come to build a fire-circle
and sacrifice the ram of Avraham and Isaac.
I have come, too, belonging nowhere else.
At night, returning home I unlock metal gates;
fruit trees nod in the symphonic wind,
orchestrating apple, pear and walnut
kyui on silent strings. Consider growing old
here, never finding the one great love:
how moon and stars, a rough,
immense music of steppe and sky,
could be consolation enough.