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Review: In My Garden of Mutants, by Volha Hapeyeva

Belinda Cooke, Acumen Issue 103, May 2022

Volha Hapayeva, an award-winning contemporary Belarusian poet, speaks out against state repression and the war that has, in fact, been ongoing for ten years in Eastern Ukraine.


Her work reinforces the distance between Russians and Belarusians and the acts of their leaders. In an intelligent, feisty yet richly nuanced voice she writes on individual rights, gender, nation, and language.


In her war poems, for example, the straight talking: “an unimportant day in history / for an unimportant people” (‘13 October’) is set beside a whole network of other war associations: innocently named weaponry, the cold neutrality of its effects, and memories of pre-war life. These all converge to condemn the aggressors and give a heart-breaking reinforcement of what has been lost: “the factory is confident this new weapon / will find its consumer / … / butterfly mines / these fit in your palm / and weigh only 90 grams / like a new-born kitten / or a bar of soap / I weigh it in my hand // the bathroom is quiet and safe // trusting naivety // hyacinths, carnations and phloxes / blaze in the neighbour’s yard”

All her concerns, personal and political, converge to each person’s right to their own space as part of their own culture, “determining the size // how much space I need for myself / how much for others” (p.41) but with a cynicism that doesn’t hold out much hope of its realisation. Her richly layered snow imagery resonates painfully with what we have seen on our screens of the one and half million [as at the date of writing] currently forced across European borders:

where snow falls today
I will be absent
where silence attempts a confession
the intentions of others cannot be made out
and you gaze for a long time at your impression in the glass
picturing a short cut
instead of your own long hair
but you never pick up the scissors