Lina Kostenko. Peizazhi pam'iati (Vybrani poezii 1977-1989) / Landscapes of Memory: the Selected Later Poetry.
LINA KOSTENKO is the premier poet of contemporary Ukraine. Born in 1930, she is the author of many books, including such well-known poetry collections as Prominnia zemli (1957), Vitryla (1958), Mandrivky sertsia (1961), Nad berehamy vichnoi riky (1977), Nepovtornist (1980), Sad netanuchykh skulptur (1987), Vybrane (1989), and two historical novels in verse: Berestechko (1999) and the immensely popular Marusia Churai (1979, 1982). In the late 195os and 1960s Kostenko was severely criticized by Soviet critics for what was called her "formalism," her ideologically nonconformist attitude, her conscious avoidance of the precepts of the Communist Party-imposed dominant style of socialist realism. Rather than bend to the demands of her censors and critics, she chose not to be published. Her silent protest for almost two decades attracted the attention of anticommunist critics and readers. Lina Kostenko's poetry began to circulate in clandestine publications and to appear in emigre journals and in Ukrainian books published in the West, and she became the best-loved poet of the Ukrainian diaspora.
Lina Kostenko's forte is her intimate lyrical love poetry, on one hand, as well as her social allegorical poetry, most of which deals with the special role of the poet in society. Shelley's dictum about poets as the "unacknowledged legislators of the world" is brought in Kostenko's view to its ultimate conclusion: she sees poets as prophets and national leaders, frequently misunderstood and even persecuted, but deserving of special consideration and exceptional treatment. In Eastern Europe, where great poets were treated as national prophets throughout history, Kostenko's view fell on fertile ground and found an appreciative audience among her admirers. In Kostenko's social poetry, literature is the arena of a continual battle between good and evil, with poets as champions of truth, beauty, and freedom.
Landscapes of Memory is the second Kostenko book to be published in English. Garland issued her Selected Poetry: Wanderings of the Heart in 1990, also in Michael M. Naydan's translations. That first book had selections from Kostenko's early collections: Prominnia zemli, Vitryla, and Mandrivky sertsia, as well as a few additional poems. Landscapes of Memory, which is, unlike its predecessor, a parallel-text edition, providing Ukrainian originals side by side with the translations, contains a selection from Kostenko's books Nad berehamy vichnoi riky, Nepovtornist, Sad netanuchykh skulptur, and Vybrane.
Lina Kostenko is not a revolutionary experimentalist inclined toward linguistic hermeticism. On the contrary, she has, as is pointed out in the preface by Mykola Ilnytskyi, deep roots in traditional poetics. Her poetic voice--direct, natural, conveying genuine emotion--finds an immediate rapport with the reader. The richness of her language and versification, her colorful imagery, and a clever, sometimes sarcastic use of aphorisms makes translating her work into English rather difficult. Naydan does not attempt to reproduce Kostenko's classical meter, and his poetic translations, unlike the originals, are unrhymed. Poetry translations seldom do justice to the originals, but they at least provide a glimpse into a foreign poet's world of ideas and images. The selections in Naydan's book are primarily short love poems or lyrical landscapes and do not include any of the longer poems or even the shorter epic poems, which tell a story with an allegorical meaning so characteristic of Kostenko. The inclusion among translations of such poems as "Tsyhanska muza," "Tini nezabutykh predkiv," "Breiheh Shliakh na Holhofu," and "Liubov Nansena" (to name but a few shorter pieces) might have given a better representation of Kostenko's subject matter, her wide-ranging intellectual scope, and her philosophy of life and of art.
English-language readers interested in the critical reception of Kostenko's poetry will find the translator's introduction and Mykola Ilnytsky's article "Poetry and Destiny" enlightening and thought-provoking. A special issue of Canadian Slavonic Papers (June 1990) was also devoted to the Lina Kostenko symposium held earlier that year at the University of Michigan.
University of Pennsylvania