A year ago, I spoke at a Ukrainian rally at Independence Hall protesting the Russian occupation of Crimea. I was asked to read from Taras Shevchenko's Testament on the occasion of his 200th birthday- an event that was billed as POETRY AGAINST WAR. I was humbled by the people's appreciation and commitment to poetry as a vital art form. While reading at the event, I surprised the crowd with a poem from today's premier counterculture poet in Ukraine- Serhiy Zhadan. When I mentioned his name, there was a buzz of excitement through the crowd.
I read his poem Lukoil, which made sense in that political moment. I got to the lines "Bitches," they all say, "bitches/ he'll need bitches, good bitches/ expensive ones, without bad habits…" and I look up to see a busload of priests and nuns with their arms folded, looking at me with stern disapproval. But the young people loved it. As the poem ended, the crowd chanted "Boycott Lukoil! Boycott Lukoil!
As I moved through the rally, I was approached by Mark Andryczyk. He told me he was a good friend of Serhiy's, and let me know that Zhadan will be happy to hear I shared his work at a rally so far away.
Almost a year to the date, I was overjoyed to discover that Serhiy wanted to visit Philadelphia to read with me. I saw familiar faces from the Ukrainian community at Vox Populi, thanks to the curatorial generosity of Anthony Romero. Zhadan's work was engaging, moving and powerful. Readers of his work in English included Anthony, Mary Kalyna, Alina Pleskova, Jenn McCreary & Ryan Eckes. It was one of those unforgettable nights that reminds us what we knew all along. Poetry matters.
Serhiy Zhadan's poetry has been translated into English, but a book has yet to be published. Let's change that!