Ivan Petrovtsiy (b. 1945) is a poet, editor, and translator.
He completed a degree program in French language and literature at Uzhhorod State University in 1973 and is well known as a translator of poetry from French, Hungarian, Slovak, German, and Russian into Ukrainian. He taught elementary school (1973-1975) and worked as a journalist for various newspapers in Soviet Transcarpathia. He is the author of thirteen Ukrainian-language books of poetry and prose. His fourteenth book was Dialektariii, abo zh myla knyzhochka rusyns'koï bysidŷ u virshakh (1993), a defense and definition of Rusyn lexical items in verse.
During the last years of the Soviet regime, Petrovtsiy welcomed the Rusyn national revival in Transcarpathia and began to publish in Rusyn. His first collection of poems in Rusyn, Nashi spivankŷ (Our Songs 1996), created a literary and political sensation with its denigration of radical Ukrainian nationalists and the government of Ukraine. Petrovtsiy went on to publish a collection of translations from world poetry into Rusyn (Nashi y nynashi spivankŷ / Our Songs and Others 1999), a collection of Rusyn erotic poetry, Bytangüs'ki spüvankŷ (Scoundrel Songs 2003), and Poslïdnï spüvankŷ (Last Songs 2004). These are collected in Spüvankŷ (Songs 2006). He was awarded the Aleksander Dukhnovych Prize for Rusyn Literature in 1998.
Petrovtsiy writes in the style of folk poetry, using traditional meter and rhyme and the earthy vernacular of his native village of Osoi. The content of his early books ranges from a celebration of the ordinary events of Rusyn life (weddings, customs, superstitions), to light and jovial drinking songs, to verse describing the more dismal aspects of Rusyn reality—poverty, unemployment, and alcohol abuse. In his latest collection, he takes a somber tone and turns to more meditative and philosophical themes
From Nashi spivankŷ. Reprinted in Spüvankŷ.
A Short Conversation with Napoleon
I was and am a Rusyn. And I will be.
I have a purely Rusnak nature.
I used to work the harvest
In Rostov or Kirovohrad.
In Komi I went timbering,
And to Kamchatka building houses …
Wherever the devil might send me,
I put the seal of my work.
I used to take my suitcases,
Stuff my rags into carpetbags,
Tie them with twine, and take to my heels—
Around the “unbreakable Union” I wandered.
The Union collapsed, the borders ruptured.
But I didn’t put away my suitcase.
I was and am a Rusyn. And now
Europe will hear the sound of my sandals.
A train took me to France. To Paris.
Bags like mine have not been here before.
At the station I simply sat down on the curb,
And had me a few bites of ham.
More than one Frenchman drew near
When he saw how I crunched my onion.
One mademoiselle even asked for some bacon,
But I come back at her: “No use gawking!”
First of all I set off for the Place Pigalle,
The girls there are just my style—
Big tits, big asses—but big-mouthed!
I’d try for one, but I have to hold my bag.
After Pigalle—Place d’Etoille, Versailles …
I went everywhere, anywhere I liked.
But sadly, my beautiful suitcase,
Some chuchmek1 stole at the Sorbonne.
In two days I emptied my food sacks,
And in my baggage there’s nothing to eat.
A job? But they’re not hiring anywhere—
At least, they say, not folks like me.
To Hell with the French! After all,
I was accepted in Rostov and Kamchatka …
And only here in dirty Paris …
But then I had an idea:
I’ll find the mayor of this dull town,
We’ll have a heart to heart talk—
After all, I came here not as a beggar,
After all, I came here to work!
For three days I searched Paris for the chief—
I visited their mayories, their priories, and prefectures.
To my mind, the gentlemen here are stupid,
And the women, if not whores, are fools.
Then I had a thought—in the madhouse in Berehovo,
A certain wise patient once told me
That in France Napoleon is tops,
And I found Napoleon directly!
This Napoleon is a real boss!
On the Place Vendôme he stands like a lord,
In an emperor’s toga, all proud-like,
With the look of a General Secretary.
I go up to him timid as a fawn,
And as God demands, I say—Slavaisusu!2
You see, I just arrived from Berehovo …
So excuse me, I had to come …
Then Napoleon tore off his toga,
And stretched out his hand. –Slava y navikŷ!3
Today is not a reception day,
But I’ll gladly greet a man from the village.
And here I shout out—What! Are you a polyglot?
You even speak Rusnak?
—Why, everyone does. The most honored peoples in Europe
Are the French and the Rusyns.
I remember still, back in Corsica I learned
To pronounce Rusyn words precisely:
Tsobŷrknuty, zdobarytysia, l'ofa,
Mankovŷ, fŷska, nashchyvliaty …4
—I remember, you visited Russia …
—Let’s not talk about that,
Because now you’re visiting Paris,
And you dare to cuss this town …
—Yes, and if you wish, I’ll cuss you too,
In this town you’re the boss,
And what is beautiful here? Whores!
And the Soviet mafia is great too, but …
—Don’t you speak against the mafia,
Here we have a national mafia.
The Louvre is national, and so am I.
But let’s not go into detail.
—I’m not going into anything. Find me
Some kind of work in this town.
Until I make some good money here
I won’t be going anywhere.
Bonaparte looks at me
And says: —What can you do?
What did you study? Are you able
To work here in our French fashion?
—Yoi! Work like you?! And you’re the boss here.
If you want, I’ll follow your example.
You go take a little rest—
I can stand here a bit in your place.
—If you think I’ll take your suitcases,
And you’ll put on my toga …
Even in a toga you would be carrying bags,
Spat upon, ragged, and poor!
Only I stand here. And you stand in your home.
Whoever wants to live with us, let him come.
I’ve seen Berehovo, and Osoi as well,
I know that we have what you don’t.
—I didn’t see you in Osoi.
—Where were you,
When I passed through with my soldiers!
Don’t wriggle out of it, tell me,
What can you do with your own hands?!
—I can teach children in school
To speak French.
—What are you saying?
Have you forgotten that you’re in France?
Well?! Now you’ve gone pale.
That’s what Soviet power did for you—
No one is good for anything.
Only one thing you make well—debts,
You owe here, you owe there …
There’s no salvation for you in Paris, friend.
You won’t find such a job here
Where you don’t do anything, but still get paid.
No one will protect you here from death.
—I’m also a writer … I write books …
—What? A writer? Don’t make me laugh.
The Carpathians produced no writers in Soviet times,
Although some there cooked up a linguistic stew …
—Then what am I to do?
Write in your own way. Speak in your own way.
That’s most important: do everything in your own way—
Put wood, not straw, into the fire.
If you think you’re a teacher, then teach.
A writer—then write, whether with ink or with pencil.
It’s not important how—just as long as it’s your own,
And for your own. As the French do in France.
We have our own beggars in Paris.
From my pedestal I see it all.
And now I see not only you,
I see your home in the Carpathians.
It waits for you. Go home.
And at home earn your bloody kreuzer.
So your children won’t be hungry.
And fame? Why do you need fame?
Rostov, Kirovohrad, Kamchatka, Komi,
Paris—they’re all in the past for you.
A family man must live at home and for home.
So luck will turn her face to you.
You were and are a Rusyn. And you will be.
You have a purely Rusyn nature.
For you there is no better land, and there can’t be,
Than your native land—Subcarpathia. (44)
Short Song on a Drunk’s Paradise
Outside the window January passes,
But in the house it’s September, or May!
Blue slyvovits5—a gift from God—
Here, let’s pour!
I pour a glass full—
We swallow! And a miracle occurs:
The drunken head sinks,
But the soul flies to heaven.
Just yesterday our life was hell,
And now all around me, it’s heaven.
What burnt me, what pained me—I’ve forgotten it all.
Let’s just pour!
Don’t cheat—pour it in glassfuls.
My soul has never been so high!
Like the frame on an icon, in this paradise
Yesterday’s sorrow is baked in blood. (56)
From Nashi y nynashi spivankŷ. Reprinted in Spüvankŷ.
For Ivan Popovych, friend and singer
When I was small, mother told me sternly:
—Looking at the Lord’s crucifixion, don’t forget—
Man becomes God only when
Judases betray him. (119)
From Poslïdnï spüvankŷ. Reprinted in Spüvankŷ.
Song on Opening a Book
When I write this—I am still alive,
When you read this—I’m already dead.
This line of verse—may it be holy!
You do not see my timeworn face.
I was! But I did not think—I am!
And I did not guess that I will not be!
My face shone,
And my chest breathed deeply,
My head spun with thoughts,
My heart pumped blood through my body.
And now only my soul is alive,
My body is dead, and gone …
This is difficult to believe.
Even my dust is no longer in sight!
But no matter how strange it may seem
I am alive in these words.
And these my words are Rusyn.
Holy, immortal, real,
You see them, read them—they exist,
And I exist. I live in them. (363)
God is a Rusyn
God is a Rusyn,
He wears a kleban6
just like my nian'o.
God is a Rusyn.
He is hairy and pale
just like my dido.
God is a Rusyn.
He has embraced my land with love
just like me. (366)
When my mother was still alive,
She told me that God
Likes to breathe out from the thurible
The sweet smoke of incense.
When the winter wind flings the snow,
And the frost crunches all around,
God loves to warm his frozen hands
In aromatic flaming candles.
When in this damned world, the soul
Pours out a prayer, like pure blood,
God loves to fly down from the sky
On the wings of our prayers. (366)
Song on the Rusyn Word 102
Rusyn words shine, shine,
Both the useful, and the now rarely used—
Their rays, like the fingers of children,
Reach out to suffering hearts.
They comfort us, give us strength to live,
Now only our native words
Can save us from death—
Our blood lives only in them.
That blood is like wine, playful,
It becomes bright when it rushes out
Full of strength, like the sun, pure—
It stops at no obstacle.
Rusyns! They have pushed us to the point of death—
They have taken all that was in us …
But do not let them wipe from our memory
The word, which God himself wrote
On our brow, to protect us!
The word is the source of our immortality! (414)
Song on Emptiness
I commit sins,
Which even God cannot count.
I write poems,
Which no one reads.
I walk the path
That leads to hell from heaven.
I live a life
That even I do not need. (412)
Song on the Last Anticipation
I will soon die—
I already see the teeth of Death:
her bony mouth
opened for me.
Between her and me
is a very short path—
it’s good that Auntie Death
limps on her left foot.
limping, she goes
noseless, eyeless, barefoot—
I no longer live:
I stretch out my fat neck
under her sharp scythe. (371)
Song on Hopelessness
Life is empty, and people are poor,
You can’t even remember happiness, joy.
Days go by on crutches without a trace
Through the sorrowful Rusyn land.
I don’t know good, I don’t fear evil,
I can’t even lift a finger.
All my soul is black as the devil
And there is nothing left in the mug.
How will it be now, what to live for?
Body and soul are mute.
To get rich and drink it all up?!
Life is a prison, but the grave is dark.