poetry collection

Serhiy Zhadan gathers 4,000 poetry lovers at the poetry evening in Kyiv


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It took ambition to gather 8,000 poetry lovers in one space. Organizers said about 4,000 people came to listen to Serhiy Zhadan’s poetry at an event held in Kyiv’s Palace of Sports. The reading was dedicated to Zhadan’s “All Poems” collection, a 1,400 page tome containing some 700 poems written over the three decades between 1993 and 2023. Published by the Chernivtsi-based Meridian Czernowitz publishing house in January 2024, the book was dedicated to the poet’s 50th birthday celebration, which will be in August this year.

While some of the audience spontaneously bought their tickets just before the event started, others had been waiting for this reading for several months. Some of Zhadan’s more ardent fans came with books ready to be signed.


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Cultural manager and founder of the “Stretovych Agency” Svitlana Stretovych shared her thoughts on the poetry evening:


“This is a historic event we’ve been waiting for decades. Any author or cultural manager who cares about the growth of Ukrainian literature dreams to have his poetry read before an audience in the Palace of Sports.”


Zhadan appeared on stage after almost all the guests had taken their seats. The author read his poetry against the monotone black background with surreal, psychedelic illustrations created by Ukrainian artist Hrytsia Erde. For his performance, the poet wore a plain black shirt. There was nothing unessential on the stage — just a lectern and a microphone. The artist began his speech not with a greeting, but with his poem, “You will tell others in your own words.”

On the same day the event was held, Russian missiles again struck Kharkiv and Zhadan couldn’t let it rest. He called on guests to support the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian culture. He then read a passage about the rocket-destroyed Factor-Druk printing house.


“About a month before the performance, I chose poetry pieces to read. But when the Russian army attacked the Factor-Druk printing house in Kharkiv a few days ago, I thought I should remove the passage. You know, when it comes to the destroyed printing house, it’s just way too direct an association and a strong trigger right now. But I left these words in place because we cannot forget what had happened.”

Later, while Zhadan began reading one of his most famous poems, “Swim, Fish, Swim,” an air raid alert went off, and the event had to be suspended. Fortunately, it didn’t last long. After the all-clear signal was issued a few minutes later, guests could return to the hall.


Swim, fish, swim —
those are your islands over there,
there’s your grass,
there’s your rudder:
holding to your route
sewing your parachute,
watching for you in the depths
with your rudder.

When green stars fall into the mouth of the river,
when your rudder
utters the words:
that over there – that’s my dreams,
that over there – those are fishermen’s boats,
that’s night, that’s the current,
that’s my death, probably.

Life is silence and laughter.
There’ll be enough for everyone.
There’s enough for everyone
for all my loves.

So fly, fish, fly –
I know all the bridges,
I know all the lighthouses,
I do everything backwards.

Just your words,
just secrets and miracles,
just confession and fasting
in one of the port cities.
Love, fish, love,
sure, hopelessly, sure,
sure, without any hopes —
rejoice, fish, rejoice.

Love is worthy of everything —
worthy of your pain,
worthy of your separations,
worthy of disgust and torture,
a dog’s angry howling,
madness and mercy.
Worthy of life even.
Not to mention death.

(Translation from the RozdIlovI Project)


Even though the event was intended to be a retrospective of Zhadan’s creative work, the author arranged his poems according to topics and not chronologically. The poet joked that over his 30 years of writing, he should have enough pieces to organize them into thematic collections. Zhadan divided his poetry into categories about God, love, priests and chaplains, war, women, immigrants, train stations, and railways. He chose only the most famous poems that readers knew by heart, and the audience screamed with him some of their most adored lines together.

Toward the closing, Zhadan shared with the audience about his writing process and discussed the situations that inspired his words. “Swim, Fish, Swim,” for instance, was written on an old push-button cell phone that lacked even a “Notes” function. Zhadan texted stanzas to his friends in messages.

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The reading lasted over two hours and ended with a large book signing session.


Images: Dzvinka Pinchuk


Copy editing: Ben Angel, Terra Friedman King