Natalka Bilotserkivets bilingual interview

In this sublime audio conversation (57 minutes, fully bilingual), Ukrainian poet Natalka Bilotserkivets (Наталка Білоцерківець) speaks of her development as a poet in the former Soviet Union and following. We enjoy an extensive discussion and reading of her poem, “We’ll Not Die in Paris” [see full text below] in light of the poets Apollinaire, César Vallejo, and Paul Celan, and consider the influence also of Ukrainian poet Pavlo Tychyna, Pasternak, Cavafy and T.S. Eliot, and Ukrainian folk culture generally. She talks about the role of political poetry, the writing of her long, acclaimed poem, “May” on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and how poetry functions in present-day Ukraine, including in the context of the current war.

Interpreted from Ukrainian by Svitlana Budzhak-Jones; recorded at The Pennsylvania State University, February 2016.

Enjoy more poetry from Natalka Bilotserkivets, and a terrific sampling of other new Ukrainian literature, in Trafika Europe 7 – Ukrainian Prayer, free online:

We’ll Not Die in Paris

by Natalka Bilotserkivets

I will die in Paris on Thursday evening.

                                        — Cesar Vallejo

You forget the lines smells colors and sounds
sight weakens       hearing fades       simple pleasures pass
you lift your face and hands toward your soul
but to high and unreachable summits it soars

what remains is only the depot       the last stop
the gray foam of goodbyes lathers and swells
already it washes over my naked palms
its awful sweet warmth seeps into my mouth
love alone remains though better off gone

in a provincial bed I cried till exhausted
through the window       a scraggly rose-colored lilac spied
the train moved on       spent lovers stared
at the dirty shelf heaving beneath your flesh
outside a depot’s spring passed       grew quiet

we’ll not die in Paris       I know now for sure
but in a sweat and tear-stained provincial bed
no one will serve us our cognac       I know
we won’t be saved by kisses
under the Pont Mirabeau murky circles won’t fade

too bitter we cried       abused nature
we loved too fiercely
our lovers shamed
too many poems we wrote
disregarding poets
they’ll not let us die in Paris
and the alluring water
under the Pont Mirabeau
will be encircled with barricades

(Translated by Dzvinia Orlowsky; reprinted by permission of the poet, translator, and Zephyr Press)


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