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Bilingual Anthology of Ukrainian Poetry
translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps
as performed by Yara Arts Group

introduced by Natalia Pylypiuk
compiled and edited by Olha Luchuk
published by Sribne Slovo Press


For nearly twenty years, the Ukrainian-American theater director Virlana Tkacz has led Yara Arts Group, a resident company at La MaMa, an acclaimed experimental theater in New York. Yara is a collective of artists of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds-Asian, African, Latino/a, Eastern and Western European-who develop collaborative projects by bringing together fragments of plays, poems, songs, myths, and historical sources to create original work that is reflective of the cultures they explore. Their projects also frequently involve working together with actors, musicians, and other artists from foreign countries. Yara's signature performance style combines multilingual dialogue and songs supported by stark but evocative visuals. While in recent years a significant number of Yara's projects explored the traditional cultures of Siberia and Central Asia, historically Ukraine has been the focus of the largest number of their performances. The collection under review brings together, for the first time in print, the original Ukrainian texts and the English translations by Tkacz and her longtime collaborator, the African-American poet Wanda Phipps, used in those productions, along with a few translations presented at Yara's collaborative workshops in Ukraine, a selection from the company's archives, and a bio-bibliographic reference section compiled by the editor.

Tkacz and Phipps emphasize that their translations serve a particular pragmatic purpose: these are texts originally developed not for the printed page but for a theatrical performance. As such, they reflect the translators' keen eye to the demands and expectations of the audience likely to attend performances by a progressive independent New York theater company. Even more importantly, Tkacz and Phipps's painstaking focus on the acoustic aspect of their translations demonstrates their approach to these texts as means for establishing communicative links between two disparate cultures.

The range of Ukrainian texts chosen by Tkacz and Phipps for translation is quite striking: from folksongs and medieval epics to classic texts of Ukraine's national poet, Taras Shevchenko, and further to poems by a diverse range of modernist and avant-garde voices from the early twentieth century and ultimately to an unprecedented representative selection of major contemporary voices in Ukrainian poetry, admirably inclusive of both men and women authors, and covering a wide range of regions, generations and aesthetic schools.

Several translations in the volume come across as particularly impressive. Among them are the renderings of the cycle Instead of Sonnets and Octaves by the Symbolist poet Pavlo Tychyna, admirably tackling the challenge of his poetry so rooted in assonances and musicality, the playful punning poems of the Futurist Mykhail Semenko and an exuberant postmodemist, Viktor Neborak, the High Modernist meditations of Oleh Lysheha, and the impassioned texts of Ukraine's leading contemporary woman poet, Oksana Zabuzhko. But perhaps Tkacz and Phipps's crowning achievement is their award-winning translation of Lesia Ukrainka's verse drama Forest Song (1911), a canonical work of Ukrainian theater. The translators boldly sought to make this play, a Modernist riff on folkloric themes, speak to a radically different audience in the tradition of the recent stage-oriented English translations of plays by Chekhov, Ibsen, and other major European playwrights from the previous turn of the century. Among Yara's lucky choices for this production was transforming Forest Song's Hades-like underworld into a smoky East Village-style bohemian den, as well as coming up with evocative English versions of esoteric folkloric names (thus, the translators render poterchata, a Volhynian word for the spirits of children drowned before being baptized, as "Water Brats"). It is wonderful to finally have in print the text of this translation, first staged in 1994; it certainly deserves a prominent place in the syllabi of university courses on modem European drama. I also sincerely hope for a revival of this production and perhaps also for new stagings of this text by other theater companies.

The volume's editor, Olha Luchuk, is a literature scholar from Lviv who previously co-edited a comprehensive bilingual (Ukrainian and English) anthology of twentieth-century Ukrainian poetry, A Hundred Years of Youth ( 2000). She deserves to be commended for undertaking the challenging task of assembling and presenting this comprehensive anthology. The arrangement of texts reflects the themes of the projects for which the translations were produced rather than the chronology of the original texts, but in the context of this volume such a choice is perfectly justified. The book is also remarkably free of typos or other production problems. For all the participants in this genuinely collaborative project this was truly a labor of love, and the resulting volume is a fitting reflection of their talent and dedication to fostering cultural dialogue between Ukraine and the English-speaking world. The book is richly illustrated, in both black-and- white and color, and the original texts and translations are amply supported by thoughtful and comprehensive reference materials. As a volume published in Ukraine, this book may be difficult to obtain in North America, but it would make an excellent addition to any serious university library collection of Slavic materials, and it expands considerably the range of works of Ukrainian poetry available in English translation.

Vitaly Chernetsky, Miami University
Slavic and East European Journal, Winter, 2009

In a Different Light is a copious bilingual anthology of Ukrainian literature jointly translated into English by two prolific translators, Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps…. The work of the contemporary writers makes up the majority of this book, and thus the book introduces many of them and their work to the English literary world for the first time. In creating fresh English versions of over one hundred Ukrainian poems, Lesia Ukrainka's verse play The Forest Song, and many traditional songs, incantations, legends, and epics, Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps have made a very significant contribution to the field of English translations of Ukrainian literature. All the works are presented in their unabridged form. The anthology in general is well-written and well-edited with very few typographical errors. It contains over seventy pages of bibliographical notes on authors, the translators, and the editor, as well as indices of names, texts, and events.

The first section, "In the Light," includes three poems of the greatest Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, and twelve poems from Pavlo Tychyna's collection of poetry Instead of Sonnets or Octaves. The translations of these poems were used in Yara's first theatre piece, A Light from the East. The classical Ukrainian poems make an impressive opening to the anthology.

The second section, "Poetry in Performance," comprises poems mostly of modernist and contemporary writers from Mykhail' Semenko, the founder of Ukrainian Futurism and the head of the Association of Panfuturists and later Nova Generatsia (New Generation), to Serhii Zhadan, the winner of numerous literary awards, whom many consider the best poet of his generation. Women's poetry receives special focus in this section. There are two groups of women's poetry under the rubrics of "Explosions" and "Spinning Spells: Poetry of Ukrainian Women," which highlight the poems of Natalka Bilotserkivets', Oksana Zabuzhko, Maria Rewakowicz, Oksana Batiuk, and others to an English-speaking audience.

"Into the Wilderness and the Past," the last section of the works and translations, includes Lesia Ukrainka's The Forest Song and traditional Ukrainian works. Incantations to Water, to the Sun, and to cleanse the Water are of particular interest… In their translations of the folklore material Tkacz and Phipps have managed to preserve not only the rhythm of traditional songs, incantations, and epics, but also their rich cultural connotations.

In "Events," the anthology's final section, the story of how the poetry was used in Yara's theatre productions, poetry events, and workshops is told. In addition to this, the section presents press releases, praise for the project, and the reactions of participants. The reactions of American students and Ukrainian artists are of great interest, and many of these positive impressions are clear in the numerous photos from Yara’s performances that make up a valuable part of this section.

All in all, the anthology presents a great and extraordinary collection of Ukrainian poetry and its translation into English. This unique collection takes readers into the world of Ukraine's great poetic and ancient oral tradition. Perhaps works like the one under review will stimulate others to learn more about the rich literary tradition in Ukraine.

Liliya Valihun, The Pennsylvania State University
Canadadian Slavonic Papers, December, 2009.

The organizing principle of this anthology is simple, but unusual—in the order the translations were created and performed. All the works are presented (both in the original and in translation) in their unabridged form, even if only excerpts were used in Yara’s theatre productions. Included are descriptions of the performances that generated the translations and over 30 color photographs from the Yara shows.

over 100 poems by 37 Ukrainian writers,
Lesia Ukrainka’s verse play The Forest Song,
as well as traditional songs, epics, and incantations

from classics such as Taras Shevchenko and Pavlo Tychyna,
to contemporary poets like Oleh Lysheha and Oksana Zabuzhko,
as well as the newest wave -- Andriy Bondar and Serhiy Zhadan

In a Different Light is a must have for poetry lovers and book collectors
in translations that Americans will love.

*All the poetry is presented bilingually, in unabridged form
*Biographical notes about authors
*Featuring color photographs from Yara Arts Group performances that generated the translations

“An anthology of Ukrainian poetry -- the substance and inspiration for all of Yara Art Group’s productions, In a Different Light is an incredibly masterful document. The first half of the book presents works of Ukrainian literature, grouped according to the productions where they were featured. The second half of the book describes how the literary works were incorporated into Yara’s experimental theater productions. The literary choices of this book are moving and meaningful. This is a book that can be enjoyed on many different levels, and savored over time.” Thaya Salamacha

Over 800 pages with 16 pages of color pictures $70 with shipping

ORDER YOUR COPY NOW and it will be sent directly to you.

Publication of this volume was made possible with the financial support from:
The Shevchenko Scientific Society (USA) - Olena Dzul Fund
The Self-Reliance (NY) Federal Credit Union
and the Global Commitment Foundation.
Translations by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps were supported
by grants from the New York State Council on the Arts.

See more on presentations of In A Different Light in in Kyiv and Lviv and in New York at Shevchenko Society and Ukrainian Museum
and In A Different Light Festival at Ukrainian Institute in New York

in photos: cover designed by Rostyslav Luzhetsky featuring Sean Eden and Rebecca Moore in "A Light From the East" photo by Watoku Ueno

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