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7 October, 2011  ▪  Bohdan Butkevych

The Poems of Passion

Donbas writers promote sociality

The writers from STAN association have presented an anthology of social poetry in Luhansk, provocatively entitled: The Lessons of Troublemaking, Sabotage and Spying. The book is the first such Ukrainian conceptual publication, bringing together versatile writers under one book-cover. The Ukrainian Week was at the presentation and talked to Luhansk-based writer Kostiantyn Skorkin, the mastermind behind the book and its editor.

We borrowed this scary title from a propaganda brochure of the Stalin terror epoch.We, the compliers and the authors of the selected works, want to caution the public of the looming danger of dictatorship the disturbing signals of which are first and foremost experienced by people from the art world. Today, the government and conservative classes see poets, who do not shun social ulcers, as a potential threat to the ruling order. In their eyes, these poets are spies, who don’t recognize borders and bureaucratic patriotism; troublemakers as they teach the youth bad things; and saboteurs, since they do not bend to the government’s power.  

The creation of this book took a long time, almost a year. Everything looked more like a dead end when we began to work on it, but some events shortly before the publication were quite inspiring. These were Lina Kostenko’s Diary of a Madman and the explosion of debate around Vasyl Shkliar’s The Black Raven. In other words, literature began to tackle issues of real concern to the public.

Here is a quote from Osip Mandelstam: “We live, but feel no country beneath us.”I’ve always wondered why first of all young writers who, I would think, should have the strongest sense of the epoch’s pulse and take interest in it, shunned it. If you read most of what the generation of the 2000s is writing, there is the impression that Ukraine is sort of a second Poland, a typical Eastern European country without any specific problems; a quiet tranquil country that has no collective mind crippled by wars, repressions and famines or by the soviet burden. But this idyllic picture has nothing to do with the real situation. In the first place, Ukraine is a very poor country, giving rise to a growing a mass of social flaws. Our elite is totally immoral and as distant from its nation as it probably was in feudal times. It has no notion of honor or dignity, which is subsequently spread throughout the whole nation. We are turning into a banana republic with the speed of light, eating out the last soviet resources we have left and saving nothing for the future.  

The list of authors in your anthology includes Viktor Yanukovych.That’s our small trick for a widespread audience. According to Oleksandr Syhyda, one of our poets, the past of the president’s poems is a mystery. We got them from a Donbas-based poet with a pile of other manuscripts. Despite his assurances, we didn’t initially believe that Mr. Yanukovych himself could have written this. But we had to, after Ivan Drach (MP and poet) informed the country that our president writes poetry.  Actually, we’re still not completely sure that these poems were the product of Mr. Yanukovych’s pen.

Modern Ukrainian literature has contributed so little to the nation that it verges on the criminal.Real Ukraine, possibly with the exception of Kyiv and Halychyna (Western Ukraine) is truly a terra incognita in art. It is neither illustrated nor represented in the literary process. Never mind the aesthetic whining about literature and art being too sublime for “everyday life”. Of course, the USSR overfed us with sociality in Nekrasov, Mayakovski, Gorki and many others. But this does not mean that there should be no social lyrics whatsoever. Social poetry is the artist’s consciousness; his payback of the debt to his nation. Aesthetes will say an artist is only in debt to his muse but I’m not sure they’re right. History remembers the writers who illustrate their epoch in their artwork and become its symbols. After all, most people picture certain historical periods through a prism of the artwork that reflect them.  

If prose cannot keep up with life, it is worthwhile turning to poetry.However stereotyrpical this may sound, poets do have bleeding hearts and this raw emotion cannot but evolve into a rhymed piece. I can proudly claim that all the writers included in our book fit 100% with the social criterion of their creativity. There’s been enough talk about Serhiy Zhadan who has always responded sharply to everything in our country. Poet Olena Zaslavska has undergone a huge creative evolution in recent years from her erotic and intimate lyrics to real civil poetry. Yaroslav Minkin, a public activist, has always stood out with the social direction of his creativity. Liubov Yakymchuk, an recognized writer, also shared her vision of the current situation in her rhymes. Oleksandr Syhyda, a unique, true Donbas poet whose stanzas, which appear to be poured from steel, but are yet sophisticated, are a classical example of the artwork of an artist who lives among people and with people. We’ve included Russian poet, Andrei Rodionov, in the book because this person, who grew up in Mytishchi, a town near Moscow, knows the other side of living in a big city known as a symbol of welfare and wealth better than anyone else. Rodionov’s poetry fits into the concept of this social anthology so well, that we couldn’t but invite him to take part in the project. Moreover, a wider artistic geography always brings in more benefits.  

We’re not doing this project for money.We did it at our own expense and on pure enthusiasm. That’s why we uploaded the whole PDF book on STAN’s website right after the presentation. However, we are planning to present it in all the largest literaty centers including Kyiv, Kharkiv and Lviv. We would really like to bring it to Russia as well, especially Perm where Andrei Rodionov lives. We chose Luhansk as a starting point because we wanted to create a symbol of a cultural wave moving against stereotypes from the East westward, i.e. from Luhansk to the western border of our country, and not because most STAN members live in Luhansk. It is as if we are laying down an artistic challenge from Donbas to the whole of Ukraine to join this movement of non-indifference.   

This town of mine

Where emo angels

Wander about stoned

And the night club

Is called Armageddon

This town of mine

Where Golgotha is replaced by

Waste heaps of barren rock,

Big ugly mugs instead of icons

pouring vodka.

This town of mine

Where

Porn barons are hunting humans

And dollars open every door,

Where stars on epaulets  

Are all that matters.

A fragment of This Town of Mine by Olena Zaslavska


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