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A black and white photo of Lyuba Yakimchuk looking over her shoulder at the camera

April – Week 4 – Ukrainian Poetry

Happy Orthodox Easter everyone. I hope Ukrainians can find a way to celebrate today, and I hope that the pysanka making is going strong. I had hoped to spend today making pysanka myself, but tracking down the needed supplies in Paris has proved more difficult than I anticipated. But I’m still looking. And when I find them, I’ll join in the tradition, however late I may be. In the meantime, I’ve spent the past week throwing myself into the rich and wonderful world of Ukrainian poetry.

I’ve written before about my hesitance to read translated poetry. Poetry as a written medium is so dependent on cadence and word placement, it’s hard to read translations knowing that you’re not getting the full experience. However, my Ukrainian is unfortunately not quite yet at the level of reading poetry, so it’s translated poems or nothing. Which is frustratingly limiting. But I did manage to find some beautiful poems this week.

I read works by Ella Yevtushenko and Boris Khersonsky. Yulia Musakovska and Yury Zavadsky. Dmytro Lazutkin and Ania Chromova. I read “We Will Not Die in Paris” by Natalka Bilotserkivets, which was turned into a hauntingly beautiful song by Mertvyi Piven. And I read poems by Serhyi Zhadan, considered to be one of Ukraine’s foremost contemporary poets and musicians.

I also read about how Ukrainian poetry was inspired by traditional folk music, and how poetry was often the best way to resist imperialism and strengthen Ukrainian cultural identity. Which made it dangerous to be an artist. I read about Volodymyr Ivasiuk, a folk musician who was murdered by the KGB, and I read the works of Vasyl Stus, a poet who died in a Siberian prison, both during the Soviet era. There’s a reason why authoritarian regimes and dictators target artists. Art is powerful.

There is so much more Ukrainian poetry to discover, and hopefully someday soon I won’t be restricted to only those works that have been translated. Until then, I’ll leave you with a video of Lyuba Yakimchuk performing at this year’s Grammy Awards alongside Siuzanna Iglidan, Mika Newton, and John Legend. The emotion behind her words is searing.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!