Why poetry matters to a beleaguered Ukraine – The Forward


More than 800 people from all over the world came to listen to Ukrainian poetry in original version and in translation during a quickly organized online reading to support writers whose lives are in danger as Russian forces approach. The event, part of a series of virtual Words Together Words Apart readings, offered a window into the country of Ukrainian poetry and the literary world currently struggling for its life. The reading was also an opportunity for an international literary community to come together at this chilling time.

The hosts were Ukrainian-American Jewish poets Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach and Olga Livshin, who in just two days assembled an impressive list of Ukrainian poets, translators and “allies” – prominent US-based writers who wanted to support Writers Ukrainians.

Readers included many of Ukraine’s most prominent writers and their translators, visible salons or temporary shelters in plain sight. Lyuba Yakimchuk, poet, screenwriter and journalist, mentioned that she lost her family home in Donetsk in 2014 and recently woke up due to bombings in Kyiv. Other works by Yakimchuk can be read at Words Without Borders. A poem and an interview can be found at CBC — Radio Canada.

Yakimchuk was far from the only reading poet who was awakened by explosions at 4 a.m. this week.

A poet who fled home apologized for not having a poem available due to circumstances. Despite the obvious logistical challenges, the event brought together an incredible number of Ukrainian writers.

“This lineup is the result of the bravery and energy of Ukrainian poets who join us despite the dangers to their lives and this incredible fatigue,” said co-host Livshin.

Livshin, who grew up in Odessa and Moscow, is the author of “A Replaced Life: Poems with Translations by Anna Akhmatova and Vladimir Gandelsman.”

“Today’s event is just a glimpse of how translators are trying to amplify Ukrainian voices beyond sound bites,” Livshin said. “The translation is a trickster. It scales walls, it crosses borders, it gently joins our hands.

“While Western media provides overwhelming coverage, literature, poetry and art are equally important for processing, coping with and surviving trauma,” said Kolchinsky Dasbach, who came to the United States as a a Jewish refugee in 1993, from Dnipro, Ukraine, and is the author of three collections of poetry, including “Don’t Touch the Bones”. “For my part, I was born in Dnipro, I turned to poetry even more, and instead of being consumed by the news for the last two days, Olga and I have rather been consumed by trying to bring us all together here today. As Paul Celan wrote: “One thing only remained accessible, near and safe in the midst of all the losses: the language. Yes, the language. Even so, he remained safe from loss.

The event began with American poet Carolyn Forché, who read a beautiful poem for fellow reader Ilya Kaminsky, the poet and translator from Odessa, expressing her wish that Ilya could hold the invisible hand of his late father.

Born in Odessa, Boris Dralyuk, poet, translator and editor of The Los Angeles Review of Books, read the translation of a heartbreaking poem about the nature of evil.

The poems presented the idea of ​​each country as a puddle, and one featured Jacob and Laban. Martha Kelley read a translation of a poem by Boris Kherkhonsky with the refrain “Lord, have mercy on us, especially if our hours are short”.

In the chat, participants posted links to poems they had re-read over the past difficult days. Kathryn Hellerstein of the University of Pennsylvania mentioned Debra Vogel, a Yiddish poet from Lviv, whose work is available in translation at Ingeveb.

Readers offered commentary on how the situation – and on Ukraine’s history – unfolded between the poem readings. “This invasion, monstrous as it is, is the continuation of an eight-year war,” Dralyuk said.

“Ukraine,” said Amelia Glaser, a professor of Russian and comparative literature at the University of California, San Diego, “has been a land of poetry for a very long time.”

Aviya Kushner is the language columnist for The Forward and the author of “Wolf Lamb Bomb” (Orison Books) and “The Grammar of God” (Spiegel & Grau). Follow her on Twitter @AviaKushner

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