Ivan Drach/ A Supermarket in California

Ivan Drach (1936-2018)  – photo by Ihor Snysarenko

In his introduction to his 2019 study, Ukrainian Poems on the City, the editor Ostap Kin writes:

“Legend has it that on a mid-fall day in 1966, while on an official trip to New York City as part of the Soviet-Ukrainian delegation to the annual convention of the United Nations, Ivan Drach – then a thirty-year-old aspiring poet and screenwriter – managed to escape the KGB personnel tailing the poet and headed into a district of the city totally unknown to him. After wandering around this strange neighborhood, the poet stopped before a cafeteria, entered it, and spotted a bearded, bespectacled man sitting in the corner as if waiting for someone. Drach approached him; the two men shook hands. The bearded man, believed to be the American poet Allen Ginsberg, lived nearby in an area known as the East Village. The Ukrainian poet did not know conversational English well, and Ginsberg did not know any Ukrainian. So the two sat for an hour in complete silence, just gazing at each other, and afterwards stood up and bid their farewell, noiselessly parting ways.”

Kin goes on:

The legend is incredible enough to have actually taken place. (What happened for sure, though, is that Drach did read at the international literary festival in Spoleto, Italy, in July 1967, along with Ginsberg and the Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann. Later, the whole group of poets set out to meet the great American literary expatriate, Ezra Pound.  How could these two important poets of their generation – one American, one Ukrainian – relate to each other? How was their silent yet meaningful encounter influenced by their environment – a cafeteria in Manhattan, a locale designated for such chance encounters, these meetings and almost-meetings?”

Drach, a literary and cultural hero, was responsible for this, another gem from the Allen Ginsberg archives that we’ve recently uncovered – his translation of Allen’s “A Supermarket In California” into the Ukrainian language. It was first published in 1972 in his collection Do dzherel, (To the Sources), 1972).

******Listen to “A Supermarket In California” read in Ukrainian – here

″Politics is terrible for my poetry” he once ruefully remarked, ″An artist and a politician are things that cannot be combined.″ – But he was being dry, he did combine them, successfully combine them, and became a hero, a giant, in both arenas.

Learn more about the remarkable Ivan Drach – here 

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