Thank You For Your Tears
MERIDIAN CZERNOWITZ XXIII, 2.-4.9.2022
Translated from Russian by Frank Williams for Zeitzug
Ukraine’s war begins in Romania. The roads on the Romanian side of the border are jammed with trucks carrying weapons. Rockets? Howitzers? Radar? They hide their nationality in containers under heavy khaki-coloured tarpaulin. The trucks give way to a bus with half a dozen poets from Germany, Israel, Switzerland. We’re going to Chernivtsy to read poems. It’s a regular event here: reading poems in September. Not all poets accepted the invitation: times are troubled. We were warned: “There may be no water. Curfew begins at 23.00”.
From Iași in Romania to Chernivtsy took five and a half hours by bus. Finally we got there. There was water. Our hotel was on Olga Kobylyanskaya Street in the pedestrian zone. “Make yourselves comfortable. It’s safe here”. In the morning I was woken by the sound of marching and a drill sergeant yelling: “Glory to Ukraine!” The squad answered: “Glory to the heroes!” There is a Territorial Defence barracks next our hotel. It seems hotel guests are also a military target.
In the morning I strolled around town. On the gate of the military hospital a sign read: “Department of Catastrophe Medicine”. It wasn’t there two years ago. A poster on the park gates: “In the Open Air Theatre we are weaving camouflage netting for our soldiers”. There are a lot of new signs and posters in the town. In the yard of the music school there is a sheet of paper with an arrow: Air Raid Shelter 150 metres. The Paul Celan Poetry Centre has the address of the nearest shelter on its front door. Everything, everywhere is in Ukrainian. It’s as if in this polyglot city Russian has been switched off. The only people speaking it are possibly refugees from Kharkiv and Mariupol. I ask what language the soldiers speak in the front lines. I am told, both Russian and Ukrainian, but at night they all speak Ukrainian, so they don!t mistake the enemy for one of their own.
I drop by a restaurant drowning in foliage, more a snippet of heaven than a restaurant. The heavenly menu features two wines: Pinot Grigio and Chianti. Leonard Cohen sings casually about a thousand kisses deep
I buy the local newspapers. There are a lot of death notices, especially in Young Bukovinian: “The children have lost a father”, “A fine example to his brothers”. The city cemetery is growing to accommodate fresh graves with photographs of soldiers. Glory to the heroes! In the park I walk past a booth with computer games. Written on the wall in big letters is: “Let us help you escape reality”. Should I try it maybe?
In the evening a German poetess is reading. A local Chernivtsy professor is doing the translation. In the middle of a poem she breaks down in tears. The professor is silent, awkward. The audience is also in tears. At the end of the evening a woman comes over to the poetess and says: “Дякую за вашi сльози: Thank you for your tears”.
In September 2022 German vers libre and Ukrainian голoсiння - weeping - came together.
What Is the Secret of Chernivtsi? A Conversation with Ihor Pomerantsev
LARB by Kate Tsurkan, 26.12.2022
"At first, the idea of having a literary festival during wartime certainly does sound a bit odd. That’s why we renamed it this year to “Meridian Czernowitz Poetry Readings.” The context of war casts a shadow over everything we do now — let me give you an example. I attended one of the events where the Austrian poet Milena Findeis was accompanied in Ukrainian translation by our famous local German scholar Petro Rykhlo. In the middle of the event, Milena broke down and started crying. Rykhlo is usually quite the stoic, but I noticed that his lips were trembling, and soon the entire audience was in tears. Then everyone overcame their emotions, and the event continued. Afterward, a Ukrainian woman came up to her and said, “Thank you for your tears.” I have contradictory feelings about this statement! Findeis read some really great poems. But in the context of war, tears mean more than poems; human touch is more necessary than brilliant metaphors. This is difficult for me to admit because it almost feels like the defeat of poetry, in a sense. I suppose it was the emblem of this year’s Meridian Czernowitz. Emotions overwhelmed all of us, and literature took a step back. It was three days of collective catharsis.