Food for the Dead


by Knight, Charlotte Shevchenko | Poetry
Published 22/02/2024 by Vintage Publishing (Jonathan Cape Ltd) in the United Kingdom
Paperback | 80 pages

SKU: '9781787334892 Category:



This searingly powerful first collection about Ukrainian identity is a howl of anguish and an elegant counter-song against totalitarianism

With this searingly powerful first collection, Charlotte Shevchenko Knight gives the current war in Ukraine some much-needed human focus, while examining its brutal aggression within a wider and more accurate historical context.

Central to this book is ‘a timeline of hunger’, a lyric sequence which examines the legacy of the Holodomor (‘death by hunger’ in Ukrainian) – Stalin’s man-made famine of the 1930s. This long poem opens in Kyiv in 2021 – ‘brief visitations / of appetite / I devour / beetroot / its juices / running / down my lips / blood / of the past’ – and closes in Donetsk in 1929: ‘we burst the balloon / skin of tomatoes / between our teeth / seeds running down chins / like confetti / & we already know / every meal / should be celebrated.’ Through the poet’s sensitive approach to the historical, moving from that genocide of the early 1930s, then on through the Second World War, the Chornobyl disaster, to modern-day invaded Ukraine, we understand that within their ‘bones Holodomor / lives on’.

Both a howl of anguish and an eloquent counter-song against totalitarianism, this is a book about invasion, war, destruction and death, but also about the bonds of humanity, family and a history of oppression – about staying alive while always hungry.

Gathering the tribes of the living and the dead, wooing the ghosts of history and the present, these are compelling testimonies in defence of dream (which is to say memory) against death (which is to say oblivion); a book of poems (which is to say spells) that insist, despite all the evidence, that language can still be a crystal ball through which we can see all our departed loves. Here history comes alive, which is to say it comes to hurt us again. A beautiful, necessary book.
Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic