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Ukrainian Cultural Festival

Ukrainian Poetry
from the 1920s & today
performed by Yara Arts Group

More on event
Nov 8 & 11, 2023
Nov 8 photosprogram
Nov 11 photos program

A Forest Surrounds Poets
NOV 11 h-03.jpg

Yara Arts Group, a resident company at La MaMa Experimental Theatre, commemorates the generations of Ukrainian poets destroyed in the 1920s purges and in russia’s current war on Ukraine.

In “A Forest Surround Poets” Yara artists perform poetry by Amelina, Kurbas, Tychyna, Svidzinsky, Semeneko, Vlyzko and Iohansen, accompanied by master-bandura player Julian Kytasty. They also present a concert version of the third act of “Radio 477!” by Serhiy Zhadan, accompanied by composer Anthony Coleman. The act draws a connection between the destruction of Ukrainian culture in the purges and the assault on Kharkiv in the first days of the russian invasion.

Olena Stiazhkina will speak about Victoria Amelina and the New York Literary Festival she founded in Ukraine.
Yara Arts Group creates original theatre pieces that include Ukrainian poetry translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps. This event is directed by Virlana Tkacz, who founded Yara, and who directed “Radio 477!” last spring. The third act included new poetry by Serhiy Zhadan that opens “How Fire Descends: New and Selected Poetry by Serhiy Zhadan,” published by Yale University this October.

Yara Arts Group is funded by the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Culture.. as well as the Self Reliance Foundation and many friends of Yara.




“A Forest Surrounds Poets” is part of the Ukrainian Cultural Festival and will take place Nov 11 at the Ukrainian Institute of America 2 East 79th St @ Fifth Ave in New York City.

It feels like every year

in November

a forest surrounds poets –

a forest of firing squads,

a forest of the condemned, who kept letters

in their pockets like yesterday’s bread crumbs.


This is the seasonal trauma for a literature hounded

out of cities, as the greatest threat.

Writers were fished out of editorial offices,

like trout from streams,

leaving behind only ripples

for young authors orphaned and unprepared.


The fall sharpens our perception of an unfinished poem,

a manuscript that fell sick like a tree

in an urban space that lacked freedom.


This forest surrounds poets with lungs

burnt by the gas of the Great War.

It surrounds actors whose movements

recreate a cabaret dance of agony.

It surrounds priests, it surrounds teachers and editors.


This quiet community is so steeped in books

that even in their final movements, they call out, O, Death!

The tall bright pines are all that’s left of justice.

The fog in the throat, a substitute for emptiness and despair.


The weight of this forest, like the weight of a rhythm,

that alarms the acoustics of libraries and quarries.

It sheds light on the clear cuts hacked into

The autumn forests of our continuity.

The continuity of our writing, the continuity of our song.

Invisible burial mounds mark every great literature.

The sand under our feet, filled with their broken teeth, is our language.


November 27, 2022


By Serhiy Zhadan

Translated from the Ukrainian

by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps

How Fire Descdends
How Fire Descends
radio photo 1.jpg

Bowery Poetry Club, Razom and Yara Arts Group present “How Fire Descends: New York Poets, Translators, Musicians and Bushwick Book Club Songwriters React to Ukrainian Poetry.” The event takes place at the renowned Bowery Poetry Club at 308 Bowery at First St in New York City. 

The event includes:

  • A performance of poems by Victoria Amelina by Teryn Kuzma in English translations by Larissa Babiyj. 

  • Ukrainian poet Iya Kiva reads her work in the original Ukrainian.
    and the English versions of her work are read by translators Amelia Glaser, Olena Jennings, Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps.
    New York poets Pichchenda Bao and Olena Jennings respond to the work of Iya Kiva with their own poetry.

  • Translators will also read their English versions of poems by Iryna Shuvalova and Katerina Babkin. Poets Wanda Phipps and Teryn Kuzma responds on the bandura.

  • Poet Bob Holman and Founder of the Bower Poetry Club reads his translation of “Fire” by Oleksa Vlyzko, a deaf Ukrainian poet who was executed in 1930s. Holman reacts to Vlyzko's work with his own poem.

  • Julian Kytasty, George Drance and Silvana Gonzalez respond to 1920s poet Maik Iohansen, who also wrote the script for “Hello, This Is Radio 477!” for the Berezil. They are joined by Akiko Hiroshima, Susan Hwang, Petro Ninovskyi and Lesya Verba to sing the hit song “Kharkiv Kharkiv”  and read Serhiy Zhadan’s poems from the new book “How Fire Descends.”

  • Bushwick Book Club presents new songs in response to poems from “How Fire Descends; New and Selected Poetry by Serhiy Zhadan" BBC songwriters are Susan Hwang, Carol Lipnik, Don Rauf and spiritchild.

This performance is part of The Ukrainian Cultural Festival, dedicated to Victoria Amelina and all the destroyed Ukrainian poets from the 1920s to today.  Donations for The New York Festival in Ukraine that Victoria Amelina founded will be accepted at the event.

Of all literature

and all language

I’m most interested in words

used to address

the dead.


What if someone spoke a sentence

that could stir the sonic field of death.


Listen to me,

you -- deprived of the sweet receptors of song.

Listen to me now,

hear my whisper,

distorted by the acoustics of non-existence.


Listen to me,

you --marked by dialects, like scars throughout your lives,

you -- whose throats since childhood were scratched with the burning needles of the alphabet

you -- singers who could imitate bird calls


I know – it is unfair

you cannot answer

the voices calling out to you from the mist today,

you cannot say anything to defend yourself,

you cannot protect the vacant land of night

between memory and expectation.


But language is important even after death

like the deepening of a river bed

like the rise of heat for the first time in autumn

in a great home.


The only rule – grow roots,

break through.


The only chance – reach out for a branch, grab hold of a voice.


There is nothing else.

No one will remember you for your silence.

No one but you can name the rivers near-by.


You who are only echoes,

You who are filled with silence,

speak, now speak

speak as grass,

speak as frost,

speak as conductors of music.


By Serhiy Zhadan

Translated from the Ukrainian

by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps

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