Spotting the White Elephant: Ukraine on the Literary Map of the World

Here is a Fulbright-award-winning comparative lit scholar–Iryna Shuvalova–writing about Ukrainian poetry. I have been watching events in Ukraine (I have friends there); this essay includes some ways poetry and self-expression–and the lively poetry “scene” in Ukraine (not much translated into English)–connect with political events.

“One of the most touching videos from Ukraine’s “Euromaidan” events is the one, in which Serhiy Nigoyan, a member of Ukrainian Armenian community, recites the lines of Taras Shevchenko’s poem “Caucasus”. On January 22, Serhiy was killed by the members of the pro-government armed forces.”

Poetry can be dangerous.

Poetry International Online

Recently, among the riots in the streets of Kyiv and general unrest in the country, the current Ukrainian government has done two notable steps in recognition of the significance and weight Ukrainian poetry has in the affairs of the nation. The first step was to arrest a young poet together with his two friends and imprison them under alleged incrimination of “organizing mass riots”. The second step was to shoot the Secretary of the National Writers’ Union in the head: thankfully, with a rubber bullet. In light of these two accidents I could not help giving in to the urge of briefing the global community on the present state of literary affairs in the country, where the art of writing is obviously held in such great regard by the officials.

Spot the Question Mark

This country the size of France, squeezed between the European Union in the West and Russia’s…

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2 comments on “Spotting the White Elephant: Ukraine on the Literary Map of the World

  1. KM Huber says:

    Thank you for the link to Poetry International, a fascinating read on poetry and poets in life and death. The language is stunning, I think, as I imagine meter and rhyme among all those consonants. Of course, I wish the best for your friends. Again, thanks!


    • Yes–all those consonants–and yet, Russian and Ukrainian offer the poet more end-rhyme possibilities than English ever can. I’ve been trying to study the meter/rhythms of the classic poetry forms in those languages, to see if I can mimic them in English. Pretty difficult!! No success yet. Fascinating, though.



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