Olena Huseinova (b 1979) is a Ukrainian poet, whose intensely autobiographical free verses explore memory, knowledge, anxiety, the boundaries of hope and reality, and irreversibility of experience. Olena’s poetry aims at freeing women’s writing from fighting patriarchal structures of language and does so by creating territories of one’s own where men’s laws do not apply – from a girl’s room to an entire city.
Olena holds an MA in Philology from Kyiv-Mohyla academy. In 2004, her poems appeared in a major Ukrainian journal Suchasnist (Modernity). It’s a journal that starting from 1991
establishes the benchmark of Ukrainian postmodernism. In 2005, Olena received second prize in a prestigious literary competition for young writers “Smoloskyp”, which since the 1990s had been the starting point for basically all key figures of Ukrainian literature.
Olena’s first book of poetry, Vidkrutyi Raider (Open Rider), was published in 2012 and
immediately impressed: it ranked in top 10 books of the “Ukrainian Book Arsenal Fair”, and
placed in the top 20 of the Lviv Publishers’ Forum. Deeply grounded in jazz, Olena’s poems are both dynamic and slow, visual and tonal. Their plasticity allow connection with other media. In 2014, Ukrainian artist Dasha Kuzmich created a video poem “Like Cherries” based on Olena’s text that won the first prize at the international festival of video poetry Cyclops.
Olena’s second book of poetry Superheroi (Superheroes),(designed by art-studio “Agrafky“) was published in 2016. The Ukrainian Book Arsenal fair voted it as the best illustrated book of the year. Clearly, for Olena book cover matters. It is not just a container for her texts but an integral part of her artistic project where design, structure, and texts come together in a playful way. One might think Olena’s text flirts with mass culture – Ukrainian Gotham is in need of a superhero who will stop the war. But then within the actual war and the war on words it’s a search for home and thus for meaning.
In 2017 Olena presented her poems at the international literary festival Authors’ Reading
Month. Currently she is working as an author and radio host on Ukrainian radio station
“Culture.” She also works as a coordinator of cultural programs for the Ukrainian bookstore
chain “Knyharnya Ye.”
Her poems have been translated into English, Polish, Czech, Lithuanian, and Russian.
The day-- all shades of sand
Adornments-- rusted beads
So as not to haggle with a beggar
about a pail from Thebes or the Mount of Kadam
you need to become a barbarian
The evening. People gather.
They sit where they please
It's no longer necessary to look for shade.
Companions keep switching between
semi sweet red
and semi sweet white
Their wrinkles flowing,
"Soon it''ll begin."
And I was not allowed to enter St Mark's cathedral
I was told my skirt was too short.
And I was forced to find refuge somewhere by the river.
There, underneath Via Rialto where
Gondoliers (likely petty thieves and killers)
were gazing upwards
where in a skirt shorter than mine
A Venetian woman herself stood.
She's already been to St Mark's cathedral.
Rome existed only
so that on the hottest day
A woman in flip flops
made from the thinnest leather of a python
could soak her feet in the fountain
at the Spanish Square.
The fountain was hurling itself at the boat
Musings on navigation--
for the novel
about sea sickness
Eyes of the men--
at the cameras
at the black and white photograph
My pockets are too shallow to like New York
my coat has no pockets at all
Except for one on my chest
on the left side
But it's full already--
Others' words of love, of the sea, and god
of pain and the holy war
I'm not even going to squeeze in the rolled-up
twenty dollar bill
What about your pockets this fall?
Maybe there's room for
A checkbook, Visa Gold, and a little bit of cash?
The titans cry giant tears
as they put their bare shoulders
Underneath the balconies
where the handsome
Even in the rain
in woven chairs
And their manicured fingers
from the French tobacco
won't save you
when it starts to rain
and the youngest of the knights
of the Charles Bridge
is throwing the sword into the river.
The gate is open
the Dresden gallery
The city could have been called Zherono
It could have been called Syracuse
It could have no name at all
(I press my finger
to the imaginary map of the world
and you're, there, right beneath my fingertip)
Now I don't care
whether the wine was
red or white
turn it into water
or pomegranate juice
when the "o" is only a cry
or when the "o" is the beginning of a name
(until the next time)
the cherry-colored atlas
And the strokes
of Chinese hieroglyphs
long as the road to the Windy Mountain.
Yes, my love, this is Mexico.
We came here
Don’t you remember? Don’t you believe?
In all honesty,
We got a car
in San Diego.
I wanted a Dodge Aries,
but just as at home, you trusted
Alan Mullally alone.
The 1982 Ford Granada,
was the color of coffee with milk,
and for this I made peace with it —
all the way to Mexico.
When we were crossing the border,
(the wind wheel, the water wheel,
the swinging weight?)
We left the car.
We walked on foot
across the Gila Desert.
my hair with a bandana,
took off my red boots,
and treaded right behind you
step by step.
You turned around,
kisses at me,
with a million of the tiniest sand grains,
and you yelled:
“From this angle you resemble
the wife of Gaspar de Portola, my love.”
“Who is she?”
“Mrs Portola, I think.”
We slept in the desert,
although the city of Alamos
was alight with fires on the horizon.
In the morning I gathered some agave and said:
“I’ll make Mezcal for you”
“Why not tequila?”
“Because we don’t have any sugar.”
When the Sea of Cortez
hit our faces with
a breeze of iodine and salt,
I took off my t-shirt
You kissed my lips,
entangled in your legs,
You smudged the wet sand of El Vizcaino
on my breasts
and my inner thighs.
“Yes, love, this is Mexico,
The Scammon’s Lagoon —
People cannot stay here.”
“We’re just waiting —
for the sea lions,
the sea turtles,
the grey whales,
the blue whales,
the common seals,
don’t be afraid, my love.”
The person in me grows smaller,
curls up in a ball,
wraps in a colorful wrapper.
A chocolate covered prune.
Bitter, sugary, smoky,
marks the fingers
with the black, abrasive stain—
that’s how you’ll recognize your kin,
that’s how you’ll distinguish
between black and white.
My entire person may be eaten in one go.
Open your mouth wide,
clench your jaw tight,
The person in me
will squeak, crumble, and halt.
And already without her—
with marble-like confidence
— I will hold back
the cargo carriages,
the distant roads,
the barbed wires,
the tall fences,
the perpetual snow.
with bones in their throats,
those with crossed fingers
behind their backs,
the shady dealings of a military man,
a horse made of damp, fireproof wood,
and a berry— round and poisonous.