Contemporary Kazakh Poetry


I would like to express my thanks to Cambridge University Press and The National Bureau of Translations (Kazakhstan) for kindly allowing The High Window to publish these translations. I would also like to thank Belinda Cooke for her help in curating this supplement. The extract from Ilias Jansugurov‘s epic poem is taken from the edition published by NBT. The remaining versions here have been selected from Contemporary Kazakh Literature: Poetry (Cambridge University Press. 2019), an anthology which is part of Rukhani Zhangyru, an initiative designed by the First President of Kazakhstan. Futher details will be found here.

The editor.


The Poets

Ilias JansugurovOlzhas SuleimenovMukhtar Shakhanov Akushtap BakhtygereyevaKulash AkhmetovaValeriy MikhailovNadezhda ChernovaYessengali Raushanov Gulnar Salyqbay • Aliya DauletbayevaYerlan ZhunisTanakoz TolkynkyzyNazira Berdaly 

The Translators

Belinda CookeRoza KudabayevaPatricia McCarthyAlistair NoonDavid Cooke


Previous Translations

THW 14: June 17, 2019  THW 13 March 20, 2019  

THW 12 December 10, 2018   THW 11  September 5, 2018

THW 10: May 21, 2018  THW 9: March 7, 2018

THW 8: December 6, 2017  THW 7: September 10, 2017

xxxxxx THW6:  June 3, 2017  THW5: March 7, 2017                

THW4: December 6, 2016  THW3: September 1, 2016    

THW2: June 1, 2016  THW1: March 1, 2016



Ilias Jansugurov: Extract from Kulager translated by Belinda Cooke

Ilias Jansugurov’s  poem Kulager, ostensibly the true story of the poet Akan, whose beloved horse Kulager is killed in a race by a rival, is a thinly disguised allegory of the destiny of many writers in Kazakhstan. The narrative unfolds within an authentic and rich portrayal of the now lost Kazakh nomadic society with all its traditions of public events and everyday life in its mountains, lakes and steppe and their abundant overflowing of poetry and music. 


Born in the mountains among rocks,
with ice as my bed, and snow my battleground.
Shepherding lambs in Arshaly,
I grew up touching the clouds in the sky.

Glittering white jewel, Aktasty,
on the jagged heights of Jonke
eagles screaming in the skies beneath –
my motherland.

And so I am a Kazakh who loves mountains,
unable to endure the life of the plains.
My Almaty at the heart of Alatau,
blows a breeze of songs and kuis.

All my life I have praised these mountains:
the Himalayas, Caucasus, Jonke, Altai, Alai.
A medley of giants so much part of me,
how can I leave them out of my heart and songs?

My poem draws on these mountain peaks
enduring as a mountain spring,
save one mountain rich in stories,
a bubbling source as yet untapped.

O rich green forest, idyllic drowsiness…
this lake, a beauty’s eyes, their snow-covered
glitter of gravel, coral, agate and pearl,
rustling there on the lake’s shore.

The green ripening carpet is spellbound.
Green silk leaves are in full blossom.
White snow sugar pours from the sky –
straightaway honey springs carve through rocks.

Why look for beautiful mountains elsewhere,
when we have so many of our own?
I am always proud to praise them
but now is the time for Kokshetau.

Okjetpes rises glaringly before us,
a bulging breast swung up into the sky,
its high cliffs, rocky caves, and camel-sized rocks,
all carefully placed around the lake.

Kokshetau does not battle with the sky,
unlike the treacherous Caucasus:
Khantaniri, Altai and Jonke,
snow-blocked, impenetrable and pathless.

No, Kokshetau is paradise on earth,
nurturing its own beauty in this endless steppe.
This generous mountain is hospitable and gentle,
a healer curing all disease.

Ilyas Jansugurov (1894 – 1938) lived through a time of tempestuous change. His youth was dictated and enriched by nomadic traditions, but the Revolution and subsequent Stalinist regime, meant he, like other intellectuals had to absorb Russian language and culture both to survive as well as represent their country. Discussions on social struggle in the Kazakh context were central to this. He rose in the literary ranks and was first president of the Writers’ Union of Kazakhstan from 1934-1936.  However, his writing increasingly expressed criticism of the regime and he was repressed in 1937 and shot the following year.

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Olzhas Suleimenov: Three Poems translated by Belinda Cooke


Language of our fathers, ancient language,
time has transformed you to fired clay.
The blow of your sword, the whistle of your lash,
you contain male pride and female passion.

You express the forgotten dialects of
Sumerians and Huns, the wheeze of Mongolian words,
Where were you born? In the fires of seven languages?
You travel to us through our veins.

And you can be heard filling your body
with a blow to the heart, a ringing of souls.
I wouldn’t exchange one word of my fate.
I swear I will come to you.

Thus from distant, happy travels,
this son returns to his forgotten father,
all dressed up in bright expensive attire,
if not at the start of his life then the end.


A man was walking the steppe.
On and on he walked.
Where was he going and why?
It is not for us to know.
Deep in the hollow he saw a wolf,
a she-wolf, a mother to be precise …
She lay there panting and trembling
in the thicket undergrowth,
paws thrown back and teeth bared,
blood thick as dirt streaming from her throat,
Who could possibly have done this—
a wolf? A pack of hounds?
No way her blind wolf cubs could know,
jostling and growling there as they sucked
from this immense intractible mother.
The hungry wolf cubs forgot
how powerfully the dill smelt in the undergrowth,
they nestled up to their mother,
her thick blood growing cold,
yet greedily they drank it
doing all they could to ease their thirst.
And with the mother’s blood they sucked revenge,
as blind as the cubs themselves.
They must find someone to hate.
Who? Anyone.
Only they must be sure not to forgive
but they must do it alone,
and together,
though when they meet up
they will take vengeance on each other…
The man walked his road
No need for us to know where or why.
He was a hunter of wolves,
but he didn’t touch the wolf cubs —

The mother no longer protected them.


The bridge is pretending
to be a black rainbow,
The rain is pretending to be
London rain.
They clap their hands.
but he is not happy:
a slapping of wet soles.
The disease is pretending to be flu.
This woman is playing hard to get
The door opens with a creak.
The door closes with a knock.
The man is pretending to be
an ordinary person –
but he’s not very good at it …
just a bit too much
of a ne’er-do-well…
I wish I was able
to pretend to be the Prince of Denmark …
You, there, what would you advise?
You agree that talent is to be able to pretend …
So how can you pretend
to be sad
if you already are
See these faces?
They have a desperate resilience.
Surely they will be sad.
But these people won’t retreat.
They hug you till they crack your ribs,
and sit on a chair with a bang.
We are unhappy, and you like it.
How condescending and evil is that.
We are sullen to make you happy.
We are sad so you can be lucky.
Tired to death of acting,
you open your door
like a thief.
You sleep
and dream of applause.
… In the courtyard, someone is beating a blanket
with a stick.

Olzhas Suleimenov (b. 1936) is a poet, literary scholar, politician and anti-nuclear activist. He has been an editor in film and publishing, secretary of the Writers’ Union of Kazakhstan and chairman of the Kazakh SSR State Committee on Cinematography. He also served as the ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Rome and to UNESCO. Suleimenov’s most influential work, AZi-Ya, appeared in 1975 and since then he has published numerous other important titles. He has been awarded the Lenin Komsomol Prize (Kazakh SSR), the State Prize of the Kazakh SSR, the USSR Komsomol Prize, and a number of other state and international prizes, orders and medals.

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Mukhtar Shakhanov:  Poem translated by Belinda Cooke


Terrible to admit,
almost all of us
should be afraid
of ourselves above everything…
I remember
how a few years ago,
staying in the Himalayas
I once met
a tiger hunter:
‘Just imagine
you are walking
along the side of a mountain
deep in of the forest
and suddenly, unexpectedly
out of nowhere
right in front of you
there is a striped tiger
with terrible predatory eyes.
What are you going to do?’
he asked me.
Somewhat taken aback,
I shrugged my shoulders.
‘The main thing,’ —
he continued,
‘is to stand firm
and to look him
straight in the eyes
and not to bend.
That’s your only chance.
For if you go on all fours
like an animal,
then that’s your lot —
you’ve had it!
He’ll be on you in a trice
like a coiled spring
with one powerful leap…’
And scientists are puzzled.
Why does the tiger hate it
when a man
takes on the look
of an animal?
Even God
created tigers
in such a noble form
to inspire humans
to be like them.
So when I see some
individual bowed down
and fawning,
I see red –
I want to jump on him
like a tiger.
In Almaty,
where I spent
my youth,
the wife
of a powerful businessman
from high society,
was flaunting her
gold-striped fur coat,
bragging about the fact
that she was wearing
the pelt of
the very last tiger
of the Himalayan mountains.
I just didn’t want to believe
what she was saying.
The Himalayas are immense,
and mysteriously wise –
If there are no tigers left,
then the mountains have died.
You should read the thoughts of the creator
in the eyes of the tiger.

Mukhtar Shakhanov (b. 1942) is a poet and public figure. He is well known for leading the commission on the Jeltoqsan Tragedy, the rigidly suppressed Kazakh youth upheaval against Soviet rule in 1986, and for raising awareness of the need to protect the Aral Sea. He has had numerous prominent roles as a political figure. He is currently editor-in-chief of Jalyn journal and the leader of the Tauelsizdikti Qorghau People’s Movement. He has published almost twenty books and has also written plays. His works have been translated into some sixty foreign languages.

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Akushtap Bakthygereyeva: Two Poems translated by Belinda Cooke


Night distances, filled with
winter silence.
Eyes grow tired
from the intense light.

The flash of dawn is still not close.
Joyfully we head home with you,
loathe to leave from visiting friends
in this time of celebration.

Houses, woods and road,
uniting everything and everyone —
gradually shrouding with
blinding thick snow.

Snow. Snow! Year on year
we do our part and wait for it.
And here it lies, gift of nature,
on our shoulders — like one of our own,

its tracks under the poplar’s canopy —
I was ablaze because you were beside me,
my fluffy headscarf all the more
fluffy and warm from the snow.

Was it the beginning of spring –
the day you kissed me for the first time?
Maybe that’s why I forgot about the winter,
forgot to shake off the snow when I came home…

…not one word, you didn’t let me
realise this so you would shake off the snow.
Snowflakes rested on my shoulders
then slipped to the floor.

As if burnt by a sudden flame,
I felt afraid, despaired.
It seemed that my silk dress
was slipping from my shoulders…


What brings you to the steppe?
A mystery, given there’s no sea here.
Tear-filled grief seems to lie in your eyes —
Could it be you are also in love?

What troubles lie in your breast
you circling lost alone,
wings so heavy, across the steppe?
Could it be you are also in love?

What sadness weighs down your eyes?
What wounds have scarred you?
What strength let you circle half the world?
Could it be you are also in love?

White-winged spirit of blue expanse,
will you always be so free? –
What winds drive you across the hills?
Could it be you are also in love?

Akushtap Bakhtygereyeva (b.1944) has worked in publishing and film, and is currently head of the literary association Qalamger, and chairperson of the West Kazakhstan branch of the Writers’ Union of Kazakhstan. She has written several collections of poems and published two volumes of selected poems; some of her works have been translated into Russian. She is also the author of lyrics for numerous popular songs, and has translated many Russian poets into Kazakh.

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Kulash Akhmetova: Poem translated by Belinda Cooke


Or when they ask you: ‘How many languages do you speak?’
When inspiration comes to me
and each word burns as if on fire,
suddenly I know all words, speaking
in tongues, even to birds – to the snow itself,
as it flashes past me like a blue shadow.

My love, don’t argue with me right now —
a flash of inspiration and I subdue the storm.
I understand all feeling —
Petrarch inclining to Laura,
Byron in the rustle of the garden.

My verses rise with the flowers,
in tune with the Russian oak forests:
Rossini’s music is created
from the birds in the sky –
I can magic his music into words.

I translate from all the languages of the earth.
Can comprehend the heart and soul,
I seek to grasp the forest’s rustling,
the smoke rising falteringly over bonfires –
all will gain in me the living word.

I will give language to the forest and mountain valleys.
With the strength of words I can smash metal.
Like the night, like the very cores of the high stars,
and I understand the soul of someone close to me,
and the bright mind of a stranger.
I understand the movements of pure rivers,
and the bush in flame.
I possess all languages of the world
with my heart,
but I respond to the world – in Kazakh.

Kulash Akhmetova (b. 1946) has worked for newspapers and in publishing and is the author of more than twenty collections of poetry. Akhmetova’s early poetry is highly regarded for its portrayal of the psychology and status of women.  Some of her later poems  reflect more on issues of national identity, although they still present her as a lyric poet. Her works have been translated into several languages. She has also translated into Kazakh verses by Bengali, Russian and Lithuanian poets.

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Valeriy Mikhailov: Four Poems Translated by Belinda Cooke

The lantern rocked and creaked,
alone in the inaudible snowstorm,
the snow flew and flew and flew —
higher and higher and higher.

In the dark, in the lacklustre sky,
a milky light shone.
In the dead of night at the gates
the lantern groaned in the wind.

A world so strange, so strange, so strange,
snow coming up to the roofs,
our own house flew in from heaven —
closer and closer and closer.

Deep in my soul, deep in my soul,
somehow it had got lost.
No windows or doors in it,
only funnels of light.


Along the country road forsaken by God,
in that steppe, where there is nothing but feather grass,
I stroll mindlessly along,
barefoot, hearing the tender dust.

Feather grasses are brooms clinging to the wind.
For a hundred versts not a village in sight.
What do I care for lies circling the world.
How this golden dust is warm!

In this land forsaken by God, perhaps
the greatest kindness would be
to allow you to roam the field for an hour,
barefoot in the dust, like a light-bay horse.

While the clouds keep away, the dust
is gentle, the sun-filled light is warm.
I would happily stroll indifferent to meaning –
futile to look for it where there is none.


Blue fences, grey houses.
Although the locks are weak, it’s still a prison.
Black sheep, like a red-brown camel in smoke.
Along the steppe people are scattered by a heavy sky.
In the dull heat haze the ages are melting.
Here, since birth they have dragged on like a life sentence.
You know, there is such a desert all around…
Where can one find one’s fate?
The grey poles are like a cordon.

Stately and tall, the clay brick of the town
of the dead flowered in the neighbourhood.
Dusty mazars are dumb and blind,
their crescent moons drinking the empty sky.

The tearing wind shakes the weed grass….
Is it a dream or a waking reality?
A train will pass through — and all that is there,
is a funeral moon, a telegraph pole.


And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, then my rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you …

Gen. 9, 14-15

Once, just the once, I saw a winter rainbow…
The snowstorm raged furiously in cascades of whirling snow.
The frost fiercely detested all the world, right to the heavens,
when suddenly, brightly lit, it climbed over the dead steppe.

It was on an early morning at a stop near Majkudyk,
where hunger once tortured the exiled more powerfully than hell,
where ever since the earth has seemed to groan,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxestranged and hollow
where the black hands of the dead, crying for mercy, stick out of the snow.

‘I will present you with my rainbow …’ — the wind blows icy cold,
‘… that it was a sign of the covenant … — (who will understand this?),
‘… between me and the earth … — and no one noticed
this winter rainbow as the people hurried to work.

The cramped, long-awaited bus crawled along…: one or two got off, one squeezed on…
The snowstorm whirled more intensely and burned with frost to the ground
This rainbow was in the sky a while as a brief interlude in compliment to the season —
till it disappeared — perhaps due to a cloud of snow from the snowstorm.

I only think of one thing when I remember the winter rainbow,
in that steppe where my flesh and blood were lost.
If hell on earth is the path to heavenly paradise,
did God send this colourful vision of light for those dying in winter? …

Note: Mazars  – mausoleums for distinguished figures of the past. Majkudyk: a village in the Karagandy regtion that suffered greatly in the famine of the 1930s.

Valeriy Mikhailov (b. 1946) is a poet, prose writer, publicist, and literary critic. He worked in mass media for over forty years. He has published numerous poetry collections, while his most much-acclaimed prose text, on Kazakhstan’s famine in the 1930s, has been translated into Kazakh, German and English. He has also written biographies of Russian poets as well as a book of literary portraits of Kazakh literary figures. He has translated several books from Kazakh into Russian and is a member of the Writers’ Unions of both Russia and Kazakhstan.

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Nadezhda Chernova: Four Poems Translated by Alistair Noon


All day, all night, he’s up there on the roof,
whether or not a storm is on the rise.
The hot air breathes. The sand is on the move.
The salt gnaws at his insomniac eyes.

Below, the mountain village lives and dies,
bears fruit again. It bathes in sand. The saltwort
drowns the rounded kilns. What paradise
it is to own a house of mud, it’s thought.

He sits immobile on that flat roof, though,
his eyes fixed on a blue blur in the distance,
the living sea
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthat left an age ago,
out there beyond the wall of midday mist.

He knows his tackle hasn’t rotted, so
he’s waiting, and his low-hulled boat’s still sound.
Time’s on a different watch. Governments blow
from other shores, the old life’s burnt to the ground.
All this bustling around!
Like ash flung from an urn,
it’ll all fly off and settle on the seabed.
The sea is timeless, it’s got to return.
He keeps his eyes set on it, straight ahead.


These cousins in fate have strong rapport,
these two white horses that rush through the mist.
Neither will fall for the noose any more.
Try shouting, they’ll raise their legs and resist.

Their consonantal trot is inspired,
the pair of them breaks the air as they go.
Who’ll fall first on the wild grass when tired?
Who’ll singe their lips on the year’s first snow?

In autumn dawns, whose call is that loud
when keeping the sky in sight is a slog?
A pair of stars among restless clouds,
these two white horses that fly through the fog.

These two white horses that fly through the mist,
relentlessly following on at our heels,
across the land where crops don’t exist.
And an eerie joy’s what my spirit feels…


A strange kind of wish we have here,
to grasp at a moment’s picture
of a tomtit, a cloud, or a deer,
then flick through our pages even quicker.

My only begotten, are you
a calfskin scroll, worn through,
or writing scratched on clay
that’s starting to crumble away?

But maybe at least a page,
a verse or a word will be saved
among the ash and dry dust.
From the skies, fire falls in waves,
mute, and talking in tongues.

Not knowing its worth,
the Creator sets fire
to His earth
so often you can’t keep up.
He turns our pages in the wind.
He doesn’t stop.
He doesn’t tire.


What happens is going to happen,
there’s nothing I’m bitter about.
I’ve had such heaps of happiness,
my mind can’t sort them all out.

Did you ever see bitterness bend
all the way down to the ground?
Oh all my bitter tears
are gone, they’re ocean-bound –

and there, they’ll descend and settle
in the light and quiet on that floor
to grow a pearl the size
of a grain of sand, in a jaw.

Nadezhda Chernova (b. 1947) is a poet, novelist, translator and critic. She has worked for various mass media and creative organisations and as a journal and publishing house editor. The prime subject of her poems is Kazakh history and traditions. Being a Russian writer with an excellent knowledge of Kazakh, she delivers the unique music and tone of the Kazakh language in her notable Dva Yazyka (Two Languages). Her poems and prose have been published in many journals in Kazakhstan, the former USSR countries and further afield. She has also translated works by foreign poets into Russian.

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Yessengali Raushanov: Two Poems Translated by Roza Kudabayeva and Belinda Cooke


Shadows die at dusk,
Because they should die anyway.
A riverside darkens, it becomes pitch black,
As if it swallowed thick blood.

Steppe is darkened too, as if soaked in blood.
Deaf universe,
Let me listen to you too.
Like a widow in a black shawl,
A lonely birch tree gave its shadow to the earth.

Sorry, my brother,
I’m not the one to blame,
A silent green sprout sobs shaking its head.
I buried them and came back today,
But nobody expressed any condolences to me.

The Auyl lies in a hollow next to a hill,
Why does the Sun stand still all in flames?
My grandmother is in my thoughts,
A war swallowed her husband,
a son and two brothers at once.

The Moon rises with the swollen face,
A road runs into the dense thicket.
…Tonight I won’t be able
to sleep again,
Dead souls coming into my dreams.



‘Here the people died’.
This black and wild mound,
silently wheezes.
The world is wretched,
like in November,
and is deaf to the offence,
in spite of reproach
after reproach.
Only the sand covers up
the past misfortune:
River beds dried up amidst the weeds…
Cattle died from hunger
in this terrible year…
After the cattle it was
man’s turn to perish.
The whirlwind lifts the sand…,
You see there
the thick locks of a dead girl,
the sand’s plantain
entwines them in longing,
all the while admiring her past beauty.
She was young.
She was alive…
A zhighit flew up to her on his horse,
that watched snorting to the side,
his bit between his teeth….
and their hearts burned, as in a fire.
Golden words,
rang of love,
the braid entwining her supple figure…


Note: auyl:  a rural settlement; zhigit: generally denotes a 25-40 year-old man. It can be used as an honorific denoting courage, fortitude and being true to one’s word.

Yessengali Raushanov  (b. 1957) has held senior positions at several journals and now runs the Jazushy publishing house. His poem ‘Qara Bauyr Qasqaldaq’ has become an anthem for the young Kazakhs, who rose up against Russian dictatorship in 1986. His poetry is distinctive because of the natural way he absorbs Kazakh folklore into his poetry. Raushanov has also written a novel. His ornithological essay collection has been translated into Russian, Uzbek and Kyrgyz. He has translated a book of poems by Uzbek poet Khamza Niyazi into Kazakh.

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Gulnar Salykbay:  Three Poems Translated by Roza

Waiting for you is like adding pepper to honey,
Like asking a smiling Midday to wait for the Moon,
Waiting for you is like placing an ice cube into the fire,
And being whipped by memories.

Waiting for you feels like being a blind cloud, lost in the sky,
Or feel nothing at all, but pretending to smile.
Waiting for you is like begging for emptiness,
Breaking like a flower’s stem under the sparrow’s weight.

Waiting for you is like spraying water on the sand, what a waste!
Or to open the door and face a beast instead of a friend.
Waiting for you is like looking in the mirror
And fleeing from your own reflection in disgust.

Waiting for you is like trying to light a candle made of ice.
Or wearing a necklace made of shiny crystals of salt that burn your skin.
Waiting for you is like crying alone
And feeling the taste of your tears on a sunny day.

Waiting for you is like having a charmed life on the seventh sky,
But I will never have a chance to fall as rain.
Waiting for you is like fighting a shadow,
You won’t lose, but what is the point of it anyway?

Waiting for you feels like being lost inside yourself,
Or being hungry and dream about bread.
Waiting for you is like turning into a white statue,
With a crying or laughing face – you choose.

Waiting for you becomes an art of expectation,
I tell myself that everything will be great.
My eyes are getting tired, but I’m waiting
Until all colours of the world will slowly fade.

I’m waiting for you, no lies and doubts.
Who will refuse such happiness? Kidding I’m not.
I’m waiting for you till my soul will be dethroned.
Because you is me and me is you.


If I fall asleep, don’t wake me up,
Be yourself, not the echoes of others.
Don’t look for me when I’m gone,
You will know when I want to be found.

Meet my evening with your sunrise
Be a song that will tremble my soul.
If I’m old, make me glow like a full Moon,
Trust yourself, leave the burden of doubts.

You can move to a different planet,
Always searching for a happier place.
But wherever you go, don’t forget me
Otherwise you’ll forget yourself.

Don’t be surprised to see me standing apart,
Far from any crowds or streams.
Be my friend that I’ll never lose,
Like the earth catch my falling dreams.

Don’t pity me if I go astray,
You won’t scold me for that, will you?
If I’m found in thousand years,
Everything I wrote will open your eyes.

Blame me if I’m not at loud parties,
Blame me for my past.
One day I’ll nest in your heart
With my song written after the rain.


Forgive me, my good-natured people,
For wandering through this boundless space!
Forgive me
for what I am,
For coming into this world.

Forgive me
For being madly in love,
Waiting for a spring wind’s gust.
For my life passed sweating
Doing some useless stuff.

Forgive me
For loving you all,
For wanting to see you in the best light.
For burning after that all my possessions
And scratching the earth from grief.

Forgive me
For trusting without any reason,
For my shining luck.
For throwing away my time
Like old things and useless junk.

Forgive me
If I can’t recognise in time
The meanness of the ungrateful.
For being not upset about forty holes
In my shabby old towel.

Forgive me
If I misunderstood some of you,
And was left disappointed a bit.
my heart and my poems
With their cherished dreams.

My views being only my own,
For dreams never coming true.
My worn out dress in colour of oblivion,
My senseless occupation too.

For waiting with bated breath,
For times when I was wrong.
For tears
kept in hiding and shed
Straight into my heart.

Forgive me
For hidden wounds
Never bandaged and never healed.
Forgive for a pen in my hand –
Never satisfied with itself.

Forgive my book that will be finished
Without telling the whole truth.
Forgive a beat of my heart
Expecting some wonderful things…

Forgive me
For being a person
Who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight.
Forgive my abandoned shore,
If you can do it at all.

my unwritten words
and me being still alive and well.
Forgive my loving eyes –
Looking straight at you.

Gulnar Salykbay has worked as editor-in-chief of the national TV Channel Qazaqstan. Her first poetry collection was published to great acclaim and two more followed. Her poems are considered a meticulous reflection of the depths of the human condition and her passion and linguistic experimentation mark her as a strikingly distinctive voice in contemporary Kazakh poetry. Her verses feature in national and international anthologies and two volumes have been published in China. She has translated poetry into Kazakh and her own poems have been translated into several languages.

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Aliya Dauletbayeva: Two Poems translated by Belinda Cooke and David Cooke


You are the gloomy night, my love,
frowning at me from the far distance,
my wretched feelings weakened, I have
only my single wing to reach your arms.

So that I strive towards you… burn from your fire,
so that then…and then…choking I catch my breath…
you burned like that, you gave yourself to be loved,
scattering and spreading the sparks of your soul.

You lured me into your arms, my free bird.
I swore to myself that I wouldn’t trust you, but failed…
There are hundreds of cures in the world
but am I willing to recover since you are my disease?

To hell with my greatness — I walk about in tears.
Today you are the song that made me weep.
Who said joy and pain are opposite spheres?
Look here and you’ll see there’s just one step between them.

You are the night, my love, the mystery –
You wash my eyes, as if with rain.
Could I mindlessly submit to your power?
Am I to blame that my mirror broke?
Tell meeee…



This is how my verses go –

unconcerned with reason,
they are all a pure invention
that has no truck with truth
or even belongs in the world.
Having no bone to pick
with others,

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxor wanting
to make their presence felt,
I’m not even sure
I get them myself,
though ever awake,
they will not leave me.

Suppose one day I imagine someone …
I can’t say he’s real
but won’t say he’s not.
A rational man
would never accept him –
some figment possessing my mind.

Unseen by anyone else,
he has his claws in me
and never lets me go.
With no visible strings
we’re tethered together.

Whether you do or don’t know him,
what does it matter to you?
I can’t say I know him myself –
this mystery man, the stranger,
the subject of my poem.


Aliya Dauletbayeva ( b.1977) is a poet who has worked in media for several years and is also an editor and director. She founded a young poets’ club with the aim of nurturing young talent. She has written two poetry collections and her poems have been included in two anthologies. A lyrical poet, she relies on the ancient traditions of epic jyrau poetry, searching for modern language and new images – uncommon sources for the poetry of the relatively young generation whom she represents. She has written epic poems and has translated foreign verses and plays into KazakhBack to the top

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Yerlan Zhunis: Two Poems Translated by Roza Kudabayeva


To you, to you, I’ll come before the dawn,
Wherever you live: in the mountains or in the valley.
I’ll open wide your window and leave
A mountain flower on your pillow.

To you, to you, I’ll come before night,
Before the city lights go out.
I’ll cover you with a white blanket and leave
A wild flower on your pillow.

To you, to you, I’ll come ahead of myself,
Ahead of yearning and ahead of patience,
Even if I won’t hear my name from your lips
Even I won’t see in your eyes my reflection.

To you, to you, I’ll come ahead of sorrows,
Ahead of these cruel years,
Misfortune, your fate, and heartbreak,
loneliness and being close to tears.

I’ll come ahead of a hope and a dream,
Before being thrown away like an unwanted gift.
Before an old age and withering of a young life,
Ahead of the strangers who’ll never understand you.

I’ll come to you ahead of shed tears,
Ahead of all retreats and defeats.
I will turn into an angel protecting you from
Day and night, sadness and tears.

Even if hard times put obstacles in your way,
And brutal people will threaten with their force.
You will feel that I’m near you
Even knowing that I’m far away.

If we meet in our dreams, know that they’re real,
If we meet when life is hard, know that life is good.
If you see a white sparkle in the black sky
Know that it’s me who came to you ahead of everything.


You know everything.
About heart’s storms and rains.
About springs when birds were late,
And that my soul was hurt then.

You know which words healed my pain,
Which songs lulled Twilight,
What autumn flowers faded early,
When I didn’t come to you the next day.

You know how the soul sings in summer,
How the fire of fate burns in a heart,
You understood instantly a young man’s state,
How I did almost combust in an instant.

You know how fate tossed me about,
(Like mountains I shake before finding peace),
Under what torrent I was, but looked at the sky,
What words I repeated to myself again and again,

You know,
all my soul craves,
it is known to you – how I can find peace,
What prayer I read in the morning,
In the evening what book I read.

You know everything, a spoiled girl,
I couldn’t complain to another heart, only yours.
What dreams I have every night,
And how they were interpreted.

You know,
Secrets no one knows,
Mysteries I can’t solve myself,
Signs that no one saw,
Poems that were not included in any of my books.

Yerlan Zhunis (b. 1984)is a poet and literary translator. He has worked at two literary newspapers and is currently an editor at the JetisuAlmaty regional TV channel. His first poetry collection was published when he was still at school and was followed by several more. Junis’s lyrical verses are highly regarded by his literary colleagues for their unexpected surrealist images and their sincere, yet aristocratic expression of the human emotions. He has also translated a number of world classics from Russian and Persian into Kazakh. He has won a number of awards, including national and international poetry contests and the Grand Prix of the Shabyt International Youth Festival.

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Tanakoz Tolkynkyzy: Two Poems translated by Patricia McCarthy



When a person I trust most betrays me,
please teach me to be strong.
When the senses take over my emotions,
please teach me to see my feelings
for what they are. When a car covers
my white dress with splashes of dirt
from the street, please teach me not to curse.
Whenever I flatter myself, teach me
not to lie to my child. When my wishes,
in all their innocence, are assumed wicked,
please teach me to be patient.
Whenever I see a disbeliever, please
teach me to see the God in him.
When days turn gloomy, teach me
to sleep like a baby. When nights
are stormy, teach me to leap to the moon.
When I fall totally in love, please teach me
to stay silent. And teach me to live
without sun in my body that is like a sunflower.
Better still, teach me to live totally
without sun. When the world is merciless,
teach me to be merciful. Whenever
I get injured, teach me to heal the wounded.
Teach me to believe in individuals,
to overcome my Self. Please teach me
to look as a saint on this immoral world.
When what seems to be a good word
is hurtful, please teach me
not to react. And when feelings
become tainted, teach me not to weep.
Whenever my gentle soul is hurt
by other sensitive people, please teach me
to forgive. When the pure world
is darkened by the innocent, please
teach me to get angry at myself,
at no one else. When the person closest
to me does not listen to my troubles,
please teach me to love him.
xxxxTeach me to lose.
xxxxTeach me to back off.
If you wish to change my fate,
I beg you: teach me to bow my head.


Try to cure my poor soul.
I can hardly get from one day to the next,
even though my heart so longs for you.
I am afraid of meeting you face to face.
If you get on the tram unexpectedly,
where will I be able to hide?
Should I alight and pretend
I haven’t noticed you? Should I forget
my daydream in which I longed for you?
So worried and confused, I couldn’t work out
what these feelings were: good or evil,
yet I fought and fought to get rid of them:
in vain… I tried to pretend
it wasn’t me who loved you,
who kept searching for you,
and I wished I could burn up like an ash.
Why did I play with the magic in your eyes
and quibble with love?
Are you a thief of strong feelings?
Why do you stand in the corner of my mind?
Time cannot heal – and my fortune
is in the tip of my nails.
O try to cure my poor soul.
I can’t get by from one day to the next
and even though my soul longs for you,
I am terrified of meeting you face to face.

Tanakoz Tolkynkyzy (b. 1977) is a poet and journalist. She has worked in a range of mass media, and is currently a producer at the national TV Channel Qazaqstan. Her debut poems, published when she was eleven, won numerous literary contests among young poets. Since then she has appeared frequently in literary periodicals, securing her reputation as a striking emerging writer. Tolkynkyzy has published four collections. Her verses are regarded as a fine example of contemporary Kazakh poetry for their daring expression of the most intimate feelings common to many Kazakh girls. She has translated poetry into Kazakh and edited the first anthology of Kazakh poets in Spanish and Azerbaijani.

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Nazira Berdaly: Three Poems translated by David Cooke


When it came this year, spring did nothing for me.
I had no time for songsters chirping.
My frozen heart languished.
Buried like bulbs, my feelings groaned
beneath the weight of snow.
Who cares for seasonal birds
and springtime on the shore?
So what if I haven’t spotted a gull?
It’s spring in the city. Big deal!
It bucks you up or it doesn’t.
City. Spring. Night.
Its stars are familiar and fake.
Its cacophonous songs go on and on.
When I stepped out on the balcony
I said to myself: It’s spring
then tore up the tulip I’d planted…
And when night falls it’s just as bad.
I’m ill at ease. The sky is cold.
I try to play the recorder
and improvise a ‘Song of Birds’.
It leaves me cold, joyless.
My verses, too, are lifeless,
the images vague as shadows
glimpsed on distant slopes.
Could any spring on earth
be so devoid of grace?
Let me waken up again.
For so long I yearned for spring,
but not, alas, this one.


When you ask me where I’ve been
I could ask myself the same
as I think about life and verses.
Laughing and making the most of my days,
I’ve not been away at all
or not in the way that you imagine,
determined not to lose sight of myself.
For who’s impressed by histrionics
or even cares if I succeed?
If I keep my failures under wraps,
the hidden powers ground me
or else I’ll borrow wings
to fly away somehow.
Don’t let on you’re disappointed
or tell the world how tough it’s been.
Rinse off the dust you’ve accumulated
and don’t forsake your dreams.
Don’t bore those nearest to you
with the torments of your soul.
When you accept what lies before you,
it doesn’t mean you’ll be alone.
So let detractors mock me
my secret muse will be my strength.
I wasn’t away as you had feared –
alive perhaps
only in my private sphere.


It’s autumn again and the trees are golden.
A new term has started. TheTV schedules change.
Though all the sound bites say the same,
I hope for better things.
Smiling, I ask for news about you
as soon as day dawns.
Like an autumn leaf, my soul is trampled.
Even you were trampling it,
when you wished me well.
Still young and writing poems,
I don’t know what the future holds.
Is autumn leading me on again
towards its spurious spires?
One strike of the match and I’ll explode
as day after day I dither
at every fork in the road.
Just passing through,
like a seasonal guest, I crave
no more than a friendly welcome.

Nazira Berdaly (b. 1980) is a poet and journalist. She has worked as an editor in radio and television and has gained popularity among her audiences as a presenter on national television. She is currently head of the TansholpanArts Association at the TV and Radio Corporation Qazaqstan. Her debut poems were published in the Jambyl regional newspaper Aq Jol and were later included in a collection of works by young writers of the region. She has since published three poetry collections. Berdaly is the author of the lyrics for a number of popular songs.

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The Translators


Belinda Cooke completed a PhD on Robert Lowell’s interest in Osip Mandelstam in 1993. Since then her poetry, translations and reviews have been published widely. She has five books to date: Resting Place (Flarestack, 2008); The Paths of the Beggarwoman: Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, (Worple Press, 2008) and (in collaboration with Richard McKane) Flags by Boris Poplavsky, (Shearsman, 2009), Kulager by Ilias Jansugurov  (Kazakh National Translation Agency, 2018) and Forms of Exile: Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (The High Window, 2019). She lives and teaches in the Highlands of Scotland on the west coast. 


Roza Kudabayeva is a journalist and translator originally from Kazakhstan. In 1996 she joined the BBC World Service as a Kazakh Producer. At the same time she presented the popular regional radio programme ‘Rannyi Chas’ in Russian for Central Asia and Caucasus. In 2004 she was awarded the Gold Medal at the New-York Radio festival for a series of programmes ‘Dzhan on Aral shores’  where the fates of the heroes of the Russian writer Andrey Platonov’s novel ‘Dzhan’ (Soul) and people living on Aral shores in the 20th century were intertwined. After more than two decades with the BBC World Service Roza now concentrates more on various translation projects.



Patricia McCarthy is the editor of Agenda ( ) and was the  2013  winner of the National Poetry Competition with her poem ‘Clothes that escaped the Great War’. Among her previous collections are Rodin’s Shadow, Horses Between Our Legs (a Book of the Year in the Independent on Sunday), and Letters to Akhmatova. Trodden Before (The High Window) and Rockabye (Worple Press) were published towards the end of 2018. Her next collection Hand in Hand (publication date TBA) is inspired by the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde.


Alistair Noon‘s translations of Osip Mandelstam, Concert at a Railway
Station, were published by Shearsman in 2018. His publications include
two collections from Nine Arches Press (Earth Records, 2012, and The
Kerosene Singing, 2015) and a dozen pamphlets, including QUAD
(Longbarrow, 2018). He lives in Berlin.


David Cooke is the editor of The High Window. His most recent collection of poetry, Reel to Reel, was published recently by Dempsey and Windle.

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