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Stanzas for Ukraine – 7

The Poet’s Nose by Serhii Rybnytskyi, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj

With what part of the body can I reflect on matters as a poet? My nose, which for me it is practically an ‘Achilles Heel’. Any blow can knock me down, the slightest cold or drop in blood pressure clogs my nostrils. Therefore, I am in eternal discomfort, I do not distinguish smells too keenly and I am not capricious about any stench.

How do I compensate for this constant nasal congestion? I used to regard my inability to smell along with my inability to play musical instruments. Indeed, if poetry is invisible cosmic rhythms, the poet can reproduce them on any scale and in any form. Music is a universal form, where the boundary between music and the listener is as blurred as possible. For many years I hummed Beethoven symphonies and rock songs under my breath and wrote inspired lyrics about everything that agitated me, about everything that I could not get an answer to. However, this only hid my inability to master at least the guitar.

Can you survive the intensification of smells? Life flows in anticipation of events that you constantly consider and work out your actions in response to: the death of loved ones, meeting a person who evokes vivid, friendly emotions, family holidays, disasters, war. Poetry is like a trace in the future, a dot, involuntarily placed on a white sheet, which gives confidence to cowards, and subsequently all this is infused with morphine. There is no past in poetry, it is only the shell of a bullet that pierces cosmic rhythms, pierces the temple of everyone who could not bear the truth.

How is it when you wake up in the morning with a stuffy nose? It is a signal that the dream is over. Russia invaded our country eight years ago. They invaded thoughtlessly and cynically, although there were many warning signs: Russian politicians, Russian art, and Russian history. Previously it still seemed that humanity had risen above conflicts and the history of wars had to recede into the past. However, there is no past in poetry. The nose is blocked, dulled to smells in a state close to being in a coma, to indifference. It seems that the end is near, but the instinct of the future breaks through, breaks through with poetry – the expectation of great trials, a greatly congested nose when gunpowder, blood, burnt bodies, and the stench of Russia will saturate the air for a long time.

How long can you be a nose? Yes, Russia attacked my country to destroy me, and millions like me. The reason for this was our citizenship, language, culture, history and freedom – basic things that may be of service in many countries – they are like breathing freely through the nose. However, this organ has been clogged in me since that very morning, because it has become the norm in the world to allow the existence of terrorist countries, such as Russia, which commits genocide against Ukraine. This is a simple statement-maxim about the war waged by one country against another, similar wars having been waged in the twentieth century. And what was it all for?

A nose or an ear? Smell is easier to lose than faith. However, it is easier to live with the nose now, with smells, than to believe in the word. How many words about freedom have been spoken in the world during the last twenty years? How many people in the arts fought against tyranny and evil, how many poems paved the way to the future, so that at the decisive moment the word, the most valuable spiritual substance of humanity, was devalued. Words have lost their weight and today everything is decided by guns. Listen…


дитя землі

дівчино-земле, дівчино-земле,
не здіймай акацій до плес
молодих дощів –
вони змиють з тебе молоко
і тоді усе стане білим

дівчино-земле, дівчино-земле,
чуєш як перегукуються гармати
у твоє молоко?
чи є у тебе серце,
яке шалений снаряд перелетить?

дівчино-земле, дівчино-земле,
слідкуй за птахами-вузликами –
колись вони повернуться
до гнізда-пам’яті,
ніби хрести, яким не розв’язатись

дівчино-земле, дівчино-земле,
коли так по-жіночому чекають
і так по-чоловічому вмирають,
у твоїх копанках
дістають усе більше заліза
і все більше металу невпинно

дівчино-земле, дівчино-земле,
як утекти від білого світу,
як узагалі полишити біле
кожному воїну, якого ти
зупиняєш на порозі словом:
«у мене буде дитина од тебе
якраз під вузликом, відчуваєш?»

а він лише відчуває,
як твої ніжні пагони
знову торкнулись молодого дощу

A child of the earth

Maiden-earth, maiden-earth,
do not raise the acacias to the currents
of the young rains –
they will wash the milk from you
and then everything will become white

maiden-earth, maiden-earth
do you hear how the guns echo
within your milk
do you have a heart
across which the crazy missile will fly?

Maiden-earth, maiden-earth
follow with the birds-knots
someday they will return
to the nest-memory ,
like crosses that cannot be untied

Maiden-earth, maiden-earth
when they wait so womanly
and die so manly
in your dug outs
gaining more and more iron
and more and more metal ceasessly

maiden-earth, maiden earh
how to flee from this white world
how to leave white uttrly
to every warrior who  you have stopped
at the threshold with the words:
“I will have a child by you
right under the bulge here, can you feel it?”

and he only feels
how your tender shoots
touched the young rain again

Енола Ґей

вже холоне земля і липне півостровами
до підошов
а я жадаю повсякдення степового
уздовж колосків із золотом на віях

листя стає вітрувіанським центром
у павутинні
і простори заломлені ребрами в безодню
доки я все ловлю вухом високий шепіт
хлорофільних вигинів луски повітряного

нині тільки в поліцейських сиренах
все стале по-нуарному однорідне
ніч в їхньому відлунні немов шматок
з якого мій покійний батько колись
робив грузило для вудки

тоді я стояв поруч нього і вчився
запускати гачок у небо
ми намагались піймати поодинокі
літаки на початку серпня
але їхні пілоти вміло ухилялись
і так само тримали курс на японію

Enola Gay

the earth already cold and sticky with peninsulas
adheres to the soles
and I long for everyday steppe
along spikes of grain with gold on their eyelashes

the leaves become the Vitruvian center
in the web
and the spaces are broken by ribs into the abyss
until I catch a high-pitched whisper with my ear
the chlorophyll bends of scales
of the aerial snake

now its only in police sirens

everything is still homogenous in a noir fashion
the night in their echo is like a piece
from which my late father once
made a weight for a fishing rod

I stood next to him then and studied
the launch the hook into the sky
we tried to catch single fish,
planes in early August
but their pilots skilfully dodged us
just as they kept their course to Japan


сьогодні почергово я зустрів
трьох дівчат із чорним волоссям

перша в лісопарку готувала місце
для вогнища збирала сухе гілля
балансувала на поваленому стовбурі
її чорне каре лінивими гардинами
гойдалось немов на дні моря

інша віддалялась під прямим кутом
роздавала жовте листя деревам
розкидала зірки назад в небо
здалеку її чорне волосся і куртка
здавались згорілим сірником

третя йшла мені на зустріч і вела
на повідку боязкого добермана
який вловлював нюхом осінній дим
волосся зібране у вузлик на тім’ї
закрутилось у нафтову спіраль

сьогодні ніч подовшала
на три хвилини
сьогодні серце потоншало
на три чорних волосини


Today I met them again
those three girls with black hair

the first in the forest park was preparing a place
For a campfire, gathering dry branches,
balanced on a fallen trunk
her black plaid, lazy tied back curtains
swayed as if in the depths of the sea

the other receded at a right angle
as she distributed yellow leaves to the trees
scattered the stars back into the sky
from a distance her black hair and jacket
resembled a burnt match

the third came to meet me and led
a timid Doberman on a leash
which caught autumn smoke with its scent,
her hair tied in a bun on top of her head
twisted into an oily spiral

tonight the night grew longer
by three minutes
today the heart has thinned
by the width of three black hairs

* * *

ранок суботи – наші серця вкотре розбито,
ти і я обговорюємо наше ідеальне кохання:
якою б була наша кожна краща половина?
ковдра над нами немов шкіра крокодила,
нашу кімнату перед очима несе чорна ріка,
ми доплили до середини і не повернути:
за дверима сука вп’яте привела цуценят –
хтось з нас вийде і ми обоє збожеволіємо.

вода підходить – чекаємо на сторонніх:
всепроникливі звуки життя,
здається, я все ще розмовляю
з людиною, яка повернулась з війни.

в нас роздільний сніданок, крихке перемир’я,
знаєш, жінка в моїй шкірі – її історія особлива:
під її ліжком лежать рушниця і гітара,
коли починається війна вона бере в руки перше,
за перемир’я почергово користується обома,
ми сидимо, наш день перемішано з вогнем,
сьогодні в тебе немає гітари і біс з нею!
до лінії фронту тобі і мені  ще досить далеко.

вечір підходить – чекаємо на сторонніх:
жінка в моїй шкірі,
жінка в твоїй шкірі –
спільний знаменник етилового миру.


Saturday morning – our hearts are broken again,
you and I discuss our perfect love:
what would each of our better halves be like?
the blanket over us is like the skin of a crocodile,
our room is carried by a black river before our eyes,
we swam to the middle and did not return:
behind the door, the bitch birthed puppies for the fifth time –
one of us will go out and we’ll both go crazy.

water will come in – we are waiting for others:
the all-pervading sounds of life,
I think I’m still talking
with a person who has returned from the war.

we have a separate breakfast, a fragile truce,
you know, a woman in my skin – her story is special:
a gun and a guitar lie under her bed,
when the war begins, she takes the first
during the armistice alternately uses both,
we sit, our day mixed with fire
today you don’t have a guitar and to hell with it!
you and I are still quite distant from the front line.

the evening is coming in- we are waiting for others:
woman in my skin
woman in your skin –
the common denominator
of an ethylated peace.

Via Regia Via Imperii

дві жінки в жовтневому полі
кукурудзу вже зібрано ряди
стебел зрізано
немов зуби у прохача перед
а вони вишукують рештки врожаю
голови в хустинах
голови у вишитих квітах
коли самі квіти тумани забивають
цвяхами у землю

дві жінки в жовтневому полі
долають одіссею від одноокого сонця
до золотого руна качанів
з кукурудзяних стебел майструють
коня яким хочуть проникнути до
шлунку худоби
а від нього до осінніх зірок

дві жінки в жовтневому полі
одна з яких грає роль чоловіка
повагом ходить поміж штурпаків
і спльовує вічний пил
окреслює умовну межу зібраного
від ще не пройденої землі
завтра вони повернуться сюди
аби знову грати роль подружжя

дві жінки в жовтневому полі
ідеально доповнюють музику баха

Via Regia Via Imperii

two women in an October field
the rows of corn have already been harvested
the stems cut
like the teeth of a beggar in front
of the church
and they look seek the remains of the harvest
their heads in scarves
their heads in embroidered flowers
when the flowers themselves are obscured by mists
nails in the ground

two women in an October field
overcome the odyssey from the one-eyed sun
to the golden fleece of the cobs
from corn stalks they craft
the horse they want to penetrate
the cattle stomach
and from him to the autumn stars

two women in an October field
one of whom plays the role of a man
respectfully walks among the stubble
and spits out eternal dust
the other
outlines the conventional boundary of the harvested
from the ground not yet passed
they will be back here tomorrow
to play the role of spouses again

two women in an October field
who perfectly complement the music of Bach


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.

‘a nose or an ear or …’
Invitation to write by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

‘How long can you be a nose?’ asks Serhii Rybnytskyi. Indeed, how long would a nose (generic, our own,
someone else’s) help us – as an image, a source of similes or metaphors or a conceit – to express what
wants to be expressed at the moment. Yes, as poets we are usually invited to think about smell, scent,
stink, stench. But what about the conditions of the nose itself? Blocked nose or clear nose through which
we can breathe freely? Nose as our Achilles heel?? Or perhaps, after all, an ear? Rybnytskyi’s poems put
their ears to the currents of young rains, missiles, guitars, earth sticky with peninsulas. How can we
convey our sensations of what’s around us with the help of our vital body part/s?

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 six 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.

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.


Serhii Rybnytskyi (1984), originally from Vinnytsia region in west-central Ukraine, looks more like a rock star than an author with his quiff and dark glasses. He has won various awards primarily for his prose writing, but his poetry shares the mercurial playfulness of his stories and deserves a wider audience. His poems are infused with the musical sensibility that his appearance suggests in both their rhythms and their sense of harmonious order, which humanity both complements and conflicts with, permeating reality. 

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.

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