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To the light that does not burn, does not blind, but that appears on the road to those set

The Russian imperial politics have throughout history limited the Kalmyk culture, from the early oral epos “Dzjangar” to contemporary poetry. In this lyrical essay by Dordzhi Dzhaldzhireev, it’s clear how the past lingers on to the present.

Credits Dordzhi Dzhaldzhireev Translation: Tatiana Bonch (essay) & Venya Gushchin (poems) July 10 2024

To the light that does not burn, does not blind, but that appears on the road to those set aside,
that discerns preamble from the permeable,
that would nest on a tree in a flash.

In Kalmyk (Oirat) history, as well as in its culture, there were many turmoils and triumphs, many losses and gains. We should begin with declaring that Kalmyks are one of the nations of Western Mongolian group, who are descendants of Oirat tribes which migrated from Central Asia in late 16th early 17 centuries, specifically, from the Dzungar Khanate (Kalmyk: Зүн Һарин хана улс), the Oirat-Mongol statehold, to Lower Volga and Northern Caspian region, to establish their own statehood – the Kalmyk Khanate. Nevertheless, later the tsarist government of the Russian Empire started to apply the policy of limiting autonomy and launched the process of colonization of the Kalmyk territories by Russian landowners and peasants, reducing the pasture lands and infringing the rights of the feudal elite.

The mass exodus of Kalmyk people to the Dzungar Khanate, their historical homeland, became the resistance to this process. As a result, Kalmyk ethnos lost more than 100 000 people killed in fights, from wounds, cold, hunger, diseases, as well as imprisonment. In October 1771, Catherine the Great abolished the Kalmyk Khanate. At that time national minorities were treated rather dismissively in Russia, they were called nothing less than “barbarians” and “second class people”. They were used mostly as people at service, for guarding the national borders from other “barbarians”, and that was the reason for many Kalmyk people to join different kinds of rebellions such as the rebellion of Emelyan Pugachev (1773-1775). But the Tsarist power was greatly supported by Kalmyk nobles and in response Kalmyks took part in many wars of the Russian empire. The 1917 Revolution splintered Kalmyk people decisively not just into “white” (those on the side of the white movement defending the values of the Stolypin Russian and later forced to emigrate) and “red” (those on the side of socialism and related movements), but as the result of collectivization it broke the traditional Kalmyk culture, depriving it of its inherited nomadism and unifying Kalmyk life customs with the customs of all people of the young at that time Soviet Union.

However the most terrible tragedy, which literally destroyed the Kalmyk way of life, was the treacherous deportation of the Kalmyk people. According to various data, more than 40 thousand people out of 97-98 thousands deported to Siberian exile died between 1943 and 1950. Undoubtedly, the goal of deportation was complete destruction of Kalmyk people, whereas the official, though absurd reason, was declared to be the creation of the so called “Kalmyk Cavalry Corp” by the Third Reich, filled with Kalmyks who were “dissatisfied with the Soviet regime” with a total number of over three thousand people. Literally every Kalmyk family suffered from the deportation. Genocide and ongoing assimilations brought Kalmyk language in danger of extinction at the current moment. Several generations of Kalmyks have grown up since that time, but the wound from those events is still open as an unreflected burden manifesting itself in the contemporary (after February 24, 2022) split of the Kalmyk society into quite expected parties, as well as in forced or volunteer emigration and in the processes of loss of national identity.

Speaking of the past, the present, and the future of Kalmyk literature, of course, we should mention its immediate foundation (which consists not so much of oral traditions, but of the Kalmyk culture itself, their understanding of the world and their place in it) – that is Dzungar epos (Cxañhr - Kalmyk: Җаңhр). Separation of Kalmyk literature from the overall Mongol culture originates in the creation of the Kalmyk Khanate in 1635, when the Oirat people began to think about themselves as a nation different from Mongols. In 1648, Zaya-Pandita, Oirat and Kalmyk Buddhist activist, created Todo-bichig (Clear script), the Kalmyk own writing system. Since then, apart from epic tales, Kalmyk literature developed in the genres of chronicles, magical writings, divinations, road writings (pilgrimage journeys to Tibet), and folklore texts (for example: “Магтал” (Magtal - praise), “Йөрəл” (Йөрəл - good wishes), “Харал” (Haral - curse, wishing harm to another person), “Сургал” (Surgal - teaching and aphorisms) and “Кемәлhн” (Kemal'n - poetic narrative inscribed on a bone, a specific folklore genre of Kalmyk folk art. The most important and necessary element of presentation of these works is the 25th vertebra of a sheep), as well as Buddhist catechisms. The poetic book by Bowajew Badma, Kalmyk educator, poet and Buddhist priest, “Чикнә хужр гидг нертә дун оршва” (Çiknə hujr gidg nertə dun orşva - Pleasure for hearing), which completed Ancient Kalmyk literature is worth a special mention.

However, the mentioned above historical split of the Kalmyk people happened in the literature as well. The brightest representative of the “white movement” living in emigration in the twentieth century, was Sanzhi Balykov (1894-1943), the author of a collection of stories «Stronger than the power» and a novel «Maiden’s honour» (published in 1938). Harti Kanukov (1883-1933) and Nimgir Manjiyev (1905-1936) are considered to be the founders of the new Kalmyk literature of the early 20th century. Harti Kanukov wrote proclamations in poetic form and propaganda leaflets that he published in his newspaper «Улан хальмг» (Ulan halmg - Red Kalmyk). Nimgir Manjiyev was a writer, poet and playwright, whose works were published in various editions: a collection of stories «hashuta hunn» (Bitter truth), plays «Мууhин сүл, сәәни түрүн» (Muuhin sül, səəni türün - The end of the bad is the beginning of the good), «Өмн hарсан чикнәс — хөө урhсн өвр үлдг» (Ömn harsan chiknəs — khöö urhsn övr üldg - Horns that appeared later are longer than ears that grew up earlier) and so on.

From that time the genre of social realism began to emerge and dominate in Kalmyk literature. During the Stalinist repressions, huge damage was caused to the development of Kalmyk literature, when charges were filed against many writers accused of counter-revolutionary activities, and many of them were shot. After the 1957 rehabilitation, the Kalmyk people got an opportunity to return to the places from which they were deported. During this time a new generation of writers was formed, with David Kugultinov (1922-2006) being the most prominent of them. David Kugultinov was a National poet of the Kalmyk ASSR (1969), he was the author of many poetry collections and poetic tales, including perhaps the most famous of them, «I did not renounce the truth».

Here I conclude the short historical lecture, which I hope was not drawn out, hoping that it may form some understanding of the Kalmyk literature in the reader’s mind or cause interest in Kalmyk people, their literature and culture.

Most of my life I have lived in Elista, the capital of the Republic of Kalmykia, that I can undoubtedly call my home, but whenever I lived (and I change places quite often so that people who know me sometimes don’t know where I am), I always remember with tenderness my native village Iki-Chonos, where all my family comes from, which has shaped me, which is woven into my hearing, into the conductivity of my premonitions, grown into my bones (Kalmyks believe that the mother’s blood and soft tissues act as a substance that transmits genetic memory and physical heredity, whereas the father’s bones transmit the family origin). Here is a straight asphalted road leading to the village, that disappears in the haze of summer morning heat. Even now these memories languish in my body with the imprint of my grandmother’s embrace saturated with the smell of fresh milk in the steppe after milking cows, then replaced suddenly by an unbridled race of a pack of local boys, in which I come last as usual. Around us are the endemic bushes curled by the heat, so that they look more like seaweed frozen in the process of evolution, like unfolded buds of dried out cores of dreaming. They look like a dance in pursuit of escape. Plants reflect the space by a catalytic regeneration, expressed in a permanent prediction. They unravel their suffocation with an undirected flowering. The height of everything passed on the way to the sun is the despair pierced by a body. Ahead you can see a dried out bed of Yashkul river. Unsurpassed flatness / jealousy / of the horizon of the skies in relation to the steppe is similar to the hidden blackout of a blade that breathes into the back of your head.

It seems that the sky is a river that has never found its borders. While any promise, oath or a simple intention creates ghosts. There are many stories about people lost in the steppe, literally walking in circles, but at that moment a man believes that everything is covered in a fog, while he walks by a straight line. Some people also mention visions and hallucinations they experienced in which appeared people and various events and “shulmusy” – evil demons sent to the people by Erlik Khana, the lord of the underground kingdom of the dead. One can only guess whether this is some kind of steppe hysteria similar to “meryachenia”, common in the lands of the Northern people, or “lata” which happens in Southern-Eastern Asia. In other words, the steppe is a pure chance of nature, a fascinating special potentiality where mirages can materialize at any moment. This is a place where literally anything can happen. The steppe is devoid of any possible centricity, being one large periphery, in contrast to any other landscape. A disappeared event has happened. And somewhere at an entrance to the village a car would stop and a driver would ask a boy on a horse herding sheep: Tana selәnd endәs kedy duund mand kyrxvidn? дсүднн (”How many songs would it take to get to your villages”). From ancient times, Kalmyks measured distance by a number of songs performed along the way.

One can argue that my personal formation comes entirely from Kalmyk national and cultural heritage, and from my identity formed directly from the above. But I haven’t seen Europe as a land of glory, greatness of empires and so on, but as some land of revelations, ideas, Greek rebetikos, Benandanti, tafurs, anarchists, and all kinds of people of fortune. Worth to say that Kalmyk culture, combining European and Asian features within it, is quite eclectic.

My first passion was music, and I have listened to hip-hop since childhood (especially its boom bap subgenre), as well as to the dub, reggae, and raggamuffin. I was very much interested in folk music as well as the music of various nations that eventually drove me to improvisation with my voice and simulating the voices of animals even in my childhood. I invented languages and imitated recitative, glossolalia, and experimented with the sounds of various things at hand that I could just find. At that time I had a stutter, but upon encountering poetry and being amazed by the purity and magic of its language, I started to read aloud for the first time and gradually spoke without this feature. My searches for creative realisation cannot be called systematic ones, but intuitively I aimed to get closer to the sound, gesture, and making sense before coming to the practice of poetic writing as such. The study of theology and especially heresiology were of great importance for me.

The hymnopedic and ritual aspects of the subjects I studied led me to big changes in structuring of texts. Rhythm, phonetic similarities in the pronunciation of words, interval, voice, all these seemed to me a way of transmitting information, the information that seemed to be another emotionality, from which I believed, other worlds were being created, including Heaven and Hell, and any prophecies connecting us not at all with the future, but with the essences of said spaces. This is a sensitivity, obsession with which imitates its own impossibility. Imperceptible in a rational way, but just intuitively, by one meaning ahead, it is free of interpretations. I consider the traditional comprehension of the meaning as a rudiment of the search for a perfect language. Speaking about the methodology of my writing, I should admit I approach it more situationally, as constructing a text I am constructing myself. Though as you can see I try to interrupt and “infect” the linearity of the writing with printed symbols (fractions, lines, and so on), in which I implement contextual, viral branching or additions. The most important aspect of poetic optics for me is the study of the reproduction of new experiences, possible and impossible (production of impossible bodies). Objects of my studies of the world through the poetic prism are space, deanthropocentricity, consciousness of plants, liberation of animals, renewable energy, optical phenomena, etc.

Speaking about my creative works, one cannot leave unnoticed the context of decolonisation. Since I consider myself being a Kalmyk author using Russian language in writing, the same “decolonisation” of the language in my understanding occurs in depriving the Russian language of the code of tradition of “the great Russian culture”, replacing it with the Kalmyk cultural vision of the world and a -corresponding identity. However I work with my native language as well, which can be considered as the resistance to the imposition of the Russian language and global processes of assimilation in relation to many nations inhabiting the Russian Federation. It is very difficult, if at all possible, for representatives of different nations to say something in the Russian literary process, especially now, because regional literature is hardly developed in relation to institutions and in many republics there are neither literary journals, nor state support. From the beginning, I had to fight for every publication, sending it to journals, thereby gnawing for the right of my poetic vision to exist. Unfortunately, the national aspect cannot be excluded. From time to time, one has to face open xenophobia from pro-state and other more “traditional” institutions, and even from individuals in the literary community of the Russian Federation. I often heard “dudaevshina” label (formed from the name of the leader of the movement for independence for Chechnya) addressed to the poets with de-colonial views. I’d like to note that the fight against hierarchically organised communities, cultural and ethnic marginalization, xenophobia, nazism and imperial views, as well as similar contexts, are the components by which I want to be useful and where I see the main perspectives of de-colonialism of my writing.

As I mentioned in an interview answering a question about the nature of my line: “daily surface stretches by the nodes of recalled explosions”, when I was in Komarovo (at “Kurort” festival where poets were awarded with the prize named after Arkady Dragomoschenko in 2021, which I, fortunately or unfortunately, received), I mentioned this line during a fleeting conversation with a poet I knew, assuming that if everything around us would no longer wish to stay in its “recalled state”, that may be, this world ceases to be as such, but becomes something else, which has unfortunately happened. The world changed, ceasing to be world/peace.[1] But I have a goal, like many other people with similar spirit, it is to change, despite our obvious vulnerability, this often unfair, sometimes even intimidating order of things. I apply all my efforts to create new Kalmyk poetry and try to find young Kalmyk authors, and help people of other nations to find their places for poetic sayings, including inside the international context.

[1] The word ”mir” in Russian means both ”world” and ”peace”


to my family.

dedicated to the kalmyks who suffered under political repression

i see in their eyes
how the crumbly pommels of trees
regain their color
halfway to earth
so little space
to become dead

and your wounds swirling in coagulating tightness
became as the grins of birds
corroding the sky with a bewitched suffocation
but now i let them go by the unquenchable wrath of the river like bread
to the choking: the gnawed-up shadow on your sleeve
-risen like a rejected stone||:
/like an affected inaccessibility/-
-/like a treasure that makes events repeat themselves/-/like an excess of vision/

: portending (vertical)
: deciphering (horizontal)

a furtive botanical ovary of lack’s rapt attention
stops coinciding with itself

is this not a despotic and brilliant closeness

frozen hands kiss the splintering
frozen hands are the butterflies of purity
the start of an already interrupted gesture
this is the dogma of gas

unscrewing as a total teeth-bared inapplicability
of the endlessly fragile night
tugging aside the shoulders
the elder mouth drinks up
with the melody of suddenly extinguished furnaces
still searches for his childhood

it’s always like the first time
we’ll become the periphery of your hearing
we’ll become the aftertaste of raw milk in the steppe
we’ll become such that now it will be worth forgetting us

but we won’t count as victims
hardly the kind people still expect
only the kind that time demands of us
we’ll become the elements

become the first wall
the second wall
the third and fourth wall
i suppose i was nearly wished on by you



For A. A. Razin

: the kinetics of expansiveness is limitlike :|: in relation to the radicality of the mode :|:
(of discovery) : |through recombinations of deflections| :interrupting the surroundings:
:trajectories of restoration are endless in deviations from them:
:this is lightness: prefiguring blinding silver|.|:::|:

1BR 29 sq m
prize the dream of mercury
what’s more, the heavens still exist
so that no one can grasp them

something better could be said of defeat
i was convinced of that
when the birds began to heal
and the bunches of black locust
tasted like adam’s childhood

* tėpp•śәr (lit. ‘dry misfortune’) – a traditional form of ritual suicide by hanging or self-immolation for the purpose of taking revenge on an enemy or demonstrating one’s innocence.

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