Translated by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky
Born in 1953 in the village of Kuianivka, Natalka Bilotserkivets belongs to the Visimdesiatnyky (eightiers), a term used to describe those writers who gained artistic momentum during the 1980s, in the declining years of the USSR. Bilotserkivets published her first poem, “A Word on Your Native Tongue” in 1967 at the age of thirteen. Nine years later in 1976, while a student at Kyiv University, her first collection of poetry, Balada pro neskorenykh [Ballad of the Unconquerables] appeared. She published her second books, U kraini moho sertstia [In the Country of My Heart] in 1979, a collection that focused on her youth while also weaving in Ukrainian folkloric motifs. Two collections appeared in the 1980s, including Pidzemnyi vohon, [The Underground Fire] (1984), and Listopad, [November] (1989), which contained the famous poem, “We’ll Not Die in Paris.” The poem became the hymn of the post-Chornobyl generation of young Ukrainians who were instrumental in toppling the Soviet Union.
Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow brings together poems from four decades of Bilotserkivets’ works. In 2022, Bilotserkivets, and translators Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky were nominated for the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize. In an interview related to her Griffin Prize nomination, Bilotserkivets states that she turn to poetry “to save, comfort, unify — not for “anger” or “a call to action” — even though I know good poets who follow this way and manage it well. I would also recall the joy and enlightenment of the creative process and the creative form that poetry delivers to both poets and their readers.”
Wolf Wine Bar
Two years ago, maybe even two and a half
life hadn’t seemed so hopeless:
chestnuts didn’t choke on rusty blood,
floods didn’t reach the windows of buildings
with the Wolf wine bar and Dove coffee shop
and the small theater under the large lanterns.
Two years ago, maybe even two and a half,
we didn’t have such severe snows and frosts:
water didn’t freeze in the boilers and pipes,
flutes never froze to lips or fingers,
the snow didn’t stick to legs in thin stockings,
carpets covered with the wreckage of aircraft.
So be it. There’s still time for the final sign:
a time when wolves run, doves fly,
and, having left behind their foundations, pulling out their roots,
the Wolf wine bar and Dove coffee shop will disappear,
the lanterns, chestnuts, hotel, and theater.