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Still City

Diary of an Invasion

Oksana Maksymchuk

Foreword by Sasha Dugdale

Cover of Still City by Oksana Maksymchuk
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Categories: 21st Century, Eastern Europe, First Collections, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
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Paperback (128 pages)
(Pub. May 2024)
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  • Description
  • Author
  • Reviews
  • Still City, Oksana Maksymchuk's debut in English, reflects life in the wake of extreme and unpredictable violence. Inevitably, there are dramatic shifts in perspective: this diary of an invasion recreates the mood and tone of the context within which a poet's imagination must make sense of the change.

    Drawing on various sources, including social media, the news, witness accounts, recorded oral histories, photographs, drone video footage, intercepted communication, and official documents, Maksymchuk tells the shared experience. The book began 'as a poetic journal I started keeping in my hometown of Lviv, Ukraine in 2021–22. In the months leading up to the full-scale invasion, my writing has been registering how ways of living, thinking, and feeling have been changing due to the anticipation of a catastrophe, imbuing the everyday rituals with the sense of finality and precarity. While we, as a family and a community, made preparations for air strikes, as well as nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare, our relationships transformed, as did our sense of time, fate, and personhood.'
    Oksana Maksymchuk was born in Lviv, Ukraine, in 1982. She is the author of two award-winning poetry collections, Xenia and Lovy, in the Ukrainian, as well as a co-editor of Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine, an anthology of contemporary poetry. Her English-language poems appeared in The Irish ... read more
    'Maksymchuk is aware of the inadequacy of language in the face of mass destruction, but she lets us see, like Soviet poet Osip Mandelstam, how poetry can nevertheless help to carve out of the chaos spaces of resistance, and fleeting spaces of hope... Poignantly, as the war shows no sign of ending, the collection does not contain a single full stop: there can be no rest, Maksymchuk suggests, without the establishment of a lasting and just peace.'
    Philip Terry, The Guardian
    'We have needed this book of poems for centuries, for generations; a poet who shatters all the quiet retreat like an alarm clock that will never shut off. Forget the front pages of newspapers causing breakfast paralysis; it's Oksana Maksymchuk we need to tell us, "In the dictionary of victims / there's no space / for a hair to fall."'
    'Poet, philosopher, anthologist, translator Oksana Maksymchuk is someone whose work I have known and admired for years, and yet nothing prepared me for her new book, Still City. How can one prepare for war? This is precisely the question this poetry makes memorable music of. But how does one make music of something like that? "Waking up in a borrowed room, in a body / borrowed for a time, in a time / borrowed," the poet says as she points us to "bodies in the street / scorched trees / Black squares / for windows / Black buttons / for eyes." That's when air-raid sirens start. "Pack all you need to survive" is the music's advice.
    "What I didn't suspect about / war is that there'd be / music," the poet says. "Not the kind that compels you to move," she admits, "but the kind that irradiates / every surviving nucleus / rendering you a creature // absolutely new / facing the passage of time / naked." That kind of music. There is terrifying restraint in these poems of war wherein realism becomes a song, realism becomes hallucination, realism is a naked nerve set to a tune. Terrifying, yes, but necessary. Still City is an important book.'
    Ilya Kaminsky
    'In Oksana Maksymchuk's Still City, war is everywhere. It is impending, it arrives, and swallows, infusing every detail of life, and every act of figurative language that can be used in the service of those details. Even the cat rolling a ball of yarn rolls it like a grenade. Even "this poem you're inside - / won't it need a lock?" she asks. Maksymchuk's management of tonal nuance is extraordinary, from the relative innocence of the book's opening lines, "I bought a hat / of faux mink fur / to wear in the war," to later, the "body turned inside out... a spectacle / resembling a bag spilling its private content." The book's relationship to language is clean, elegantly crafted, but never simple. Maksymchuk accesses myth, philosophy, imagination, allusion - and remains utterly accessible, an act of generosity akin to the great poets of tyranny and war, so that "[Y]ou too bear witness to / the interminable." Gradually, a necessary coldness takes hold, as Maksymchuk questions poetry itself, describing a poem as "flattened... like roadkill," and reminds us that tyrants, too, mouth their barbaric verses. I am grateful for Maksymchuk's radical honesty, for her willingness to take me to her homeland, to its lit display cabinets filled with cakes, its candied pinecones, the lushness of its flowers, its classrooms filled with children, so that I can begin to understand the brutality of its violation. She teaches me that life, it turns out, is as tenacious as war. "[I]t says yes/ Always - yes // No use / denying it."'
    Diane Seuss
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