April 6: Lost Horse Press publisher reads from Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series

Closeup of Lyuba Yakimchuk.
Award-winning contemporary Ukrainian poet Lyuba Yakimchuk. Photo by Valentyn Kuzan.

Award-winning contemporary Ukrainian poet Lyuba Yakimchuk’s collection “Apricots of Donbas,” written over 10 years, reveals the ramifications of occupation through intimate descriptions of how her family’s life changed when the Ukrainian city of Luhansk became occupied in 2014.

In the poem “he says that all shall be well,” a girl recounts her conversation with an unknown man about her school’s destruction:

he says: your school’s been bombed out
he says: we’re running out of food and out of money
he says: relief supplies from the white trucks are our only hope
he says: the relief has just been shot at us like projectiles
the school is no more
how come the school is no more?
is it empty? is it hole-ridden, or is it not there at all?
what became of my photo on the board of honor?
what became of the teacher who sat in the classroom?
he says: a photo? who on earth cares about your photo?
he says: your school has melted—this winter has been too hot
he says: I didn’t see your teacher, don’t ask me to look for her
he says: I saw your godmother, she is no more
drop all you have and run—
leave your house, your cellar with jars of apricot jam
and pink chrysanthemums on the veranda
shoot your dogs so that they don’t suffer
dump this soil, go
he says: you’re talking nonsense, we dump soil on coffins every day
he says: all shall be well, rescue is coming soon
he says: the relief supplies are on their way

The cover of “Apricots of Donbas,” written by Lyuba Yakimchuk.

Yakimchuk and other Ukrainian poets are reaching new readers thanks to Lost Horse Press, a nonprofit book publisher based in Liberty Lake, Washington that has created the Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series. Founded in 2017 by publisher Christine Lysnewycz Holbert and editor Grace Mahoney, the series publishes works by both established and new Ukrainian poets in a dual-language format, bringing their words to an English-speaking audience.

WSU Libraries will host Holbert for readings from the series in an April 6 presentation, “Beauty and Resilience: Voices from Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry.” Sponsored by WSU Libraries, the David G. Pollart Center for Arts and Humanities, and WSU Press, the event starts at 2 p.m. in the Terrell Library atrium. In addition, a monthlong exhibit on series poets will be in the Terrell Library display case and available for viewing online through April.

“When I look at the entirety of Ukraine’s literary history, poets have often been at the nexus of agency and resistance, expressing the shared sentiments of Ukrainians as they navigate the horrendous legacies of colonization, and cultural and linguistic repression,” said Gabriella Reznowski, event organizer and foreign languages librarian. “Poets invite the reader to feel the multisensory aspects of their experiences. Their anxieties, worries, joys, and sorrows are shared through their poems.”

Publishing the works of poets more than 5,500 miles away

Christine Lysnewycz Holbert

After Holbert founded Lost Horse Press in 1998, she said she dreamed of starting a Ukrainian poetry series, but didn’t know where to begin. At the time, Holbert lived in Sandpoint, Idaho, and while it was no problem to publish books by U.S. poets working remotely, it wasn’t possible to research or meet with Ukrainian writers.

By chance, Holbert was introduced to then doctoral candidate Grace Mahoney at the University of Michigan’s Slavic and Ukrainian Studies program. Mahoney was in Kyiv doing research at the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum for her dissertation about Bulgakov, and she had met and befriended many Ukrainian poets and writers during her time in Ukraine.

“Without her generous help, knowledge, and connections, the Lost Horse Press Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series would not exist,” Holbert said. “We have brought to English readers 12 volumes so far, written by the foremost poets working in Ukraine today, which, sadly, had not been translated into English by any U.S. press, small or large. What a sad state of affairs that only a one-woman press operating from remote north Idaho had enough resolve to take on the translation of significant works from the best contemporary writers of Ukrainian poetry.”

Growing interest in Ukrainian poetry

Over time, book sales to Slavic and Ukrainian Studies programs picked up in Ukraine, Great Britain, and the United States. Professors were using the books in U.S. programs to teach Ukrainian language and literature, while in Ukraine the dual-language editions were used to teach English.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, things rapidly changed for the Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series, Holbert said. People in the United States suddenly wanted to learn about Ukraine and Ukrainian literature.

“Ukraine has been a country of poetry for a very long time, and hopefully, we can offer a window into Ukrainian poetry, and the literary world currently fighting for its life,” she said. “The armed conflict brought about an emergence of a distinctive trend in contemporary Ukrainian poetry: the poetry of war. Ukrainian literature has a long tradition that goes back to the 11th century. Poetry and history-making are still intertwined in today’s Ukraine.”

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