A searing testament to poetry’s power to define and defy injustice, from iconic writer-activist Serhiy Zhadan
“Among Ukraine’s most distinguished writers. . . . Zhadan has borne expert witness to Russia’s fire-blasted impingement on his country since the 2014 invasion of Crimea.”—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, “Best Poetry of 2023”
Since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, the Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan has brought international attention to his country’s struggle through his unflinching poetry of witness. In this searing testament to poetry’s power to define and defy injustice, Zhadan honors the memory of the lost and addresses the living, inviting us to consider what language can offer to a country threatened with extinction. Young lovers, marginalized outsiders, and ordinary citizens pulse with life in a composite portrait of a people newly unified by extremity. Even in the midst of enemy fire, Zhadan’s lyrical monuments beat with a subterranean thrum of hope.
With a foreword by the poet Ilya Kaminsky, this selection of Zhadan’s poetry, forged entirely in wartime, is an homage to the Ukrainian people, a forceful reckoning with the violence of the past and present, and an act of artistic imagination that breaks with trauma and charts a new future for Ukraine.
Serhiy Zhadan (b. 1974) is one of Ukraine’s most celebrated writers. He has received the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and several international literature prizes. His books include Sky Above Kharkiv; Mesopotamia; The Orphanage; and What We Live For, What We Die For: Selected Poems. He lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps have been translating Zhadan’s poetry since 2002. Ilya Kaminsky is an award-winning poet from Odesa, Ukraine, and the author of Deaf Republic.
“Zhadan yokes the pedestrian everyday life of eastern Ukraine with the invisible orders of existence, and is spiritually attuned to a deep understanding of the forced transience and fragility of buildings and social orders in the post-Soviet east.”—Oluwaseun Olayiwola, The Guardian
“Reading these words now is enough to make one’s breath catch. [Ukraine’s western partners] do not see themselves as members of its funeral processions; they do not routinely line the streets and kneel before passing coffins.”—Linda Kinstler, Times Literary Supplement
“[Zhadan] focuses on gaps: in language, between people, between the living and the dead. This void, this ‘silence,’ is returned to so many times that it becomes a character in itself.”—Ella Creamer, The Guardian, “Five of the Best Recent Books from Ukraine”
“These words blaze across the page like missiles aiming at the fourth dimension: What if someone spoke a sentence / That could stir the sonic field of death? In the eternal battle between Orpheus and Morpheus, a great poet’s verbal imagination is always his sharpest weapon, his impenetrable shield. In his face-off with memory and time, Zhadan is certain to prevail.”—Askold Melnyczuk
“A classic of modern Ukrainian poetry.”—Gary Shteyngart
“When Zhadan says ‘speak now,’ he is getting at all the ways that speaking matters: from the trenches in Ukraine that he’s known to the memories of Ukrainians that he carries. The urging to speak vibrates through these pages, as if the saying it is always an homage to those who have tasked the poet to sing, while alongside him they go about the business of loving or working or cajoling light out of suffering so that we all might ‘have enough stories to brave through winter.’”—Reginald Dwayne Betts
“Serhiy Zhadan’s poetry allows the pain and bravery of those who can only speak through his poems to be heard. Today, in the context of war, his words resonate deeply, offering a powerful and moving journey through the human experience.”—Yevgenia Belorusets
“Zhadan is a poet, rock star, and activist whose verse is rooted in his native Eastern Ukraine. He draws metaphors from daily life that in turn become the subjects of his poems, and Tkacz and Phipps have brought these images to life in an English that does justice to Zhadan’s urgent messages about life, war, and love.”—Amelia Glaser
“This is the sound of War. Zhadan, reporting from the frontlines in Kharkiv, where words are bullets and voices are heard from the dead. From Ilya Kaminsky’s brilliant foreword to the last drops of blood on the book’s final pages, How Fire Descends is a book on fire. Poetry from bunkers, bomb shelters and graves—poetry from the depths.”—Bob Holman
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