Harman fellow Oksana Maksymchuk leads poetry conversation and writing workshop 


Oksana Maksymchuk

Zena Mohamed 

A recent Harman event with Ukrainian American poet Oksana Maksymchuk from Budapest took place April 28 at 12:30 p.m. on Zoom. Maksymchuk held a reading, conversation and writing workshop with students at Baruch College while taking refuge with her family due to the ongoing Russia-Ukrainian war.

Maksymchuk is this semester’s Harman Creative writing fellow. Through her work, she has been shedding light on this difficult topic by writing about her personal experiences and demonstrating the severity of the incessant war taking place.

She is a writer and translator whose work has been published in various literary journals, such as The Cincinnati Review and Blackbird. She has translated three different collections of Ukrainian poetry, one of them emphasizing the recent transgressions taking place right now called, “Words for War.”

Esther Allen, a professor at Baruch and the director of Baruch’s Sidney Harman Writer-in Residence Program, facilitated the event.

In the conversation that took place, students and staff were given the opportunity to ask Maksymchuk any questions related to her poetry. In response to one of the questions asked, she talked about how she has only been writing in English for the past couple of years.

She stopped writing in Ukrainian as a protest, after losing her friend due to sudden and unprovoked ideological changes. Maksymchuk said that this is not permanent  and might change in the future.

“I think now it’s deeper than that, that I feel like in many ways it’s my engagements with my son,” she said.

Maksymchuk desires to tell stories to him; these conversations often happen in English. It also strikes her creativity because some of those interactions have prompted her to write various pieces of poetry.

Allen was intrigued by the poem, “Active Shooter Drill at my Son’s Elementary School,” and how it connected the brutality of World War II to violence in the United States today through the eyes of a child. She also mentioned that the United States is the only country that has active shooter drills and asked Maksymchuk to elaborate on the inception of that poem.

The poet talked about how her son was going to an American school at the time and was unaware that there were active shooter drills.

“I realized that he was ready like he was prepared to die or to survive these intense experiences,” she said.

Her child was in a Ukrainian school this winter and parents began to get a message on their phones, saying the school had explosives installed in them. At first, she explained, it was shocking, but then it began to happen every day. Parents rushed to pick up their children, and by late January, schools started preparing for war.

The anxiety that comes with such situations can be extremely detrimental, especially when kids are going to school to learn, but must also be ready to take precautionary measures at all times.

“Imagining these situations has its cost for these children,” Maksymchuk said. “The risk that every parent and every child has to learn to live with in order to accept living in that society.”

Another question asked was, “Throughout your life, what has pulled you toward poetry and what power do you think poetry holds in the world?”

Maksymchuk talked about her father being a professional reciter of poetry, and how she grew up listening to him reciting at home. She also had a parakeet growing up and whenever her father would recite, it would climb up and chirp in unison.

She explained that both her dad and the parakeet made her sensitive to the power of poetry.

Although the bird couldn’t understand the words, it was still affected by being in the presence of the reciter.

“That says something about the power of poetry too right, it moves you in ways that you cannot quite comprehend,” Maskymchuk said.