It is the last month of the Authors’ Reading Month Festival in Lviv. During the month, it has hosted 60 readings of Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Slovakian and Turkish authors. What is it like – to bring the biggest cross-border festival of Central Europe to Lviv the fourth year in a row, to publish a new collection of poems? Who is the BRAT? Opinion asked Grigory Semenchuk these questions.
Hi, Grigory! Tell please to those who don’t know what the Authors’ Reading Month is?
The ARM is a big cross-border literary festival, which involves more than three hundred events in thirty days. In general, it is a big literary journey among cities-participants, it unites several countries which are connected with borders as well historically.
It is as for the countries where the festival takes place. What about countries-guests, as Turkey this year, for example, – how are they selected?
The festival has already existed for nineteen years. Many countries have become its guests during this time. That’s why now, only countries which haven’t been yet presented at the festival can be guests. Turkey was one of them, a big and important country.
What are peculiarities of the ARM this year? In other cities and in Lviv in particular.
The crucial thing for me is to create via the festival a certain community which will attend it. I am happy because I see more people who attend not only one event, but come regularly, – they return every year. I don’t have extremely ambitious goals, namely overcrowded halls, but what is important to me is this constancy in attending the festival.
Each city is special as events take place in different places, which are not alike the art-centre Dzyga in Lviv, that’s why the number of people and their content are absolutely different. For example, in Brno, this festival is the most famous one in the city, it has existed for 19 years already and every reading gathers up to a hundred people on average. In Wroclaw, events take place at the city library, in Kosice, at the children library. Although the cities-participants are all situated in Eastern Europe, they are different – they have their own literary scene and cultural climate.
The format of the festival is quite long with two readings a day and certain transfer and logistics problems. What is a success criterion of the festival for you?
It is important for me that readers and writers get good impression. The same is about organizers. Also, I think it is a good achievement that about sixty new Ukrainian translations have appeared, it is more than two hundred translations in four years. They are not official translations now, but it is kind of a first step. The festival has a good impact on the community at some point as it is a unique opportunity to meet a so-called “literary showcase” of the whole country. You won’t find it at big events, like the Frankfurt Literary Fair.
Who organizes the festival here, in Lviv?
We, the artistic group “Dialogue”, has been a local partner of the festival for four years already. As for supporters, the festival wouldn’t exist but for the Czech Centre in Kyiv and the Vitriani Mlyny Publishing (Windmills). Also, Dzyga has hosted us for all four years. We are supported by the city government. This support is not that big as we would like it to be, but still, it exists, and we are grateful for that.
Besides, there is the system of partnership with overseas institutions – Polish, Slovakian, Czech – they help financially to bring writers. Unfortunately, this year, we haven’t received support for the Turkish part of the festival. We had to finance it by ourselves, and it is the half of the festival. That’s why the support of Turkish literature is provided by our partners who are not connected with Turkey at all.
Have you tried to find the support for the festival in Turkey?
We have tried but it is not that simple, taking into account a certain political climate in Turkey. Many writers introduced at the festival are in opposition to the Turkish government, they say what they think. Some of them experience difficulties to get a visa. Now, after the Turkish Intelligence Agency has abducted two Turkish citizens from Ukraine, new difficulties with writers have appeared. Some of them have already refused to come here because they are concerned about their safety. In last years, it was also difficult to find support for bringing here Georgian and Spanish writers, however, the government there didn’t interfere, they provided a patronage. This year, we haven’t managed to collaborate with any Turkish establishment. They didn’t react to any inquiry into supporting that’s why other partners, who help to make the festival happen, had to finance it. It is a big community of friends, which includes hotels, cafes, restaurants and other establishments.
The same situation is in other cities-participants. In fact, Turkey has supported the festival in no city.
Except for the ARM, you are involved in many other projects. Speaking about a cultural management in general, what is it like in Ukraine?
It is like everything which you do in Ukraine – it gains some strange and unexpectable forms.
Would you like to arrange your own festival? Musical one, for example?
I would like to, but many factors should be considered in order not at least to fail. It is not enough just to have some communicational skills and a certain network. You need big financial resources. And frankly speaking, I don’t feel the need for it. There are many people, professionals in this field.
You mean, here you feel the need for it?
Yes in a literary scene and international networking regards. Musical festivals tend to entertain, anyway. My festival, for example, doesn’t sell entry tickets and isn’t aimed at earning money. It is the same in other cities.
Let’s speak about your art. Do you still write poems?
While living in Krakow, I have written a new book, and I hope to bring it out soon. I had been cherishing the idea of the book and had some notes for many years, but I finished it exactly there. There will be many poems without any rhyme. I couldn’t make a rhyme of those things I wanted to convey that’s why I chose such a format.
What topics and issues do you highlight in this collection?
Each poem has a narration. The topics are different – about amber, writers and poets, about politics and cultural management. Now we are thinking of where we will bring out the book. I know one illustrator, we are planning to make illustrations for the book. I happen to publish a book every three years. Three years of a new poetic stage have just ended.
What was the main idea of your musical project BRAT? Is it a continuance of your musical participation in DRUMТИАТР?
The DRUMТИАТР still exists but it doesn’t create any new material because we don’t meet often with Yurko Izdryk. Instead of it, we have created a new project BRAT and the last year, we released our first album. It happened because I had to say something about the issues I care for. This time, we paid a particular attention to producing and mastering. Because in DRUMТИАТР, I made it by myself. And one more thing – in DRUMТИАТР, there was an artistic entity – Grigory Semenchuk, but speaking about BRAT, it is rather an anonymous, random hero. It is easier for me not to depend on other musicians so I can play with music as I want.
How would you describe this random hero?
Good but angry.
Is this anger a congenital thing or just a reaction to the environment? As “good” is in the first place.
In the BRAT project, I try to speak about simpler things that I tried in DRUMТИАТР, I do it more sincerely. It can be provided only due to it is anonymous. But I put the money where your mouth is, well.
What is the audience of this project?
Statistics say it is a male audience. These are people who are keen on modern alternative music. I have recently met a guy in Krakow who used to make Russian rap. He is from Ukraine but lives and works as a programmer in Poland. He used to rap and have a project, but then he forgot about it, became a Ukrainian nationalist, listens to BRAT and kudos to it. I mean it can be weird, different people. Hip-hop didn’t use to be a music of radicals, today, there is a lot of it. That’s why, as there’s not much popular Ukrainian hip-hop, Brat can be regarded as a competitor.
I heard many hip-hop bands from Kalush, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk. It was like a real process or a wave of the West Ukrainian rap.
Yes, it was several years ago. I am not sure whether it still exists. However, there is a big rap-community in Lviv, which has its own festivals and concerts. In fact, there are such people in every Ukrainian city, but it doesn’t produce a mass effect as in Russia, for example. Instead of it, many young people are listening to Russian rap. It can be made well, but on the other hand, when we listen to Russian music, we let the enemy enter our audio space.
Of course, there is a difference between a rapper Yarmak, who is helping to soldiers in the ATO and a rapper Haski, who is supporting the Donetsk People’s Republic even though both of them rap in Russian. However, it is strange that Ukraine hasn’t managed to give a birth to any good Ukrainian-speaking rapper, as it has happened in neighbouring countries.
What feedback do people give to your album? Do they buy it?
Some people buy, but I don’t earn money from it. It is the first album of the project, and it has performed its task and was heard in certain communities. Many critics said it was a breakthrough. I am happy with critics, the album has gained many reviews. I appreciate that people spent their time, listened to it and then wrote a big text about their impression.
Interview and photo by Sasha Naselenko