Stories of 11 Mirrors – Serhiy Zhadan
“Except for the Circus, I worked with all genres. I am interested in everything that is relevant, applicable and inclined to develop”, Serhiy Zhadan tells 11 Mirrors in an exclusive interview.
Our unparalleled collection of personal stories from our guests keeps growing. 11 Mirrors Design Hotel is happy to welcome and accommodate Serhiy Zhadan, a well-known Ukrainian poet, novelist, translator, public activist, frontman of Zhadan and the Dogs and Mannerheim Line, author of the novels Depeche Mode, Voroshylovhrad, The Orphanage, etc.
We had a unique opportunity to talk to Serhiy during his recent stay in Ukraine’s capital – he took part in the Online-BarCamp: On/Off: Creating The New Normal.
11 Mirrors: What is the main difference between writing poetry and writing prose?
Serhiy Zhadan: A sense of rhythm. Writing prose is similar to running a long distance. You immerse yourself in prose for a long time. It may take a few years to create a novel, and you have to keep the plot in mind, live your characters’ life and look at the situation through their eyes. Poems are like a flash, a short race, they immediately record emotions, reflections and fleeting feelings.
11 Mirrors: Do you write poems without a rhyming pattern following the modern-day tendency?
Serhiy Zhadan: Poems that rhyme are still popular in the Eastern Europe countries – Ukraine, Belarus, Russia. Classical rhyme is considered an atavism. In Western Europe or America, writers do not resort to rhyme. I write poems both ways. My newly released book The List of Ships consists of two parts – rhyming and free verse poems. Being a philologist, and poetry is part of my life, for me it is like solving crossword puzzles. Rhyming words may seem a weird activity, but I enjoy it. Although I understand that it is almost impossible to translate poems into other languages.
11 Mirrors: You tried your hand at drama – you wrote the play Bread Armistice. What was this experience like? Will you keep moving in this direction?
Serhiy Zhadan: In fact, I have been cooperating with theatre since the 90’s. I wrote many theatrical texts, but did not include them in books. Bread Armistice is my first ‘full-blooded’ play which came out this year. Staged by Stas Zharkov, it will premiere at Kyiv’s Theatre on the Left Bank on September 26 and 27. Of course, I will attend the premiere night.
11 Mirrors: As an author, do you influence or take part in the staging process?
Serhiy Zhadan: I keep away from it. I did not attend any rehearsals. My experience proves that one had better not put pressure on the director and not interfere with the process. Therefore, I am eager to see Stas’s interpretation of my play. I am currently working on another play. Friends of mine and actors asked me to write a dramatic text. It will be a man’s story performed in three voices.
11 Mirrors: What is your attitude towards the movie Wild Field – an adaptation of your novel Voroshylovhrad?
Serhiy Zhadan: I have some comments, though, generally speaking, I am pleased with the outcome. Yaroslav has his own vision, and I respect it (ed. – Yaroslav Lodyhin is the director). I would like to continue our cooperation in future, we have an idea to make a film based on my novel The Orphanage. However, it is not possible so far.
11 Mirrors: For sure, the coronavirus changed lives of all people on the planet. What impact did it have on your work? Did it cause depression, or, on the contrary, give you an inspiration?
Serhiy Zhadan: It is an opportunity to reconsider my life, because suddenly it becomes obvious that we are all vulnerable and defenceless. Despite our involvement, confidence, activity and willingness to do something, it turns out that circumstances are much stronger than we are. Unfortunately, culture, perhaps, as well as hospitality, are the most vulnerable spheres. I can’t say that I got a positive experience during this period. I worked hard, I did many translations and wrote many texts. However, I had a feeling of helplessness, a feeling that you can’t influence the circumstances. But I am the one who likes to have everything under control. I am concerned about what is happening now. The number of identified patients grows, regions are divided into zones, and it is not clear what lies ahead. The statistics of lethal cases is disturbing. Then we find out that authorities do not disclose the whole truth to us. Then it turns out that not everyone follows the quarantine restrictions. As a result, we start distrusting each other, this feeling of distrust is disruptive. It is no good for our society.
11 Mirrors: You can’t abstain from tours, live concerts, performances for a long time – as you say, you experience a withdrawal syndrome. How did you put up with it while self-isolating?
Serhiy Zhadan: I love what I do, and it’s very difficult for me without communicating with people.
11 Mirrors: In your opinion, has modern Ukrainian literature reached maturity or is it still going through puberty?
Serhiy Zhadan: Well, a puberty period is definitely over – Ukrainian literature has existed for so many centuries. Has the Dnipro River reached any maturity? It runs, flows, sometimes dries up, sometimes overflows and floods surrounding neighbourhoods. Literature is a never ending process; it has its own ups and downs. We live in interesting and challenging times, when new directions and new opportunities open up. It may sound technological, but under new circumstances, writers experiment with advanced technologies and try to master a new reality.
11 Mirrors: What are you reading now?
Serhiy Zhadan: Considering Ukrainian writers, I lately read Dotsya (Daughter) by Tamara Gorikha Zernya (ed. – BBC-2019 book of the year) with a focus on the war, Donbas, events in Donetsk in 2014.
11 Mirrors: May contemporary Ukrainian literature be interesting for the global community?
Serhiy Zhadan: For sure. Ukrainian books are constantly translated and published, Ukrainian writers are invited abroad. Perhaps, it is not as large-scale as we would like it to be. To a large extent, this does not depend on the quality of texts, but on the involvement in the world context. There are a few translators from Ukrainian in the world. As the country and society, we are not globally well-known. However, when our writers’ works are translated and Ukrainian writers visit other countries, it arouses some interest. No one will recognize us and invite us just like that. The process requires effort, and it is more about promotion, management, PR, rather than creativity. It would be good if not only writers and their publishers keep it running, but we also have state support, which is normal. This practice exists in all countries. Germany, France and Switzerland have comprehensive programs to promote their culture. We can follow the example of our Polish neighbors, who have made the world change their attitude towards Poland, over the last quarter of a century. Their literature, music, cinema, theatre have a strong global presence thanks to state institutions that have been working effectively for a long time.
11 Mirrors: In recent years, Ukraine has become more attractive to foreigners. What do you think should be done to increase the flow of tourists?
Serhiy Zhadan: When foreigners travel to Ukraine, they change their perception of our nation. With their own eyes, they see a vast, interesting country with its own problems and arguments, but with an incredibly powerful potential, and most importantly – with fantastic people. People are our greatest resource. In general, Ukrainians are open, soft, and hospitable. After all, you always explore the country with the help of a certain person. You will find a kind of “stalker” who will guide you through the filters, show you an unpopular but signature place, tell stories that are not written in a tourist guide. It’s as if you’re opening a book and the stalker is commenting on things you didn’t notice or realize before.
11 Mirrors: What other genres would you like to master?
Serhiy Zhadan: Except for the Circus, I worked with all genres. I am interested in everything that is relevant, applicable and inclined to develop. We even created an opera (ed. – the opera Vyshyvany about Austrian Archduke Wilhelm von Habsburg (Vasily Vyshyvany), who became a Ukrainian military figure). However, it has not been staged yet. I wrote the libretto, Alla Zagaykevych created the music. I hope that next spring the opera will be showcased at the Kharkiv Opera House.
11 Mirrors: Do you like staying at hotels?
Serhiy Zhadan: I really enjoy staying at hotels, I feel hugely comfortable. I like a certain anonymity offered by the hotel. That is, you close the door and find yourself in your world – you have your own space. And I work in hotels. By the way, after this interview I will go write a poem, and complete it until tomorrow.