AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia / Сучасна поезія України та Австралії Edited by Les Wicks, Yury Zavadsky and Grigory Semenchuk. Published as ebook by Krok (Ternopil, Ukraine) in association with Meuse Press (Sydney, Australia). 2011.
The past few months have not been the best time to release an anthology of poetry in Australia – that is if you want to get some mainstream attention in the literary press. That large anthology by Gray and Lehmann seems to have been sucking up all the reviews and interviews and not leaving much oxygen for anyone else. But things have been happening under the radar. One of the most interesting being the publication of an ebook anthology of contemporary poetry from Australia and the Ukraine. While the Gray/Lehmann anthology is bending bookcases in Libraries and bookshops this collection of Australian and Ukraine poets exists as a free downloadable ebook.
So why an anthology of contemporary Ukrainian and Australian poetry and why now? Unfortunately we don’t learn very much about the reasons why this anthology was put together. We have a list of editors (Les Wicks, Yury Zavadsky and Grigory Semenchuk), and a brief statement “UA/AU is an invitation to explore the contemporary poetries of the Ukraine and Australia”. I would have liked a little more information from the editors, an introduction for example, setting out how the connection between poets in the Ukraine and Australia came about, how the poets and poems were selected, a little background on the state of poetry in both countries and what the future might hold.
So we are left with the actual poems. Each poet, in both the Australian and Ukrainian section, is given a single poem – presented first in the original language and then in translation. While a single poem isn’t enough to get a sense of a poets’ work, it does allow the anthology to present a wider range of poetic styles from each country without creating a book of overwhelming proportions,
For an Australian reader the poets in the AU section are familiar names – Judith Beveridge, Susan Bradley-Smith, Pam Brown, Joanne Burns, Michelle Cahill, Michael Farrell, Phillip Hammial, Susan Hampton, Andy Jackson, Jill Jones, Christpopher Kelen, Cath Kenneally, Karen Knight, Mike Ladd, Anthony Lawrence, Myron Lysenko, Chris Mansell, Peter Minter, David Musgrave and Les Wicks.
But the importance of this anthology is that it makes us move out of our poetic comfort zone. For an Australian reader that means becoming acquainted with the Ukrainian poets and poems. But, as with any translation, it is not just the poets and poems, for the role of the translator is made very clear in this anthology. For example, in the translation of Pavlo Hirnyk’s ‘It Dawns, It Leaks, Its Light…’ (translation by Yury Zavadsky and Les Wicks) there is a very strong rhythm and rhyme:
Aloft the darken raven flies,
The colding home beyond my way.
The tiny tear imbibed by eyes –
My tired family in wait.
Without being able to read the original poem it is difficult to fully appreciate how much of this English poem is in the original and how much it depends on the translation. For instance, in order to maintain the rhyme has the meaning of the poem changed in a subtle way.? Was there another English word that would have conveyed the meaning of the original poem better, but would have broken the rhyme? For most of the readers of this anthology these are questions which we cannot answer.
Sometimes, however, a poem seemingly transcends the translation. In Yuri Andrukhovych’s ‘And Everybody Fucks You’ (translated by Sarah Luczaj), it is possible to forget that this is a translation:
A hundred bucks a month – I thought to myself.
And everybody fucks you.
Is it a plus or a minus, how to understand it? I wondered.
And it what sense, I thought to myself, in the literal
or maybe the metaphorical?
There are probably a number of reasons why this poem ‘works’ in the context of this anthology. It maybe that the orignal poem is written a style familiar to Australian readers, influenced by the same poets and poems that many Australian poets and poems have been. Or maybe the translator has found that fine balance between being honest to the original and creating a poem which stands in its own right.
Other Ukrainian poems which stand out in this anthology include Myhailo Hryhoriv’s ‘Renegrade Blizzards’ (translated by Yury Zavadsky, Les Wicks, Catalina Girona and Andrii Antonovskyi) and Victor Neborak’s ‘The Writer’ (translated by Mark Andryczk).
Iryna Shuvalova’s “You Are Black as Winter” (translated by Michael M. Naydan) is a particularly striking poem. It’s opening seems almost familiar and probably wouldn’t look out of place in an Australian literary journal:
…..you are black as winter
your palms shut
you clenched your treasure
of unspent lives
and angels rush
in the air –
In the end AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia is more of an appertiser than a main course. While most Australian readers will feel comfortable with the choice of Australian poems, I couldn’t help but feel that the anthology would have been more successful if there was a little more context to the poems. After reading the Ukrainian poems, for example, I would have liked to have been able to understand a little more about where these poems came from. Questions such as how has poetry in the Ukraine changed since the fall of the Soviet Union would seem to be an obvious starting point. I’m sure Ukrainian readers of the Australian poems would have similar questions about how Australian poetry has developed over recent decades.
In the final instance the value of this anthology is an introduction to poets and poems that many of us would not have come across before. In the long term its success will be measured by how many readers make the effort to chase down other translated poems by some the poets they first discovered in AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia.
AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia. can be downloaded freely at:
Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review.