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Stanzas for Ukraine – 12

When Spring is Stolen by Varel Lozovyi, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj

When spring is stolen from you right on its threshold.
When you are waiting for her[1], like a bride, like a long-awaited release from prison, like God’s salvation from the clutches of cold, dank grey winter.
And they steal it from you suddenly, deceitfully and odiously, without letting you come round even for a moment, tearing open the drowsy pre-dawn sky with missiles and shells. When they want to kill and destroy you just because you are.  Because you are different. Simply because you exist. Because you have a different language and think differently, you have a different conception of the world and another way of existing there.
And they want to dissolve you, absorb you, assimilate you, turn you into raw material, dull genetic material. To make you into dumb submissive livestock. Make you a slave. Make you as they are.
Because they have been doing it for centuries. They have already stolen almost everything they wanted from you. They stole your name, appropriated your history[2], changed the keys, ransacked your house, turned everything inside it topsy turvy, and stuffed it with nonsense. But they also stubbornly believe in that lie and compel others to believe it.
They almost eradicated your language, pushing it out of half the earth where it resided, and replaced it with their own language, as if it were a fraternal lingua, making your tongue forked like a viper’s.
Although they are half your age, they humiliatingly called you the younger brother.
And you have almost become that person, Cain’s brother.

But it didn’t work! No matter how many people you crush, you will not crush everyone. Their roots are too deep in this rich soil.
I have lived for almost all my life, with brief intermissions, directly opposite a missile factory built during the Soviet period. Just across the road, thirty meters away, in the residential building that the factory constructed for itself. It’s family karma. I say that because my father, due solely to his abilities, once made what was a quantum leap, in social terms, from simple village lad to the head of a department at this plant. The missile factory’s existence was carefully concealed, but I knew about it from an early age. I also understood that when the war started, it would be senseless to regard our home as safe.
Firstly, two cruise missiles landed and destroyed the building where my father’s office was situated. At that moment I was sitting and meditating. The blast shook me, like small change gathered in a brass piggy bank. It was a unique experience of physical and mental sensations, but far from the last I experienced.
Then two more cruise missiles flew in and hit the area, killing Radio Svoboda journalist Vira Girych.[1] I was in the nearby park at the time, and, when the first explosion rang out, I lay on the ground with my head towards its epicentre, in line with military training. I felt the blast when the second missile exploded and how the ground beneath me shook. It was the way a lover is shaken by an orgasm.
Then on the third occasion we were hit – a total of four missiles landed. They came one by one, one by one, like the horsemen of the Apocalypse, and it was really terrifying. I slipped out of bed, exited the bedroom, and, with a squeak, laid down on the floor in the passage. Poems came to me then, very ancient poems, the Immaculate free verse of prayer.

Every young poet who comes to joint readings to present themselves and listen to other poets, dreams at first of publishing their own poems. This is the absolute goal for every poet, without exception.
And I say to them: – ‘Do you know, my loves, which type of publication of poetry is the coolest?’
‘A hard copy on paper, of course! In a book published by a proper publisher!’  they yell back in unison.
‘Yes, on paper is best,’ I agree. ‘but not as a book, magazine, or in a poetry anthology or almanac!’
‘So in what paper format then?!’  they ask, surprised, in unison.
Then I extract banknotes from my wallet. Twenty hryvnias. Then one hundred, two hundred, five hundred.
‘So, see these?’ I point at the poets and authors printed on them ‘Ivan Franko, Taras Shevchenko, Lesya Ukrainka, Hryhoriy Skovoroda! Do you see them? And here are the quotes in italics which no one reads as a rule…’

Love your dear Ukraine,

Adore her in that harsh time,

In the last difficult moment,

Beseech the Lord for her.. [1]

‘That’s it, my loves,  right there is the coolest publication of poetic works! It’s not about the money.’

This matters because a real nation is coiled, swaddled, like a cocoon, around its poets, both famous and nameless ones. Around its epos and melos, around the classics that form and fill its spirit with words. It has always been so for all nations.

I feel now, with all my being that a new, great wave of national revival is coming. It will be a real tsunami, as depicted in a Hokusai woodcut. It rose on the Maidan, during the Revolution of Dignity, and does not abate yet but only increases in volume.
It manifests first in the realm of poetry. There are new names there, dozens of them and an incredible diversity. There is a search for unprecedented forms and crazy innovation. Experiment after experiment after experiment – it’s overwhelming. There is a new universality to poetic vocabulary with ‘pure’ textbook language being discarded! That language is dead and stinks of artificiality and degenerative limitation. Instead, there are dialect usages, Anglicisms, slang, Lviv’s local dialect gvara, surzhik[1], professional and obscene vocabulary, hurrah for all this! Poets swiftly pour out words previously unheard-of, like ground pepper for a collar! There is above all a new frankness, frankness and yet more frankness. Candour matters above all else. A freshness and freedom of expression.

The botanical power and traditional rhyming of previous poetics are cast on the manure pile! There is no time for these poets to seek for those stupid, stale rhymes – they turn their backs on them. Therefore free-verse rules utterly. Yes, the words are piled up in a column, like a traditional poem but without the same endings. There are at best shimmering, sporadic, rhymes without the harsh crunch of that procrustean bed of poetic dimensions.

Someone renowned once defined poetry as ‘when words meet for the first time’ – they see each other and fall in love. But then they fall in love with other words for several generations. Then poems are not compulsively written, viscous and bloodless where, however much you repeat them, wine will not turn to blood or God to love.

Infantile and respectful at once they dream of winning, of diving headlong into the laurel wreath and reaching the top. I tell them that envy and competition ruin the taste and hearing. I tell them that I perceive each of their successful poems as my own, and I rejoice as if I had written them with my own hand. I tell them that the main thing is to be heard by people like you. Because that is sufficient, and everything else is vanity, vanity and chasing the wind! They don’t believe me. They keep pushing! Let ’em!
The Great Ukrainian Renaissance is happening during the war.
I pray that it will not be executed like it was before.[1]
I pray fervently and sincerely that it lives.

Poems by Varel Lozovyi, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj

відлетіло бите тіло
в протилежний бік
а душа лишилась сміло
дивити гаплик

як ватрище палахкоче
й друзки вбік летять
висить так
а сама хоче
на небко тікать

та гріхи ніц не пускають
тягнуть люто вниз
де в ямину всенький впхавси
зірваний карниз

їй би тельбух підібгати
та не має сил
бо її прозорі ручки
порожнечний пил

тільки витрішками бачить
й вухом все вчува
знадилася всім на горе
та війна джума

стара сука ненаситна
шкірить ікло мразь
а душа знесилив крила
вітру отдалась

the broken body flew
the opposite way
and the soul remained, bravely
to look at the hook of its eye

a fire blazing
fragments hurtling sideways
and hanging so
how she yearns
to fly skywards

and sins permit nada
but drag down furious
where falls into the pit entire
that broken cornice:

she would catch up with the body
but has no strength
for her hands are transparent
the empty dust,

she sees only in glances
and senses everything by ear
to everyone’s grief
and war’s Juma.

the old bitch is insatiable
the fang skinning filth
and the soul with weakened wings
surrendered to the wind

Світанку жар.
Чи то туман?
Чи димовище згарищ?
Клубочиться Глибочиця
за виднокрай тремкий, хисткий.
Невидима ріка,
руками морок валиш
та підриваєш схнюплені
кладки й містки.

З-за тебе вийде
дертим боком напівмертве сонце
і оберемок куцих променів кладе у гріб
з розбитим склом пригаслого віконця,
по вінця глушених набитий риб.

Сто літ не відчували рейки
вагітне колесо трамваю
що утворив тут оборонний мур,
обкладений мішками для джедаїв
з слідами від тату й тортур.

Бетонних блоків леґо
в авансцені
закаламутило проїзду вир.
Автівки рідкі,
засцяні від жаху, навіженні

шугають з миру в повний антимир.
Глибочиця-ріка, часовий вимір
не обійшов твій привид між горбів.
До тебе долетів підйомний зумер
й пульпітом ниє сьомої опів.

The embers of dawn
Is it fog
or the chimney burning?
No, the Hlybochitsya[1] is coiling
noticeably trembling with the heat,
An unseen river:
you beat the darkness with your hands
and blow up the crouched stonework

the bridges.

It will emerge from you
the half dead sun torn in the side
Lays a bundle of warped rays in the boat,
with the faded window’s broken glass,
laden to its top with stunned fish:

They didn’t feel the rails for a hundred years
the pregnant tram wheel
that formed a defensive wall
lined with sacks for the Jedi
showing traces of tattoos and torture,

the Lego of concrete blocks
in the foreground
the passage, muddy.
the rare cars,
blinded by terror, demented
are moving from peace to complete anti-peace.

River-Hlybochitsya, time’s dimension
between the hills your spectre did not pass.
The sound of the lift buzzer reaches you
the pulpit keening with seven half past.

безкоштовні податки
зняті селфіпалкою
з вішака хмарного бомбосховища
як нищівно користовані шкарпети
церувати їх церувати та не перецерувати
бо анігільовані вони до чорних дюр
бездонних кирниць колапсарів
в шлюбних обручках цебрин
тисячотілої свінгерської родини
де одномоментно статечні татусі
від запаху палаючої гемоплазми
обертаються на ґвалтівників
та мародерів волаючих
до химер кучових хмар
що міксуються з димом згарищ
та чуйського канабіозу
вірніш анігільовані вони
до польового стану пульсарів
їх ментівських мигалок
що люто блимають миттєво змінюючи
тропічний полудень біля спабасейну
на полярну ніч ядерної зими
в альтамірських печерах підсвідомості
де кожний кубістичний мамінт
парасольчастий впріло солений кажан
крилатий махайродус
у серпанку янгольської аури
чи картатий картопляний зубробізон
між рискалем шуфлею та заступом
знову вилуплюється в полі
з крашаного пасхального яйка
що випадає як біліонна більярдана куля
з лона шевченкової наймички
та вилуплюється циклопом пуцьвірінка
що цитогенно ділиться щепиться
та росте до розмірів шарлеманя
шарля де голля шарля перро
шарля де костера
дофіна карла карла дванадцятого
карла густава юнга
карлоса сантани
врешті решт карла маркса
що експроприював поцупив
вкрав віджав у нажаханої
клари цеткін її весільні коралі
що розпручуються спіраллю
в еволюційний ланцюжок
сера чарльза дарвіна
чарльза спенсера чапліна
просто принца чарльза
вже без купюр
та росте росте
карлом войтилою
махатмою ганді
далай ламою чотирнадцятого року
війни з орками аскобара
та цзаофанями і хунвейбінами
інгібіторів мао
чи чумазим кальміуським карбонарієм
що ніколи не видів чумацького шляху
рer aspera ad astra
але палко до запаморечення мріє
про липке свербляче криваве божевілля
мілітарної томатини
та кислотний душ першoтравневої зливи
з громом градів виттям урагану
та з есесівськими блискавками
над зляженими на заяложеному
росяному спориші
фунфуриками ів сен лорана та ніни річі
що цідять триатомну алотропію озону
попід розчахнутими породіллями
понадставкових осокороверб ab ovo
в кінці теж буде слово
слово ab ovo
ab ovo

Cost free taxes
taken with a selfie stick
from the hanger of the clouded bomb shelter
like badly used socks
to darn them to darn them or not to redarn them
because they are annihilated to the point of black holes
the bottomless pits of collapsers
 in wedding rings of Zebrins
a thousand-member swinger family
where dads at one moment sober
turn due to the smell of burning hemoplasma
into rapists
and screeching marauders
to the caprices of cumulus clouds
which are mixed with the smoke of fires
and Chüy cannabiosis
or, rather, they are annihilated
to the field state of pulsars
their cop car lights
that flash furiously changing instantly
that tropical afternoon by the spa pool
on the polar night of nuclear winter
in the Altamir caverns of the subconscious
where every cubist mammoth,
every umbrella-shaped and salty bat
and winged sabre toothed tiger
in the haze of an angelic aura
or checkered potato bison
between the slip of spade and shovel
hatches again in the field
from a dyed Easter egg
which drops like a billion billiard balls
from the bosom of Shevchenko’s hireling
and is hatched by the Cyclops of the warbler
that divides cytogenically is vaccinated
and grows to the size of Charlemagne
Charles de Gaulle Charles Perrault
Charles de Coster
The Dauphin of Charles Charles the twelfth
Karla Gustav Jung
Carlos Santana
and Karl Marx at last
that expropriated
stole and squeezed from the terrified woman
Klara Zetkin her wedding coral
that unfolds in a spiral
in the evolutionary chain
Sir Charles Darwin
and Charles Spencer Chaplin
and just Prince Charles
already without bills
and grows and grows
too Karol Wojtyla
and Mahatma Gandhi
Dalai Lama of the fourteenth year
of war with the orcs of Ascobar
and the Zhaofans and Hongweibings
MAO inhibitors
or by the chumazy[1] Kalmius carbonarium
which are never species of the Milky Way
per aspera ad astra
but dreams passionately to the point of dizziness
about the sticky itchy bloody madness
of a military tomato
and the acid shower of a May Day deluge
with the thunder of Grad and the howl of an Uragan[2]
and with SS lighting flashes
over those who are lying on the ground
the dewy agaric
Saint Laurent and Nina Ricci were playing with funfuriks
that filter the triatomic allotropy of ozone
under the hewn women in labour
Above the pond sedge willows
there will also be a word at the end
the word ab ovo
ab ovo


Stanzas for Ukraine: Let’s Write with Ukrainian Authors

In the manner borrowed from the Poetry School’s ‘Transreading’ practice, this blog series invites us to write in conversation with Ukrainian authors. Our close readings and our new texts are also gestures of our support and appreciation. As writers, we too can learn from our Ukrainian colleagues and their international translators.

to the point of dizziness

Invitation to write by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

Varel Lozovyi speaks exuberantly about ‘a new frankness, frankness and yet more frankness’ of the new Ukrainian Renaissance. ‘Candour matters above all else. A freshness and freedom of expression.’ The third poem from his selection, ‘***cost free taxes…,’ gathers big names (we might say, Renaissance-type figures) for the sake of its argument. The poem parades them in a dizzying array. What ‘celebrities’ would you usher into your poem to make your point? What point would you like to make with their help? In order to put your argument forward, would you be able to ‘collect’ characters who share the same first name, the way Lozovyi assembles Charles after Charles after Carlos after Karol?

You’re always welcome to invent your own writing games in response to the presented poems. Share your texts with our writing community here.

The eleven previous invitations to write can be found here.

Invitation to Donate

This project aims to support refugees displaced by the conflict through raising funds for the World Central Kitchen. Please consider donating via their site here.


Varel Lozovyi is a Kyiv native who trained as an architect and is an active figure in the Ukrainian capital’s poetry scene with several published books.

Poetry School is proud to have partnered with tutors Steve Komarnyckyj and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, and PEN International’s Judyth Hill to publish Stanzas for Ukraine.

Every fortnight we publish a blog written by some of the most significant contemporary Ukrainian poets, who will reflect upon the more than 300 years of historical conflict their country has endured, the on-going struggle, and highlight poems and voices from the past and present. This will launch a new strand of Poetry School work, giving voice to those globally who are being silenced and providing a platform for those suffering forced migration. Future strands will include Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and more.

[1]   A play on the name of The Milky Way in Ukrainian the Chumatskyi Shliakh (Ploughman’s track) with possible other references.

[2]   The names of weaponry deployed in the war meaning hail and huricane respectively

[1]   A river in Kyiv

[1]   The Ukrainian literary and artistic revival of last century was destroyed by the Soviets in the thirties and came to be known as The Executed Renaissance

[1]   Surzhik is a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian used in Ukrainian poetry to reflect particular situations including in particular Ukraine’s colonisation by Russia.

[1]   The quote is by Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko who featured in the first blog post here.

[1] Girych’s death due to a Russian missile strike was reported on 29 April

[1]   Spring is feminine in Ukrainian – I preserved the gender here because of the subsequent clause.

[2]   Russia has appropriated the name of Rus, the medieval state whose capital was Kyiv and falsified material to back up its claim and disposses Ukrainians. Some Russian Studies departments are discussing ‘decolonising’ the study of Russia’s medieval history by rejecting Russia’s false claim to this legacy.

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