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"Virlana Tkacz Receives Literary Fellowship for Poetry Translation"

Virlana Tkacz, founding director of the Yara Arts Group, a resident company at La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York, recently received the National Endowment for the Arts prestigious Poetry Translation Literary Fellowship to translate the recent work of Serhyi Zhadan – the most popular poet of the post-independece generation in Ukraine – from Ukrainian into English with her long-time collaborator Wanda Phipps.

Ms. Tkacz was born in Newark, N.J., and educated at Bennington College and Columbia University. She first started translating Ukrainian poetry with Ms. Phipps in 1989, when the two were working together on Yara first theatre piece, A Light from the East which included a number of poems by Pavlo Tychyna. Ms. Phipps and Ms. Tkacz have continued working on translations of Ukrainian poetry ever since, recently concentrating on traditional material, such as folk songs and incantations. They first translated poems by Serhiy Zhadan in 2002 for Yara’s kolo nas (‘round us) series of new poetry, art and music in Kyiv.

Mr. Zhadan’s work speaks to the disillusionment, difficulties and ironies of life that the collapse of the Soviet Union has brought to the country. Once, the enfant terrible of Ukrainian letters, now 30 he is acknowledged as the most important poet of the current decade, as well as one of the leading voices of the last century.

The anthology A Hundred Years of Youth: Bilingual Anthology of 20th Century Ukrainian Poetry (Litopys: Lviv, 2000) which included the 100 best poets of the twentieth century, concluded with a selection of his work. His most recent published poetry book, History of Culture at the Turn of This Century (Kiev, 2003), has been the talk of literary circles in Ukraine.

Mr. Zhadan’s audience is young and vocal, filling up large auditoriums for his readings and snapping up his books. Mr. Zhadan has also earned deep respect among fellow poets and literary critics.

Mr. Zhadan will be reading his new work at the Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery (at First Street) in New York City at 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 15 with Ms. Tkacz and Ms. Phipps reading their translations of the poet’s recent verse, in a program that is free and open to the public.

Ms. Phipps, whose poems have appeared in over 60 American literary journals, is the author of the books Wake-Up Calls: 66 Morning Poems (Soft Skull Press), Lunch Poems (BOOG Literature), Your Last Illusion or Break Up Sonnets (Situations), and Zither Mood (a Faux Press CD-Rom). She is a contributing editor for the Internet journal Big Bridge and served on the literary board for the New York City based literary magazine LUNGFULL!.

Her work can currently be found in the anthologies The Portable Boog Reader (BOOG Literature), Oblek: Writing From the New Coast (Oblek Editions), The Unbearables (Autonomedia), and Verses That Hurt: Pleasure And Pain From The Poemfone Poets (St. Martin's Press).

As a founding member of Yara Arts Group she has collaborated on numerous theatrical productions presented in Ukraine and Siberia, as well as in New York City at La MaMa, E.T.C.

Previously, Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps were awarded the Translation Prize given by Agni Review and Boston University, as well as the National Theatre Translation Fund Award. They are recipients of several translation grants from the New York State Council on the Arts for their work with Ukrainian poetry, as well as three for their work with Buryat material. In additon, they have received numerous awards for their translations with Sayan Zhambalov of Buryat shaman chant and epic songs.

Their translations have been integral to all the theater pieces created by Yara Arts Group. In 1991 they translated Ukrainian poems about Chornobyl for Yara's production of Explosions. Agni Review published their translation of Natalka Bilotserkivets’s “May” from this show. Their translations of Vasyl Yeroshenko, a blind Ukrainian poet who traveled to Japan in 1914 and wrote in Japanese, became the basis of Blind Sight. Next, they translated one of the best-known Ukrainian dramas, Lesia Ukrainka's verse play, The Forest Song. Yara's Forest Song was based on this work and also included a number of their translations of contemporary poetry. The piece opened in Lviv (May 1994) and at La MaMa in New York (June 1994) to excellent notice.

Yara's next piece, Waterfall/Reflections, incorporated ancient Ukrainian songs and incantations, as well as contemporary poetry by Ukrainian women in translations by Tkacz and Phipps.Waterfall/Reflections premiered at La MaMa (January 1995) and played at the festival of experimental theatre in Kyiv (April 1995). The New York Times called it “a theatrical enchantment.”

Yara's projects Virtual Souls (1996-1997) and Flight of the White Bird (1997-1999), were inspired by Oleh Lysheha's long poem “Swan,” and included translated sections of the poem. These projects were performed at La MaMa, at the Buryat National Theatre in Ulan Ude and in Kyiv at the Experimental Theatre Festival. Yara also performed the complete poem in a new theatre piece entitled Swan, which played at La MaMa and Harvard in the summer of 2003. Yara's Song Tree, (2001) was based on their translations of traditional songs from Poltava, Polissa and Pokuttia.

Contemporary Ukrainian poetry in the original and in translations by Tkacz and Phipps served as the base for the “Poetry in Performance” workshops Yara conducted at Harvard Summer School for 11 years. Every summer Ms. Tkacz directed students in an evening of performances created using contemporary Ukrainian poetry as texts.

Yara has also produced 10 major poetry and art events at the Ukrainian Institute of America on East 79th St. in Manhattan. For instance, 20 translations by Ms. Tkacz and Ms. Phipps were interpreted in 1999 as installations by visual artists for the festival Poetry Installations and Performances. The installations included: an experimental film by Joel Schlemowitz inspired by Atilla Mohylny's “Bridge Crosses the Pond;” an assemblage by Watoku Ueno based on Oleh Lysheha's “Mountain;” and a series of striking black and white photographs by Margaret Morton that were a response to Oksana Zabuzhko's “Letter from the Summer House.”

Ms. Tkacz’s and Ms. Phipps’s translations have been read at St. Mark's Poetry Project, the Poetry Society of America, the New York Public Library, and the Ukrainian Consulate in New York. A segment of Yara's poetry event, Silver Threads, was broadcast on WNYC-TV. Yara has also performed poetry at the Music and Art Center of Greene County at the Grazhda in Hunter, NY and at the Ukrainian National Association estate Soyuzivka in Kerkonkson, NY, as well as at events and conferences on the East Coast.

The translators are currently working on ancient winter solstice songs, or koliadas, from the Carpathians to be used in Yara’s next show, Koliada at La MaMa Theatre, slated for March 4 to 20. For more information call Yara (212) 475-6474, or email For more informaiton and updates visit .

article originally published in "The Ukrainian Weekly" February 6, 2005

photos of Virlana Tkacz and Serhiy Zhadan by Vitali Horbonos and of Wanda Phipps by Joel Schlemowitz, all rights reserved.
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