WHAT WE LIVE FOR
WHAT WE DIE FOR:
Selected Poems by Serhiy Zhadan
Translated by Virlana Tkacz
& Wanda Phipps
Order Book from Yale On Yara Events with Zhadan 2019
Masterfully translated from the Ukrainian by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps [What We Live for. What We Die For selects] from collections published between 2001 and 2015… The ongoing war in the province of his birth – Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine – has clearly intensified Serhiy Zhadan’s poetry to a pitch that matches that of other writers who worked under siege conditions: Mahmoud Darwish, Bertolt Brecht, César Vallejo. Read backwards the volume offers a kind of index to the evolution of a word-class poet.
Askold Melnychuk, Times Literary Supplement, April 26, 2019.
I heartily recommend this collection of Serhiy Zhadan’s poems, just out in Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps’s thoughtful English translation. Zhadan lives in Kharkiv, not far from his native Luhansk, where he writes poetry and novels and heads a foundation to aid civilians in the Donbas region. His is one of the most important voices in eastern Ukraine, which has been embroiled in war since 2014. And his poems have, over the last few years, also come to feel uncannily relevant to an American readership.
At a precarious time in international politics, poetry has become a vehicle for understanding, and communicating, the complexity of current events. Translators, no less than these poets themselves, facilitate this vital act of communication. Tkacz, a translator and theater director, and Phipps, an American poet, have been collaboratively translating Zhadan — the unofficial poet laureate of eastern Ukraine — for well over a decade, rendering his hard-hitting poetic images in eloquent, spare English lines.
With this volume, Tkacz and Phipps will whet Anglophone readers’ appetites for Zhadan’s poetic engagement with a dangerous, polarized, uncertain world, a world where “[t]here will be blood on women’s heels,” as he predicts in his 2015 poem “Take Only What Is Most Important.” He is, increasingly, writing for a world that echoes:
the quiet of a cemetery, the noise of a command post,
and unedited lists of the dead,
so long that there won’t be enough time
to check them for your own name.
The translators have captured the power of Zhadan’s short, clear lines, of his subtle internal rhymes, alliteration, and meter. But it is not only the translation that makes Zhadan’s poems accessible to the American reader today. As the spoken-word poet Bob Holman writes in his foreword to the volume,
Zhadan’s poems, which so extraordinarily depict the lives of working-class Ukrainians […] now seem like a game plan for a U.S. citizenry struggling to come to grips with their own demagogic forces hellbent on challenging the foundations of their country — freedom of speech, freedom of the press, protection of the poor and newly arrived, etc.
What makes Zhadan unique in Eastern Europe is his ability to empathize across ideological lines without compromising his ideals. The United States needs a Zhadan as much as Ukraine does.
Amelia Glaser, “Poems for an Uncertain World” Serhiy Zhadan’s “What We Live For, What We Die For” LA Review of Books, May 11, 2019
This collection of Ukrainian writer Serhiy Zhadan’s poems will likely cement his reputation as the unflinching witness to the turbulent social and political travails of his nation. With an acerbic tone that will seem familiar to admirers of Franz Wright or Charles Bukowski, Zhadan’s no-nonsense verses are sure to strike more than a few nerves as readers move through this collection that draws together nearly two decades of his work.
World Literature Today, summer Issue
Serhiy Zhadan’s book of selected poems translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps begins in the small worlds inhabited by individual characters and grows to encompass a greater world...
Ms. Tkacz’s ongoing work with Mr. Zhadan has made her familiar with his words in a way that most people wouldn’t be, as she latched on to his visions and made them her own through the performances. This personal experience, along with her precise knowledge of the Ukrainian language, and her work with Ms. Phipps create stunning translations that don’t read like translations, but read as English-language poems. This is an appropriate collection for our time, examining the ongoing war in Ukraine and migration, and their effects on human emotions.…
His decision to write about the Slovo building places Mr. Zhadan in the powerful position of speaking for his people. He walks in the footsteps of writers such as Pavlo Tychyna, Mykola Khvyliovyi and Mike Johansen. When we read this book of poetry we are letting ourselves be part of history being formed.
Olena Jennings, Ukrainian Weekly March 29, 2019
Undergirding Zhadan’s poetry is a humanitarian desire to improve the physical, cultural, and spiritual conditions in which Ukrainian people live, today and tomorrow . . . Zhadan’s poems reveal the heart and soul of places forgotten, hidden, and unseen, so that we may also witness and understand and remember.
Kristina Lucenko, Our Life / Nashe Zhyttia, July 2019
Serhiy Zhadan was born in the Luhansk Region of Ukraine and educated in Kharkiv where he lives today. He is the author of twelve books of poetry. His prose works include Big Mac (2003), Depeche Mode (2004), Anarchy in the UKR (2005), Hymn of the Democratic Youth (2006), Voroshilovgrad (2010), and Mesopotamia (2014). Zhadan’s books have been translated into English, German, French, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Russian. He is the front man for the band Zhadan and the Dogs, and has collaborated with Yara Arts Group since 2002.
Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps have received the Agni Poetry Translation Prize, the National Theatre Translation Fund Award and twelve translation grants from the New York State Council on the Arts. Their translations have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies, and are integral to the theater pieces created by Yara Arts Group.
MORE ON ZHADAN
New Yorker - Marci Stone "The Bard of Eastern Ukraine, Where Things Are Falling Apart" Nov 28, 2016
New Yorker on attack in March 2014
Forbes on Zhadan April 2015
London Review of Book - Peter Pomerantsev "Ukraine's Mesopotamia" March 4, 2014
Mayhill Fowler on Zhadan