Three Poems from Disbelief: 100 Russian Anti-War Poems, edited by Julia Nemirovskaya

Today we feature three poems from the Russian-language anthology Disbelief: 100 Russian Anti-War Poems (edited by Julia Nemirovskaya; various translators; Smokestack Books, 2023). We are grateful for the following introduction written for Punctured Lines by Maria Bloshteyn, one of the translators of the collection. As she notes below, one of the featured poets, Galina Itskovich, is a therapist helping those in Ukraine; you can donate here to support this work.

Introduction by Maria Bloshteyn:

After the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there was an outpouring of Russophone protest poetry by poets in Ukraine, Russia, and the Russophone diaspora. The Kopilka Project, the brainchild of the US-based poet Julia Nemirovskaya, has been gathering these poems and safeguarding them as a resource for translators and scholars. Here are three poems from the project that have also been included in the recent bilingual anthology Disbelief: 100 Russian Anti-War Poems, edited by Nemirovskaya and published by Smokestack Books in the UK. Galina Itskovich is a New York-based psychotherapist and poet who is also a born and bred Odesan. Since the first days of the invasion, she has been deeply involved in providing help to mental health professionals and traumatized civilians in Ukraine; her poem reflects both on the experience of women trying to survive under unimaginable circumstances and on her desperate efforts to support them. Nadya Delaland and Vadim Zhuk are both in Russia and are witnessing the atrocities of the war from the belly of the beast. Their very different poems capture their horror and feeling of personal culpability at what is unfolding before their eyes. Together, these three poems and their authors are part of the powerful chorus of voices that finds the means to speak to readers about the unspeakable atrocity of this war.


Надя Делаланд

все мертвые становятся детьми
беспомощными ничего не могут
самостоятельно им все не слава богу
одень переверни печаль уйми
их на руки возьмешь и напролет
всю ночь прижав к груди по дому носишь
поешь им песни внятно произносишь
никто из них однажды не умрет
сажаешь их под домом и в окно
все время смотришь не взошли ли листья
ли листья не взошли но можно литься
дождем и лица вытянув и нос
достанешь ночью косточку зерно
светящееся семечко из почвы
запьешь его дождем и станешь молча
вынашивать внутри себя всю ночь
потом родишь и снова двадцать пять
часов подряд то пеленай то нянькай
корми грудным дыханием и в майке
иди копать

Nadya Delaland

all the dead turn into children
they’re helpless can’t do squat
for them there’s no thank god
dress them turn them cheer them
pick them up hold them tight
sing songs speak clearly say
that they all won’t die one day
carry them around all night
plant them by the house then
keep checking if they’ll sprout
if no sprouts are out then spout
as rain does tapering faces noses
at night you’ll pluck the pit grain
glowing seed out of the soil
chase it down with rain then toil
all night brood silently gestate
till you deliver then it’s all fatigue
change diapers soothe nonstop
nurse on your breath slip on a top
go out and dig

translated by Maria Bloshteyn

Вадим Жук

Ты, живущий в высокой башне
Сделанной из бивней белого слона,
Не отличающий сегодняшний и вчерашний,
Знай – ты воюющая сторона.
Ты, скупающий банки и крупы,
Чтоб завтра семья не была голодна.
На тебя безглазые смотрят трупы.
Ты – воюющая сторона.
Ты умолкнувший, ты молчащий,
Ты, шепчущий «Не моя вина».
И на тебя найдутся волчищи в чаще,
Ибо ты – воюющая сторона.
Ты со своим ненасытным стаканом,
Всё посылающий на и на.
Тебя разбудят твои тараканы:
Ты тоже воюющая сторона.
Ты – со своими строками горячими,
У тебя открыты и грудь и спина.
Ты здешний. Не вне и не над. И значит,
Ты воюющая сторона.

Vadim Zhuk

You, residing in an ivory tower
Head in the clouds, nursing your pride,
You, who can’t tell yesterday from tomorrow,
Know this: you’re a warring side.
You, binge-buying sugar and matches
To take the lean year in stride –
Eyeless corpses are staring at you.
You are a warring side.
You, who fell silent, who mutters,
‘Not my fault,’ ‘I can’t turn the tide,’
Wolves will get you through closed shutters,
For you are a warring side.
You may give zero fucks with your bottomless
Blasted bottle, but you can’t hide.
Your own demons won’t let you rest:
You’re also a warring side.
You whose poems subtly glow,
You’re wide open and in for a ride.
You’re from here. Not beyond or above. And so,
You are a warring side.

translated by Dmitri Manin

Галина Ицкович

Кризисная терапия

руки домиком
говорю я им
сложите руки домиком
потом поговорим
закройте глаза руками
порадуйтесь темноте
вы в безопасности
как в детской игре
вскрикивает валя
всюду тела тела
вот в темном нижнем углу
на краю села
мария кричит от ужаса
руки пока на глазах
сколько же надо
чтоб говорить про страх
страх их вывел из смерти
страх это лучше чем смерть
классная у них чуйка
а ведь могли не успеть
но те кто не вышел из дыма
в машине взорвался
нарвался на автомат
за баб моих бедных цепляются

спать не велят
пить не велят
в любой темноте стоят
вот такая групповая трагедия
валя юля марийка люба
они у меня не последние
через час придет еще группа
поступил социальный заказ
напишите умное руководство
как выживать сейчас
из херсона
или скадовска
не помню даже
из места где нынче
хреновa тучa садистов
саранча на посадках наших
как выживать под орками?
прятаться за пригорками
слишком плоская степь говорите
прятаться в доме
в лифте
в глубине плиты
в газовом огоньке
в вазоне на подоконнике
в подполе
в завитке подстаканника
не обращайте на себя внимания
проходя под стеною здания
глядя в себя по-улиточьи
складываясь в молитвенник
что ж это
я ж в мешковатом синеньком

стыдно как
ой не дивися синочку
что ж ти не дивишься Господи
города стылые простыни
каждое слово удар под дых
вдали маяком
я отдала б за любую из них
жгут живота моего.

Galina Itskovich

Crisis Therapy

steeple hands
I tell them
just like that
make your hands into a steeple
then we’ll chat
hands over your eyes now
it’s dark but that’s okay
you’re safe
you’re hidden
like in that game kids play
screams valya
bodies lie outstretched
right in that dark corner
far off
by our village’s edge
maria screams in terror
but her hands still cover her face
it takes
plenty of courage
to talk about your fears
fear is what led them out of death
fear is far better than death
it might have been too late for them
if not for their keen sixth sense
but all those who didn’t make it
who got blown up in their cars
who were cut-down by machine-guns
cling to them from afar

forbid them to sleep
forbid them to drink
and close in whenever it’s dark
you might call it a group tragedy
valya yulia mariyka lyuba
they’re not my last ones today
another group comes in an hour
an urgent request arrived
to compose a manual
with instructions on how to survive
it came from kherson
or skadovsk
I don’t recall which one
but a place overrun
by a hell-load of sadists
a swarm swooping down
so here our work: a MANUAL
on how to survive these orcs
hide behind the hillocks
but the steppe is too flat you say
then hide at home
in the elevator
in the oven
in the gas light
in the plant on the windowsill
in the subflooring
in the curve of the tea glass holder
don’t attract attention at all
as you walk by a wall
shrink into yourself like a snail
fold up like a book of prayers
I’ll be quick, with the boy in tow
just to the store and back
covered neck to toe dark-clad
walking beside a wall just like they said

Mother of God
what are you doing
let me go
the shame
look away my son
why aren’t you looking God
the town’s bedsheets are cold
every word gets you right in the gut
the manual is endlessly far
a lighthouse across a flood
I’d give up for any one of them
my own heart’s blood.

translated by Maria Bloshteyn


Nadya Delaland (b. 1977) is one of the most prominent poets and feminist activists in today’s Russia. She was born in Rostov-on-Don and lives in Moscow. She works as an art therapist, has published fourteen books of poetry, and also writes novels, journalism and biography.

Vadim Zhuk (b. 1947) is a prominent poet, a well-known actor, and a broadcaster and screenwriter. He was born in Leningrad. He is the writer for, and the director of, the Leningrad-Petersburg theater-studio Chetvertaya Stena. He has authored ten books of poetry.

Galina Itskovich (b. 1964) is a poet and translator, and the recipient of several poetry awards. She was born in Odesa,
moved to the US in 1991, and now lives in New York, where she works as a psychotherapist. She is deeply involved in providing aid and support for civilians and supporting specialists in Ukraine.

Maria Bloshteyn was born in Leningrad and grew up in Toronto, where she now lives with her family. She received her
PhD from Toronto’s York University and was a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University. Her main scholarly interests lie in the field of literary and cultural exchange between Russia and the United States. She is the author of The Making of a Counter-Culture Icon: Henry Miller’s Dostoevsky (2007), the translator of Alexander Galich’s Dress Rehearsal: A Story in Four Acts and Five Chapters (2009) and Anton Chekhov’s The Prank (2015). Her translations have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry (2015). She is the editor and main translator of Russia is Burning: Poems of the Great Patriotic War (Smokestack Books, 2020).

Dmitry Manin is a physicist, programmer, and award-winning translator of poetry both from and into Russian. He has
translated Zabolotsky into English, and Hughes, Ginsberg, Hopkins, Burns, Leconte de Lisle, and Mallarmé into Russian.
His poetry translations into English have been published in journals, including Delos, Metamorphoses, Cardinal Points, Cafe Review, and in Maria Stepanova’s book Voice Over (2021). Born in Moscow, he now lives with his family in California.

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