Dovzhenko, A. (1973). The Poet as Filmmaker: Selected Writings. Edited and translated by Marco Carynnyk. Cambridge, UK: MIT Prress.

Notes on Text Selection:

Text excerpts written on the bridge were selected by using many post it notes and torn pieces of junk mail to mark pages where I had, upon researching the text, been particularly caught up in the spirit of the writing, or could see immediate paralells across time and according to location. In other words, bridges, trains, wheat, and other moments of integration provided some of the selection processes. I did not however sequence the excerpts beforehand. I wrote mostly in the darkness, jumping from page to page, passage to passage, sometimes using only an isolated line, or a whole paragraph or page. There are no entire entries of any day. The improvisatory aspect of the textual treatment uses the cut-up method of production, which American writer William Burrough's suggested was a transtemporal portal allowing one to see into the future and past. These theoretical concerns are also related to the physical act of public text manifestation, the in-site and in-flight immediacy of fugitive art practices. To write, to move forward (actually, backward) was the formal expediency of the first abridgment project. Dated entries are not consistent, and more than one dairy entry by Dovzhenko is included under some dates. All these writings occured at the end of the second world war, between 1941 and 1943. My selection starts in 1942, goes backward, then forward to the end of the war, and the beginning of the cold war. It sees the darkness which biological sciences and imperialism can bring upon the people, and champions the liberated people as symbolized by branched wheat. Surrounding this abridgment site are grain silos and the train cars full of wheat. Much of this wheat is grown by Ukrainian farmers in the prairies. I wrote as these trains full of grain taken from starving farmers– sold out by the extreme wickedness of Stalin, Hitler, etc.– thundered underneath the second world war footbridge, time and space collapsing. The Poet as Filmmaker offers some amazing resonances and insights, read on.



14 January
Fedorchenko, my name was friends. Fedorchenko. I was a captain at the beginning of the war, and I wouldn’t retreat for anything, that’s how proud I was. Whenever I met the enemy I overcame him because I was braver and fought better. But on my flanks, they said, to the right and left of me the enemy was breaking through. And I was consumed with fury and despair. I burned with shame and was crushed to the earth, that’s how proud I was. Fedorchenko, my name was, Captain Fedorchenko, who could no longer make his was eastward across Ukraine, and, near Kakhivka, taking machine gun and grenades in hand, went back into the field alone to meet death, so that luckless, widowed Ukraine should not have to see the nape of my neck. Forward, forward, Fedorchenko! And I fought, taking on an entire regiment, three hundred, maybe, or four, and fell on the corpses, out in the open, dead with a score or more wounds. Four hours I fought, drinking to the dregs the bitter joy of battle. Everything that I bore in my heart–passion, anger, love and hope–I discharged. Fedorchenko, my name was friends. Captain Ivan Fedorchenko.
1 February
Now what was my name? What was it they called me? Here at the river bank, right by the road, my name was written, such a simple Ukrainian name, written in pencil on a plywood shingle nailed to a post. But then someone broke it off and tossed it in the road. What a pity that no one will remember me. No one will know I saved my battalion right here. My work.
I was such a hearty and amiable man. Oh, now what was my name? What a pity. Otherwise carpenters could name their new bridge after me. Or cheerful girls could compose a song about me as I crossed the bridge. Or an orphan could stand on the bridge grieving as he looked at the grave of his father who had saved his battalion during the war.
2 May
Endless trains took iron ore, cast iron, and steel to the west. Tons of sugar, wheat, rye, and buckwheat were shipped out. Hides, wool, fat, alcohol, tobacco and meat were shipped to Germany. Supply depots and factories were emptied of guns, ammunition, dynamite, and machinery. There is nothing in the world that has not been shipped out of our Ukraine. Pigs, horses and bulls were shipped to Germany, and the mute steppes were filled with the horrible sound of their grunting, neighing and bellowing as they passed the burning villages. To Germany, Africa and Scandinavia emancipated men were shipped from barbed wire camps, and people wept.
15 March
Went to spend the night at the only house that was still standing. It was full of people. There was one wounded man lying on the floor near the woman of the house. She turned her back to him without a word and went to sleep. Wasn’t she glad to be liberated. Learned later that occupying forces had shot her husband, father, two brother, and sister and had raped her. No, she had nothing to be happy about. Her soul was half dead.
“The human soul is a cup for grief. Once the cup is full, no matter how much you pour in, it won’t hold more. My cup must be small, my children were killed, my father burned to death, and I myself was…And yet I am still alive. At first I wanted to die. I cursed and cried and raised my affliction to heaven, but the grief kept on and on, like water during spring floods, until my cup ran over. Now I am indifferent. I am full. That is, I am empty.

Reality has become more terrible than imagination. It must be shown as it is. The human spirit is being tested to its limits, limits the world didn’t even suspect. Books and films about our experience must crackle with the horror, suffering, anger, and fortitude.
The most terrible thing during the retreat was the women’s crying. When I think of that retreat now, I see endless roads, and countless villages, and everywhere the unspeakable crying of women. Ukraine wept. She sobbed and cursed her lot. Oh my sons, my sons, to whom do you abandon me? Whither lead your roads? Who will feed you, who will tend to you? Where will you lay down your fine young heads? Which of you will come back? Come back! The grain in our fields is drooping. Come back! To whom are you abandoning us? Oh children, where are you being driven? You leave us to the mockery and destruction of the enemy. Will the raven at least bring your bones home? […]
Will you find our graves or will the Germans trample us into the ground without a trace?
Dogs howl, prophesying evil; invisible birds circle in the night over our villages, prophesying evil; cattle bellow in the night, prophesying evil; countless mice run eastward across the steppes, prophesying evil. Our sons, our hope, our sorrow! Oh I’ll run after you, at least for a while, until I fall to the ground. The earth groans under me; it grieves and rumbles, sensing evil. Clad in steel and iron, the enemy host approaches. Our death comes. Our death and dishonour come. Our children…brother, husband, father!
“Farewell mother, I do not hear you. Our life, our sorrow and our death sink and dissolve in the ocean.”
So adverse is our lot, so unfortunate our land. The girl weeps, the sister weeps, the wife weeps, the children weep.
“Father, come back, the German will slaughter us! He will drink our young blood, suck it out to the last drop. He’ll kill us with lice and famine.”
“Farewell, my tender flowers.”
Punishments and executions are always carried out in public. The people are forced to watch.

1941 No date
[…] A river. An enormous number of German corpses floating down. Frozen corpses. Soldiers were crying. Why were the people crying? Crying in the blizzards, crying in the fields, crying in the houses. A deserter came to his family, sat down at the table and began to cry. Crying!
Ruins, a bed, battle, rest. A night of nightmares. Exhaustion. A bed by a chimney. Emancipated and exhausted the battalion entered the village. Out of five hundred houses five were left standing. The rest had been burned down. The soldiers camped out around the chimneys. For some reason there were undamaged beds. A concertina and songs. Cold, so they lit campfires.
Many campfires. The Germans began to shell them. Explosions among the campfires. They paid no attention: they had fallen asleep. An explosion–and the man sleeping nearby didn’t even hear.
Famine. Kharkiv is perishing. The population is fleeing from the famine.
The inhuman way in which the POW’s are treated. A dead horse is thrown into the pit for them. They tear it apart with their teeth. They’ve lost their human semblance.
Hanged men slip from their nooses and shatter like marble statues.
Insane men on the street in Chernihiv during the shooting–bursting with laughter. One man was playing a piano in the ruins. The building had been blown apart, and only the piano was left standing. The madman sat there playing something cheerful. “It’s raining, it’s pouring,” he sang and laughed.
Blacker than the black earth are the unfortunate people […]
A scout or partisan walked into a cottage, took a pitcher of full milk from a German’s hands, slowly drank down the milk, set the pitcher on the table, wiped his lips and then machine-gunned six Germans, who had been so surprised that they didn’t what to do. Then he left the house to go on about his business.
Depict […] a fat, greasy reporter who doesn’t care about anything, a man for whom the Ukraine nation is only a situation for political speculation, a man who has never loved the people. He is a louse. He is dissatisfied because we didn’t advance very far during the winter. Go advance yourself, you son-of-a-bitch.
Write down the conversation with X about culture, that thin veneer that will become even thinner because so many artists have been killed […]
I have three great themes: 1. continuation of old characters; 2. women’s lot (a great theme); 3. the world as seen from a liberated village with forty razed houses, two hundred corpses, and two surviving women. Must think them through and write them in one piece.
The war has overshadowed life and death. The entire planet has stumbled into a bloody, mindless fog, and war has become the way of life. So the subject of war will continue to be the chief one in art for many years to come. Already every newspaper is deluged with pieces about the war. To avoid drowning in this fathomless sea of facts I must carefully think out the construction of the play and story and scenario.
Frequent occurrences of rape, even of old women. The girls spend the nights in hiding.
“The house was sent into the air by a grenade”.
They shoot everyone who comes down with spotted fever.
People as horses, as draft beasts–this is characteristic and must be included in the scenario.
Today, as yesterday and tomorrow, the newspapers are glutted with accounts of such cruelties. such inhuman deeds committed by the enemy, that the mind boggles and one does not even feel anger, only an ordinary reflex of disgust. It would be no different even if it were Dantes or Michaelangelos. The events cannot be contained by the mind.
No one reads theses accounts any more. They are like cries of pain and groans of despair. There is a danger that after the war there will be a flood of writers, all harping on the same theme. It’s not too soon to think about the post war development of our literature.
The public will not want cheap descriptive writing. The nation must be shown from within, in its suffering, doubt struggles and renewal. The way ahead must be pointed out. The country must be reassured and educated in goodness, because it has experienced enough evil for ten generations. We won’t need any exercises in cruelty and evil. We must take care that the joy of victory does not woo our self-conceited young writers away from the pen and the desk. They must remember their mistakes and not exchange their native optimism for the optimism of after-dinner speeches.

5 June
I remember: Our chief family trait was the ability to laugh at everything, ourselves most of all. We loved to laugh and tease each other; we laughed in good times and in sorrow. We laughed at the government, God, and the Devil. All of us, Grandad, Father, Mother, brothers and sisters–had a great love and appreciation for everything funny and witty. And yet we had much, much more crying than laughter in our life.
And we were all good to people.
An original humour was our familial and national trait. This, and nothing else, is at the bottom of my so-called “state-crime”, which has given the enemies of my people so much cause to rejoice.
At any given moment a nation can be great in only one field. If there are no poets, then there are generals and marshals. There are ages of artists, and there are other ages when strong, intelligent, brave men are born.
An yet to be an artist you still need an ironclad manliness.
16 August
“Toadyism is a kind of narcotic. It must be needed or it wouldn’t exist.” “Who needs it?”

“In the first place all persons who do not occupy their rightful positions. And then because….”“I understand.”“Then who is guilty?” “The punished man”.
A professor, a great scientist. Adored by his students and assistants. In credible erudition. But he has a pathological inability to remember names. This annoys him and keeps him in a bad mood. The person closest to him is a dull, feeble assistant who knows how to prompt him with names.
1. One character (a woman) screeches.
2. Another character (a man) sleeps through the entire play.
3. A third character continually coughs and waves his arms about.
Truman’s speech today was historic: God in one hand, the atomic bomb in the other, and a threat on his lips.
The world war is over.
Fourty million soviet citizen, my brothers and sisters, have perished. My eighty-year old father died from hunger in Kiev, and I myself, severely wounded by my own people, am barely alive.
All the forces of nature, including the insects, work toward increasing crop yields and creating plenty. American imperialists introduce the Colorado beetle to Europe. The transformation of nature for mankind’s benefit has become a reality for our country.
Branched wheat as a symbol of abundance for a liberated mankind. Dealers in hunger at a convention of agricultural experts in Canada. They demand that as a condition for signing an agreement with the USSR the soviet government will stop Lysenko’s research on branched wheat because it could cause a drastic fall in wheat prices.
Professor Wider of Cornell University proposes sending ships with special equipment to the Atlantic and Mediterranean to produce premature rain and then drought in Europe and Asia.
The capitalists have their own way of transforming nature: “Thanks to scientific research in biology, no one can deny the possibility that entire continents will die of hunger in the future. The Americans and the Japanese have been successful in developing bacteriological means of destroying crops. They can kill an entire nation by poisoning the soil.” What an abomination!
Perennial wheat, the dream of reformers. The conversation with G. in the wheat field outside Moscow. A conversation about happiness. Unforgettable. Wheat to politics. The birth of a theme. The source of the drama. Two men look down for twenty five years; one sees happiness, the other does not.
10 March
Everything is aimed at tomorrow. The rush into the near future constitutes the spirit of our time.