The Inspiration and Reality of a Ukrainian Poet, a Discussion with Metro Students
Photo: Metro students discuss poetry and life in the Ukraine with Anna Malitska (top left).
By Emma Routley
May 17, 2023
This week, the Poetry Class at Metro Montessori Middle School had the opportunity to meet Anna Malitska, a dedicated Ukrainian poet, to discuss the drastic changes the Russian invasion of Ukraine has held on her life, her inspiration, and her poetry.
Anna lives in Odesa, a major seaport and transportation hub in southwestern Ukraine. Odesa has been no exception to the violence and tragedy brought on by the war, and influences much of Anna’s recent work. As Anna discussed with the middle school students over Google Meet, she experienced the “terrifying” shift from a comfortable life with friends and family to sleeping on shelter floors with no electricity or water.
“In the Autumn, they started bombing the electricity. We weren’t accustomed to being so short on internet, heating, and resources,” Anna said. Her aunt had no heat, and couldn’t even make tea or coffee. The television showed nothing but the news for months. Telephone lines were down so Anna could not call her parents, who were just three blocks away.
“At some point, you don’t want to wake up for the night alerts anymore,” Anna continued. “You just want to sleep through them. So many night alerts, they were unnerving. Now we are getting used to them, and that’s the most unnerving thing.”
A student asked how the war in Ukraine affected her writing style and subject matter. Now, Anna is focused on military poetry, her melodic style changing from rhyming and rhythm to free verse poetry. This meant less adjectives, and more straightforward nouns and verbs.
“I didn’t like [free verse] before the war, but sometimes it’s the only way to show real emotion.”
Anna read one of her poems to the class in both English and Ukrainian, Our Children, the second poem she wrote after the full scale invasion. Our Children is inspired by the stories she heard from fellow Ukrainians and her friends who sought safety when the war began. A student asked what she meant by the line:
They will walk to the border, not burdening mothers’ arms.
The line, Anna said, was based on the experience her colleague had while crossing the border to safety with her two daughters. They were short on petrol, as was everyone, since most resources went straight to the army. The three of them crossed the border on foot, alongside many other mothers and children.
“Children weren’t holding their parent’s hands,” Anna said. “They were scared, but they didn’t want to show they were tired to the point of exhaustion.” Her colleague’s youngest daughter was just three years old.
The Metro students shared artwork inspired by her poems, as well as sharing their favorite lines from her work that they studied before the meeting. They discussed her other works, such as Auschwitz, a poem about her time at summer school in Poland processing the intensity of visiting the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, remembering those that “lost the precious feeling of belonging.”
But the line favored most from the Poetry Class came from Our Children:
Our children will grow up, not before they shall grow older.
As the discussion came to a close, the students thanked Anna for openly sharing her life and she thanked them in return for the experience and privilege to share her emotions and poetry with them.