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In Memory of a Banyan Tree: Poems of the Outside World: 1985 to 2022
Three Wooden Trunks
The Country Where Everyone’s Name Is Fear: Selected Poems
Translated from the Ukrainian by Roman Ivashkiv & Erín Moure • Series Editor: Grace Mahoney

ISBN 978-0-9991994-6-6     $18.00  /  $21 (Canada)     5.5 x 8.5       

120 pp      
PUB DATE: April 2019       Poetry


Yuri Izdryk’s Smokes explodes with existential contemplations and addresses regarding love, identity, nature, society, and the divine. The poems teem with energy; Izdryk’s indefatigable play with language encompasses incessant punning rhymes, Joycean multilingual puns, ludic shifts of tone and register, and scintillating intertextual games. In creating a sophisticated semantic soundscape where sound and rhythm defiantly drive meaning, Izdryk impishly reinvigorates Ukrainian poetry, which only recently had begun to lean towards free verse, by re-invoking its strong rhyming tradition. In these poems, linguistic dexterity is the roll of the dice that, though it can’t vanquish apocalyptic despair, can keep its desolation—at least briefly—at bay.

About the Author


Born in Kalush, Ukraine in 1962, Yuri Izdryk is an iconoclastic writer, musician, and visual and performing artist. Outside Ukraine, he is best known for his 1997 novel, Wozzeck, translated into English by Marko Pavlyshyn and published by CIUS Press in 2006. Izdryk owes his immense popularity in Ukraine not only to his superb literary talent and the aura of mystery he has created over the years, but also to Chetver (Thursday), the samizdat experimental literary journal “of texts and visions” he produced almost single-handedly for over twenty-five years and to the hip-hop/trap band DrumTyAtr in which he performs.



Yuri Izdryk
Trans. Roman Ivashkiv & Erin Moure
Sandpoint, Idaho (Lost Horse Press. 2019) 103 pages

Autumn 2019

This useful translation of poems, culled from six books by renowned Ukrainian author Yuri Izdryk, makes the most of the facing-page translation format by allowing alphabets to drift across the center line, playfully mixing Cyrillic and Latin scripts in a way that both reduces and reinforces the distance between Ukrainian and English and thus between the poet and the anglophone reader. Such playfulness is appropriate in a translation of a poet so given to wordplay and pop culture allusions. While Roman Ivashkiv and Erin Moure don’t always reproduce the tight rhyming that connects Izdryk both to traditional poetry and to hip-hop culture in a way that may remind American readers of Michael Robbins, they do convey the poet’s tendency to run amok through etymology in lines like “a pandemic of anxiety and panic as panacea” from the poem “Panpipe.”

A deep restlessness as well as an intense privacy underlie the poet’s wordplay, both manifested in a refusal to let language settle into any clear and straightforward sense. Izdryk seems to be constantly seeking something or someone and constantly avoiding being found himself. In “Zoom,” the speaker says, “this house sits above thermal waters / where green is the grass on the rocks forever / there are no roads and no trails reach it,” one of many moments in which the poet situates the voice of the poem in an unreachable house or room, as if he is speaking to us but also reminding us that we cannot speak back. Interestingly, this dynamic is reversed as in a mirror when the poet often speaks to a God he is more than half certain is his own invention. In “Panpipe,” he writes, “reveal yourself speak your name show where you are / why can’t you hang loose about your creation.” In a poem called “Prayer,” it is not entirely clear, despite the poem’s title, if he is speaking to God or to a lover when he says, “when the world turns its back / and distances and walls rise between us / talk to me,” but as that last line gets repeated throughout the poem, the reader begins to hear a kind of desperation in the plea.

Through slippery language and shifting imagery, Izdryk avoids being pinned down, but rather than coming off as distant and cold, this elusiveness makes the poetry seem all the more human, all the more relatable in its anxieties.

—Benjamin Myers
Oklahoma Baptist University




March 5, 2021

Not many contemporary Ukrainian writers can boast of having dared to completely undress in front of an audience. The 58-year-old poet, novelist, book designer, musician, and actor Yuri Izdryk can. Last year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he released the poetic photo album entitled NAKED ONE followed by a calendar, where he posed (to the delight of his numerous female fans!) nude. The aesthetic and erotic photoshoot for the famous writer was made by photographer Nastya Telikova, who has collaborated with the festivals “GOGOLFEST," "Docudays UA," "PORTO FRANKO," "Atlas Weekend," as well as with music bands Dakh Daughters and Dakhabrakha. Yuri Izdryk explained his position on such a photoshoot, which became part of the book and later a separate nude calendar, with one of the most relevant libertarian slogans: My body, my choice. “This is my personal opinion, but on top of that,” the author notes, “NAKED ONE is a metaphorical, and at the same time quite literal, fuck off to this world. I have a right to do so. Because I’ve had enough. Because I’m already 58+.”

Such contrivances may not attract much attention in American literary society, but in Ukraine, where, unfortunately, there is still serious discussion about whether obscene language can be used in literature, it became a real sensation. In response to the news about this calendar, the Facebook community exploded with a barrage of comments such as, “One should wash one's eyes with holy water after seeing it," "It's awful. He's naked!," "The man loves himself, there's nothing else to say," etc.

Provoking outrage and longing for experiments are not uncommon for Yuri Izdryk. The artist, who is the author of more than twenty poetry and prose books, was born in 1962 in the town of Kalush, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast’, where he still lives. He belongs to the so-called "Stanislav phenomenon,” a group of artists whose literary work traces the use of postmodern techniques. It also includes other famous writers, among which are Yuriy Andrukhovych, Sofia Andrukhovych, Taras Prokhasko, Volodymyr Yeshkilev, and others. In 1989, Izdryk founded Thursday, the far-famed journal of "texts and visions," which for almost twenty years published the works of a new generation of Ukrainian writers that actively experimented with literary forms. In 2010, together with musician Hryhoriy Semenchuk, Izdryk founded the «DRUMТИАТР» project, where he reads poetry and plays the bass guitar. Among the author's many incarnations, perhaps the least known is that he was a liquidator during the Chernobyl disaster—a topic he speaks little and reluctantly about.

The musicality of Izdryk's poetic texts, as well as his desire to experiment with form, are the features that distinguish his writing from other Ukrainian writers. This is especially noticeable in the poetic bilingual collection Smokes, published by the American publishing house Lost Horse Press in 2019 as part of their "Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series.” In addition to Izdryk's collection, Lost Horse Press has also published poetry books by other famous Ukrainian writers such as Yuri Andrukhovych’s Songs For a Dead Rooster, Serhiy Zhadan’s A New Orthography and is planning to publish poems by Lyuba Yakimchuk, a poetess from Donbas, who won the American Kovalev Foundation Award in the category of “Poetry.”

Smokes was translated from Ukrainian by Roman Ivashkiv and Erin Moure. They masterfully managed to capture the rhythm and sound of Yuri’s poems, as well as to draw readers on some sort of intellectual quest. In the poems' titles, the author and translators play with Ukrainian and Latin letters. For example, the original title of the poem is AFTER DАRК, whereas in the text it became AFTER ДАRК; SIMPLE PLEASURE became SIMPLE ПLЕASURE and so on. This letter game is a kind of innovation an attentive reader will definitely remember it.

The book consists of four sections which contain poems from six of the author's poetry books, published within the period of 2013 - 2018. Incidentally, the author switched from prose to poetry in the past and is now sure that it is poetry that brings him the greatest thrill. He publishes many of them on his Facebook page. This trend is popular among other Ukrainian writers, too: Serhiy Zhadan regularly posts new poetry on his social media.

The main themes of the poetry collection Smokes are god, love, and the narrator's fatigue from the world. To one degree or another, they are present in all of Izdryk's poetry. In particular, he calls God “. . . a dad sugar pop and also the absolut / diluted with the spirits of another’s motivations” ("IN МY HEAД") and accuses him of silence: “why are you silent and won’t address us?” ("SIЛЕNСЕ OF THE UNІVERSUМ"). At the same time, the author often puts god and love on the single plane: god is love, and vice versa. For example, "A PRAYER," a well-known poem in Ukraine is the quintessence of this interconnection.

Love in the book is presented in various forms—from romantic and erotic to light and jazz-like: “paintbrush filled with honey juice / that on your skin draws aquarelles” ("PAINT POINT") or “we forget how we are and / where and who / and in a circle join / parallel bodies” ("TRANS-ФORM"). Love is also a dependence: “we need one another like a drug” (“JURISДICTION") and the author addresses the object of his feelings by sending an appeal to always be together.

The author's fatigue from the world and even his reclusion are also noticeable in the book. In fact, this is Yuri Izdryk's way of life, who even before the coronavirus pandemic was rarely seen at literary fairs and festivals. One can feel his fatigue in the lines: ”I’d scram from here already— / there’s nothing at all to do / watching it all is dreary and painful” ("SIMPLE ПLЕASURE"), “better wear your slippers when you stare at the box / never leaving your house or family circle” (“ДООDLEБUG") or “it’s a kettle I can live with / but a person beside me—not any more / because in / my little private world / I feel like I’m in a civil war” ("SOЛIPSISTIC MISANTHROПY”).

Smokes contains both rhyming and free verse poems. Izdryk is probably one of the most notable poets in modern Ukrainian literature who constantly plays with the form of the text: he is good at both. Perhaps, this is the main poetic quality of the author, along with the real zen which you achieve from reading these poems behind the smokescreen.

Reviewed by Lilia Shutiak
Translated by Yulia Lyubka


moon enters cloud
saber lies in a sheath
sun sets behind the mountain
snow melts on palms
we—a random couple
we neurotically gentle
at this midnight hour
face-to-face in a dream



місяць заходить у хмару
шабля лягає у піхви
сонце сідає за гору
тане в долонях сніг
ми – випадкова пара
ми невротично ніжні
в цю опівнічну пору
віч-на-віч уві сні

—Yuri Izdryk