Patricia McCarthy’s new pamphlet features a series of intimate, imaginative encounters with poets, artists, composers, and men and women caught up in the nightmare of war. Borders are crossed, communities are loved and lost, identities are imposed by history, but exiles are also brought home as Patricia celebrates the Ukrainian heritage and cultural associations of a rich artistic diaspora that includes figures such as Anna Akhmatova (born and raised in Odessa), Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Osip Mandelstam.
“Private memory matters, the Odessa-born poet Anna Akhmatova said, because it contributes to collective memory. That idea can be extended to all intense acts of imagination, many of which draw
on the global collective experiences modern technology makes almost as vivid as memory to 21 st century writers. In A Ghosting in Ukraine, Patricia McCarthy creates an imaginative country which is a vast village, unbounded by time, yet contemporary, universal in its human variety, while proudly local. Akhmatova is only one of the immortals who ‘ghost’ this landscape. Through epistolary poems and dedications, we meet Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, Mark Chagall, Piotr Illych Tchaikovsky
and the versatile young Ukrainian painter (b. 1978), Kateryna Kosianenko. McCarthy’s gift for imagining other lives, and giving personal immediacy to the material of collective memory extends beyond the ‘big names’: it includes the casket-maker, the small-holder, the wild horses that survived the Chernobyl disaster, and the women whose husbands and sons are away fighting, but who carry on with such chores as ‘hanging out washing in Kiev’. These women, despite – and perhaps because of – the lonely physical drudgery, are tenacious of hope, too, and ‘wait for a feather to float – / under a sky that rumbles no godsend – / a plume pen from a crane, a storm petrel,// a white stork’. McCarthy reminds us of the power of simple generosity when, in Part iv of ‘A Kind of Triptych’, the speaker recalls ‘When the young Russian soldiers come/ Irina offers them milk from her only cow./ They take her cell-phone, but that is all’. The speakers in A Ghosting in Ukraine hear the guns, see the blood, and keen for the dead but also keep faith with poetry and its importance in the struggle for freedom and justice. Akhmatova wrote of ‘the word that causes death’s defeat’. The power of ‘the word’, which McCarthy’s own country of origin, Ireland, has bequeathed her, is alive in the winter darkness of Ukraine – and in these poems which dare both to grieve and celebrate.”