Preface

Hillary Shears, translator and poet. December 2019, London

Very occasionally a unique new voice in poetry rises above the clamouring crowd to command attention. Informed by a very different culture, language and environment from his Anglophone audience, Korotko’s short, sharp observations of life around him are far from the easiest to translate into English but his rich imagery, distinctive take on life and sometimes sardonic approach make the effort well worth while.

Like almost 30% of Ukrainians, Korotko’s mother tongue is Russian, which, in poetry, is quite distinct from Ukrainian, for its rhythms have a different music. The reader can picture him, notebook in hand, recording his thoughts on the world around him in all sorts of contexts and wherever he goes.

In recent years Ukraine has experienced political and social upheaval as it struggles to establish its independence from Russia whilst celebrating and revelling in the freedom of being able to promote its own culture and history.
It is too, a proudly European country, conscious of our common heritage of writers and artists, many of whom have inspired Korotko’s poems.

Against this background Korotko’s poetry has a personal slant, providing an intimate record of recent times and life in today’s Ukraine while painting a general picture of the country. That picture is sometimes so vivid it is almost like a memory in the reader’s own mind, as in Fatherland, the first poem in the collection, with lines such as ,“a broth of dirty glistening smog,/a sorry cloud of rust”, while references to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine are often understated allusions rather than overt commentary. An exception to this is the moving poem, War.

There is a large number of powerful short poems about loss, life, death and dreams most of which deploy recurrent imagery of sun, moon, skies, clouds, the seasons, wind, snow and other images from the natural world. In some you can hear the cynicism, “Guard duty’s what you get for sin”, or VAULT “A garrison, /a cardboard /matchbook / matches sleeping/without a name/ like bar codes.” He is often humorous, as he says self-deprecatingly, “I am the main producer of half asleep clothes”

His observations are sharp, and perceptive, covering a multitude of subjects, from a reflection about the face of an old person (Face) to the changing light of sunsets and the seasons (The sea licks/a lollipop sunset) and longer, deeper thoughts on what life is, (At night, in secret,/imperious memory/clambers/on to the Ferris wheel/ of memories….).
In many poems the sea is a metaphor for life, especially dreams: “in the sheepskin of dreams, in winter’s wail,/dressed in white caps on background blue/storm-tossed sea of furrows”.

No matter what the subject or imagery, his very short poems can be a real treat, for example, “Naïve penguins” or the wonderful opening line “Deadly/beautiful night/
In lacquered shoes”. I love so many of his opening lines because they really make you read the whole poem closely and think about the underlying message. I shall leave it to the reader to explore the book and come across them.
I can promise you a real voyage of discovery. Enjoy!

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