Culture Writer Nataliia Chubenko reviews an extract from Legions with Flags by Vyacheslav Konoval to celebrate World Poetry Day
In every flower corner of the world
long live the warriors of the sun,
with the power of truth, they lift the granite,
skilled soldiers, weapons are no fun
Vyacheslav Konoval, 2022
Most people might think that war would be the worst time to turn to poetry. They might say that with rocket shells hitting your home and the homes of your beloved ones, the Russian army destroying the cities and with all the horror happening on the frontline, poetry would be the last thing on anyone’s mind.
However, Ukrainian poetry proves them wrong. In these dark times, our poetry uses the mighty power of words to share stories of what we are witnessing and feeling to remind the world that while for some people, news about war might just be something they can scroll past, for us, all the tears, blood, pain and loss are reality. For us, poetry is a necessity.
Actually, Ukrainian poetry has always been tightly connected with politics. Numerous Ukrainian writers whose works were of foundational importance for both modern Ukrainian language and culture have also been political activists, fighting for Ukrainian freedom. For example, perhaps, the most famous Ukrainian writer who influenced the nation and culture greatly, Taras Shevchenko, is also famous for being a member of the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a clandestine group oriented at the liberation of the political and social system of the Russian Empire. Another example, of when our poetry was intertwined with politics is the Executed Renaissance (Mykola Khvylovy, Valeria Pidmohylny, Mykola Kulish, Mykhailo Semenko et al.), Ukrainian poets of the 1920s-1930s who were persecuted or shot in the times of the Great Terror because of how their works spoke a lot about independence, rebellion and freedom for Ukraine, which the Soviet Regime did not approve.
As you can see, the history of Ukrainian poetry was often influenced or related to politics. Most often, for tragic reasons, unfortunately.
Nowadays, our poetry is yet again connected to the political situation in the country and the war that Russian Federation has started. War, especially an ongoing one, is a very difficult topic to speak or write about as usually literary works are a reflection of some events but it is difficult to reflect on something that still has not ended. On the contrary, more tragedies and terrorist attacks from Russian army keep happening every day.
However, our poets are learning and discovering more and more of creative poignant ways to speak to the world about what we are going through. One of the most famous examples of it can be Words for War, an anthology of Ukrainian poetry since the start of the war in 2014.
It is also evident how since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, so much more of the modern Ukrainian poets started writing a lot more in Ukrainian, language that Russia has always been trying to erase all the way throughout history. Our modern poetry is rediscovering the beauty of Ukrainian language yet again as well as learning just how much language can unite people.
Unlike the form of a novel where to express the main message or a feeling, a writer would need a developed plot line, poetry is the absence of straight lines or, at least, it can be one. A poet can find a way of words to share all their feelings without needing a plot, nor even a rhyme sometimes. Poetry can be anything and the diversity and versatility of it makes it the perfect writing form for Ukrainians to express feelings at the moment.
So, despite the dark times all around us, our poetry thrives, develops and grows like seeds through the cement. The cement will break and fall apart, destroyed by the beauty and power of nature as nothing can stop the seeds from growing. And when they will bloom, we will all smile at the kind of flowers they will turn out to be:
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