The war in Ukraine has been raging since 2014, but it wasn’t until the full-scale invasion of February 2022 that the world started paying attention. In the Hour of War: Poetry from Ukraine is an anthology of poems written in response to this conflict, written by poets whose work is known to thousands of people and who are translated into dozens of languages, as well as those who are relatively unknown in the West.
The anthology includes writing by former Soviet dissidents and those born well after Perestroika began, and who have grown up in independent Ukraine. It includes soldier poets, rock-star poets, poets who write in more than one language, poets whose hometowns have been bombed and who have escaped to the West, poets who stayed in their hometowns despite bombardments, poets who have spoken to parliaments and on TV, poets who refused to give interviews, poets who said that metaphors don’t work in wartime and poets whose metaphors startle.
What these poems all share is a war-torn country that refuses to step back, a country whose cities are destroyed by the Russian invaders at the very moment the book is going to print. The poems are in conversation with one another, with references to Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert, the Jewish poet Paul Celan, who wrote in German, and many others.
The language of these poems is marked by a radical confrontation with the evil of genocide: the intentional extermination of one people by another. Does poetry have the tensile strength to embody such a confrontation? The answer is yes. These poems provide practical and useful advice regarding how to comport oneself in such a time, and what to pack should sudden flight become necessary. They also speak of the solitude of plants and trees, the breath of those you share life with, the small shudder of a wet twig.
In the Hour of War is a collection of powerful and moving poetry that speaks to the immediacy of warfare: landmines, shellfire, rockets and tanks, warships, rifles, missiles and the corpses they leave behind. It is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of war and injustice. It is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, love can still be found.