People with the Verb ‘To Live’

The presentation of People with Verbs, Kateryna Kalytko’s new poetry collection, in Kyiv gathers a large audience. People are filling up the chamber hall of Molodyy Theater. A dark room with black walls, floor, and chairs. Kateryna and I also arrive dressed in black, without agreeing about it beforehand.

This evening, there are only two of us talking on the stage. We know that other people are sitting right in front of us but we cannot see them. Only the stage is illuminated.

If poets carved metaphors out of that, they would’ve many options to consider. A black box comes to my mind.

A black box is supposed to reveal all the details after an aviation incident or air crash. It records flight data and communication in the cockpit.

This autumn evening, on the last day of September, we are also talking about a catastrophe. About the big war — the largest disaster we have seen or experienced.

In the past, I would’ve considered it an exaggeration to say that during the war, when the whole country is under a constant threat of missile strikes, people turn to poetry or attend literary evenings.

Everyone falls silent.

We begin.

“Have you experienced a state of numbness, of freezing between the past and the present, when air raid sirens are blaring and missiles are flying, and poetry cannot keep up with that? How long did that state last and how did you move on?”

“Yes, I experienced that,” Kateryna says. “I felt like everything I was doing in my previous life lost its sense.”

So, she has rewritten her poetry collection she finished back in January 2022 and is presenting tonight. Now the collection includes poems about the war. About them coming to kill us. About a heart that turned into a shell crater. About Marik as we lovingly call Mariupol.

Readers highly appreciate many names in contemporary Ukrainian poetry. Right now, these names either perform the role of a diplomatic mission abroad, serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, or volunteer. But time and again, they dig up their creations from the previous life and recite poetry.

But when our descendants get to decode our black box, one of the records will sound like this: people were getting together in the evenings to listen to poetry in the country deplorably ruined by the Russian missiles. The voice of Kateryna Kalytko, a wonderful poet, will testify to the watershed moment. Two lives will echo in it — a life “before” and a life “during” the war with Russia.

We wrap up the presentation by talking about one particular verb in her poetry collection whose presence could hardly have been expected. It’s a verb ‘to kill.’ Not metaphoric; not poetic; not random.

Once it’s over, the guests come closer — to give us a hug and share their emotions. Theater lighting floods the dark room. It illuminates the people present and fills the black box with countless voices.

The voices of people with all kinds of verbs, with the most crucial one — ‘to live.’

P.S.: Perhaps, it is for this reason that flight recorders — black boxes — have actually never been black. They have a distinct color: bright red.

People with the Verb ‘To Live’-1

Author: Svitlana Stretovych, Ukrainian essayist, program director of Litosvita

Translator: Hanna Leliv

Illustrator: Victoria Boyko

Content Editor: Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors: Julia Ovcharenko and Demyan Om Dyakiv Slavitski