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Ukrainian War Poetry comes to life in Exeter

Published: 15 March 2024

Ukrainian War Poetry comes to life in Exeter The Devon Ukrainian Association

Poetry from the Ukrainian front line comes to life in Exeter next week at a public reading event in the city.

The event takes place at Mermaid in Gandy Street, Exeter, from 6pm to 9pm on Friday 22 March and follows three weeks of workshops in the city.

The event also marks the celebration of the second anniversary of the Conversation Café in Paris Street, which recently won an Exeter Living Award in the Civic Category, in recognition of “Phenomenal impact welcoming Ukrainian refugees and supporting host families.” The Conversation Café project was made possible with Exeter City Council and Devon County Council support.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has given rise to an outpouring of defiant, powerful, and poignant war poetry by soldiers on the front line and civilians caught up in the conflict.

The Devon Ukrainian Association joined forces with academics at the University of Exeter’s Department of Languages, Cultures and Visual Studies, to run a series of workshops, ‘Ukrainian War Poetry: Translating Experience’, with support from the University’s Bridging Communities Fund.

The workshops invited Ukrainian refugees in Devon and Exeter on the government’s Homes for Ukraine and Family schemes to share poetry reading and reactions to this, inspiring their own creative writing to ‘translate’ their experience.

The Devon-based prize-winning poet Fiona Benson led the creative sessions, in solidarity with Ukraine and her fellow poets, including PEN Ukraine members Yuliya Musakovska and Olena Huseinova, who the University welcomed to Exeter for public readings in July 2023 that Fiona attended.

The university team, led by Prof. Hugh Roberts and translation specialist Prof. Helen Vassallo, are sharing poetry by, among others, the young soldier-poet Artur Dron’, a rising force in Ukrainian poetry. They are coordinating the translation of his collection, We Were Here, by Yuliya Musakovska. They are also pursuing an anthology as well as translation of the prize-winning soldier-poet Yaryna Chornohuz. They have issued a YouTube playlist of Ukrainian war poetry by Dron’, Huseinova and another soldier-poet, Liza Zharikova.

The Devon Ukrainian Association and the university team already joined forces for ‘Reading for Odesa’, a simultaneous cultural event across the world on 24 February 2024. Through Exeter UNESCO City of Literature, the Exeter-based readings joined numerous others across the world coordinated by the UNESCO network. Several members of the Devon Ukrainian Association gave moving readings of poetry, including by Dron’. The university team simultaneously released a recording of ‘”Mary” to “Golgotha”’, a poetic masterpiece by Maksym Kryvtsov, a celebrated poet and soldier, who was tragically killed by Russian forces in January 2024.

‘Ukrainian War Poetry: Translating Experience’ draws on the power of poetic expression as a source of resilience and defiance in the face of brutal force that seeks to destroy Ukrainian language, culture, and lives. It also serves as another platform for the Ukrainian community in Exeter and Devon to demonstrate their own inspirational resilience.

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