Ihor Pavlyuk’s biography reads somewhat like that of a secret agent. Born in the Ukraine in 1967, he attended the St. Petersburg Military University but left to pursue a literary career before being sentenced to hard labour in the Taiga. He regained his freedom when the Soviet Union fell and went on to become a Doctor of Social Communication. Despite or perhaps because of his tumultuous history, the first part of Pavlyuk’s most recent collection A Flight Over the Black Sea is for the most part characterised by melancholy and nostalgia. More specifically, the diction and form give a sense of hopelessness. The motifs of salt, tears and a yearning to join one’s ancestors are reinforced by a dissipation of energy, which is achieved by means of ellipsis. For example, in the English translation of the poem “Flight Over the Black Sea. Istanbul. The Return” begins with short, snapshot-type lines like “A quiet morning” and “Honey dusted with salt”. The final two paragraphs run thus:
From some recess in the air,
The impulse to be silent
Ambushes me…although the voice
Over the sea, black scars in salt water,
Fathoms of light.
The dissipation occurs
because of the enjambment between “silent” and “Ambushes me”. It is almost as if the narrator ambushes himself, thereby interrupting his train of thought. The ellipsis represents the difficulty in picking up the interrupted train of thought again, but this proves to be too hard. As a result, all the narrator can manage are almost breathless exclamations. This is further reinforced by the imagery: “Bleached”, in particular, suggests that any vibrancy is lost. However, judging by the format, the same cannot be said of the original, which uses ellipsis throughout. It therefore stands to reason that some of the original tone was lost in translation. This is also true of other poems such as “Dolphin”: “The sea. The night.” is “Mope. Hiч.” in the original text. One might infer that the omission of an article would alter the force of expression, but the same cannot be done in English without being ungrammatical.
Most of the poems in the first part are written in a similar style that emphasizes the feeling of languishing; the only clear exception is the poem “Horses” which consists of only two concise quatrains that tonally foreshadows the second part. That section is entitled “Polissya” – the name of the place where Pavlyuk spent most of his childhood. This section of the collection is also nostalgic, but the shiftless (albeit beautiful) melancholy of the first is replaced with a powerful elegiac tone reminiscent of the Romantic odes. Here, there is a feeling of breathlessness and anxiety. The same motifs are used but in more rapid succession. Moreover, the passage:
My Polissya…Autumn…Deer grass…
The field…Nest akin to a crane’s eye
is repeated and paraphrased multiple times, almost as if the narrator was grappling with the concept of what Polissya represents to him. However, the commendatory tone is retained, which suggests that any anxiety the poet experiences is precisely because he is not currently in Polissya. Either way, the energy thus captured is not easily overlooked
For the most part, A Flight Over the Black Sea is beautiful, and indeed almost ethereal. This is both its strength and its weakness. In particular, the tone of melancholy in the first section might either become so ethereal that one ceases to pay attention to what is being said, or it might even seem dull if it weren’t for the more energetic succeeding second section. However, the collection deserves to be considered as a whole; readers can appreciate the initial slow pace which precedes the gradual build-up towards a striking finale.