"We act like children with our dead," Halyna Kruk writes as she struggles to come to terms with the horror unfolding around her: "confused, / as if none of us knew until now/ how easy it is to die." In poem after devastating poem, Kruk confronts what we would prefer not to see: "a person runs toward a bullet/ with a wooden shield and a warm heart..." Translated with the utmost of care by Amelia Glaser and Yulia Ilchuk, A Crash Course in Molotov Cocktails (Arrowsmith Press, 2023) is a guidebook to the emotional combat in Ukraine.
These stunning poems of witness by one of Ukraine's most revered poets are by turns breathless, philosophical, and visionary. In a dark recapitulation of evolution itself, Kruk writes: "nothing predicted the arrival of humankind..../ nothing predicted the arrival of the tank..." Her taught, lean lines can turn epigrammatic: "what will kill you will seduce you first," or they can strike you like Lomachenko's lightening jabs: "flirt, Cheka agent, bitch."
Leading readers into the world's darkest spaces, Kruk implies that the light of language can nevertheless afford some measure of protection. Naming serves as a shield, albeit a wooden one. The paradox is that after the bullets have been fired and the missiles landed, the wooden shield, the printed book, reconstitutes itself.
Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed has a Ph.D. in Slavic languages and literatures (Indiana University, 2022).
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