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Sukhyi, Shtefan / Сухый, Штефан

Shtefan Sukhyi was born in 1946 in Nechvalova Polianka, Slovakia, and was educated at Safarik University in Presov. He worked as a teacher at the Ukrainian middle school in Snina, and since 1991, he has been an educational consultant for the Rusyn Renaissance Society. His earliest work was written and published in the Ukrainian language in collective anthologies and in two separate collections. In Rusyn, he has published two volumes of poetry, Rusyn'skyi spivnyk (1994) and Endi sidat' na mashynu vichnosty (1995), and a collection of short stories, Iak Rusnaky relaksuiut' (1997).

Sukhyi's poetry ranges in theme over traditionally poetic subjects, such as nature, love, and art, to specifically national topics, anecdotes, and comic commentary on modern life. The form varies from traditional rhyming quatrains to free verse, with an emphasis on narration and dialogue. In fact, only a small percentage concerns specifically Rusyn themes, and these are often parenthetical - for example, his exultation on being hailed in Rusyn on Schillerstrasse in Berlin, thoughts on the monument to Alexander Dukhnovych in Presov, speculations on why Rusyn-American immigrants turned grey (from drowning their sorrows in their beer). Still, a distinct Rusyn coloration is felt through the use of personal and local place names - for example, the Krasnobrid'skyi monastery, "A Dialogue with 100-year old Iurko Bavlovych from Stakcin," colloquial dialogue (he addresses a beaver, kume), and subtle references to Rusyn cultural history.

Sukhyi confidently plays with the Rusyn language in a lighthearted fashion, using rhyme, assonance, and neologisms to startle the reader with a pithy quip. This playfulness and self-consciousness about language places his verse in the postmodern sphere, as does his frequent use of self-deprecating irony, both situational and verbal, to reveal the illusions and incongruities of modern Rusyn life. His poem of exaggerated thanks to fate that, through his wife's boss, has given him a job, or his thoughts on the clash of modern technology and tradition -- (neighbor Demian sold his TV so he might die quietly, and so the angel coming for him might not get caught in the antenna) -- express the indeterminacy of postmodern Rusyn reality and the poet's resistance to conventional stereotypes of nationalism and the reconstruction of hoary traditional values. His "Valal'skyi vilozof" (Village Philosopher) relies neither on communists nor on democrats, but on the mailman; not on money, but on better times.

Sukhyi's irony is not corrosive, but agreeably edifying, persuading the reader to accept and honor both Rusyn tradition and modernity. He consistently asserts the ethical role of poetry and the high calling of the poet. The opening poem of Rusyn'skyi spivnyk equates poetry and surgery in their ability to create and renew life. The poem describes a visit to a Rusyn cardiac surgeon in Bratislava who, to be absolutely concrete, is mentioned by name, and then ironically dubbed "our Aesculapius." The poet addresses him:

Што про вас
терен із серця выняти.
(Най то попробують
політікы и політіканы.)
Але серце із терня
лем чіста ласка
і поезія, як вино, може.

[What is it for you / to remove a thorn from the heart. / (Just let politics and politicians / try to do that!) / But to remove the heart from a thorn bush, / only pure affection / and poetry, like wine, can do that.]

"Na pulsi" (On the Pulse) opens with a reference to the tragicomic fall of the USSR,

Сонце іде з выходу на запад,
а ниґда не назад.
А жывот – навспак?

[The sun goes from East to West, / and never back. / But life moves - in reverse?]

and ends with a challenge to the poet:

А ты, стишкарь,
вшытко запиш,
нич неодшмарь,
довшый буде запись,
Грубшый гонорарь.

[And you, versifier, / write down everything, / discard nothing, / the record will be long, / the honorarium - paltry.]

A reviewer, Myron Sysak, says of Sukhyi's work: "His lyrical hero is a product of our temperament, our surroundings. Here he is sovereign … here he is unique; he cannot be taken for a Pole, or a Czech, a Slovak, or even for a Ukrainian." With Sukhyi's verse, Rusyn poetry achieves a level of cultural self-sufficiency and confidence to enable it to coexist and cooperate in the cultural world without being co-opted.

Elaine Rusinko

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