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Beauty and Resilience: Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Exhibit

Volume 2: Songs for a Dead Rooster

Translated by Vitaliy Chernetsky and Ostap Kin

Although a novelist, essayist, literary critic and translator, Yuri Andrukhovych is best known in Ukraine for his poetry. Born in 1960 in Ivano Frankivsk (then Stanislav), he is a founding member of Bu-Ba-Bu (burlesk, balahan, bufonda), a group of poets formed in 1985 with fellow writers Oleksandr Irvanets and Viktor Neborak. Through community creation, the group sought to bring a rebellious carnival spirit to Ukrainian literature, not only as a means of undermining the soviet doctrine of socialist realism, but also as an antidote to any poetry espousing a serious, dogmatic form. While Bu-Ba-Bu’s work spanned more than a decade, the peak of their activity occurred between 1988 and 1992, at the intersection of the twilight years of the Soviet Union and the nascent years of an independent Ukraine. One of their most famous productions, the poetic opera, Chrysler Imperial, was staged in the Lviv Theater of Opera and Ballet in 1992.

Songs for a Dead Rooster incorporates two distinct periods of Andrukhovych’s poetry. The first spans the 1980s through the early 1990s, during his involvement with Bu-Ba-Bu. The second reflects on 2004 forward, when he returned to poetry after publishing only prose for a number of years. At times, his poems are playful, often effortlessly juxtaposing the ordinary with the surprising, challenging the reader to look beyond the banal to excavate life’s intricate ironies.  

Translator Vitaliy Chernetsky is an associate professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Kansas. He has translated two of Andrukhovych’s works, The Muscoviad and Twelve Circles. Ostap Kin is the author of New York Elegies: Ukrainian Poetry on the City.


we look for the most precise knowledge

on ladders we scale the highest floors of the library

we rummage through the stacks alongside spiders

raising chalk clouds under the ceiling

as if atop the steepest tower

we feel like aerial gymnasts

out of breath and barely keep our balance

we dive into the thickest volumes no longer hoping

to ever get out

the books consume us like the sea

we grip carved protrusions

barely able to stay afloat

and when we’re about to run out of strength

sneezing and covered in plaster

it feels like success to find

in the thickest of goatskin and leather

pressed tightly against the wall

the light and warm

nest of

a street swallow

Photo of poet Yuri Andrukhovych

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