Tiffany Troy: What initially inspired you to begin this poetry anthology?
Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: The suffering of the Ukrainian people caused by the war shook me to the core. Like millions of others, I read the news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saw the brutality of the war on TV, and wept. I wanted to do something about it. But how, I wasn’t sure. One day, a news clip showed a young Ukrainian boy, a refugee, walking alone toward the border of Poland. He was among hundreds fleeing their home, but he was alone, and I wrote a short poem for him called “Sunflower,” a part of the “Sunflowers: Ukrainian Poetry on War Resistance, Hope and Peace,” which also gave the title to the anthology —
“I draw a sunflower in the sand and toss it up in the sky.
Grab it if you can, and hand it to that little Ukrainian boy
walking alone, in tears, toward the border of a foreign land.
The plastic bag he carries has a message for the world.
The red diary he holds has the offenses of history.
The burdens on his shoulders are ours,
He is tired—give him the flower.
He stops a sudden, refusing to walk
in the direction the world is going.
In his halt are the hopes for the future.
That young boy, the millions of Ukrainian people displaced like him, and every life claimed by the war inspired “Sunflowers: Ukrainian Poetry on War Resistance, Hope and Peace,” a charity anthology published by River Paw Press, through which we raised substantial funds to support “Ukraine TrustChain” and “Chytomo,” two volunteer-based organization working in Ukraine to help people affected by the war and promote Ukrainian literature.
Tiffany Troy: As a project of both English-language and translated poetry, how did you put the collection together?
Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: When I announced “Sunflowers,” I realized my challenges in putting this anthology together. To support the voices of the Ukrainian writers affected by the war, it was essential for me to support their language. This is why I decided to bring a bilingual anthology. But not knowing the Ukrainian language was a minus for me in publishing this book. Therefore, I committed myself to reading all submissions in their original language with the help of three translation apps and listening to the sounds of the Ukrainian words to relate to them as they were meant for the readers. It was crucial for me to get to the essence of the poems in their original language to make selections, while reading their English translations side by side.
Tiffany Troy: As the editor, what do you envision your role to be?
Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: In the editor’s role, I’m aware of my responsibility to opt for authentic works written in well-crafted language that have the virtue of resonating with the readers. To give an example, in the “Sunflowers” anthology, I looked for poems that were more than just a report from the war. In them, I tried to discover the potential of reaching the hearts of the readers to initiate positive dialogues that could bring much-needed healing and inspire us to look for peaceful solutions to our conflicts.
Tiffany Troy: Do you want to speak about the poems featured by Tupelo Quarterly?
Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: The featured poems by Tupelo Quarterly are chilling accounts of the Ukrainian war written with a sense of responsibility to let the world know how humanity suffers in such violent conflicts that leave scars on the hearts and minds of generations. The fear, anger, and protest in Lyudmyla Khersonska’s poem “War. Day One,” written about the “uninvited and scary” guest, invites resistance and overcoming the fear of this guest by asserting— “If it forces its way in, hit it with an axe–.” Olaf Clemensen’s “Untitled” poem masterfully paints the anguish, irony, pain and horrors of the war as he notes – “a black empty hole/ so black and so empty that even a flashlight on God’s forehead/ won’t help.” Ella Yevtushenko’s poem “#BuchaMassacre” is a chronicle of shattered hopes which asks the readers to stand with her against the brute force trying to silence humanity by filling sand in its mouth and shooting in the back of the head.
Several other Ukrainian and anglophone poets and translators in “Sunflowers” are worthy of mention. As the editor, I would love to quote and discuss all of them. However, it isn’t possible. But, if I can, I would like to mention the works of a few other poets, translators, and literary activists, such as Nobel Prize in Literature nominee Serhiy Zhadan, Iya Kiva, Yuliya Musakovska, Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, Olga Livshin, Olena Jennings, R.B. Lemberg, Olina O’Lear, Volodymyr Tymchuk, Oleksandr Mymruk and Victoria Feshchuk from this book. Apart from contributing to the “Sunflowers” anthology, they join forces with the creative community to help Ukrainian causes and amplify the voices of Ukrainian writers.
Tiffany Troy: What are your hopes for this collection?
Kalpna Singh-Chitnis: This book is an invitation to readers in every corner of the world. I hope they discover “Sunflowers” not only as a collection of war poems written to fulfill an intellectual pursuit but also as an opportunity to be familiar with the sufferings of mankind and the destruction of our planet penned in the poems sensitively to reflect upon. I hope reading “Sunflowers’ be a transformative experience for the readers.
War. Day One
By Lyudmyla Khersonska, Translated from the Russian by Olga Livshin
In the morning, rockets sang outside the window
instead of birds. She tumbled out of bed in her cheery pajamas,
ran barefoot across the chilly floor, like across a blue sky –
barefoot across the sky. What is this red blob, flying outside the window?
What is this, so frightening? Flying over our heads
towards a peaceful morning,
with such a demonic whistle?
Why are these clear glasses shaking, the clear soul,
shaking, why is she trembling?
So the war is here. No one asked it for a visit,
no one made its bed, or set the table
with a snow-white tablecloth. How would she wash blood drops
off the white linen fabric? “Is this war?” she asked the closed door,
standing barefoot in her cheery pajamas.
“What a guest – uninvited and scary. I won’t
open up, won’t treat it to a good meal, or put on
my nice dress.” “Don’t open,” the door boomed.
“Don’t feed it or put on your pretty dress.
If it forces its way in, hit it with an axe–”
By Olaf Clemensen, Translated from Ukrainian by R.B. Lemberg
when Adam gave names to the animals
names similar to cookies and sandwiches
and little glasses of tea with lemon
he named all the animals who made it, survived, crawled out
from beyond the river
who crossed over the rickety planks
put down instead of bridges destroyed by bombing
when he handed out names
a few cardboard boxes of names were left over for those
who still remained among the demolished buildings
under the charred pines in the bomb shelters of their dens
there’s so much tea still left, too
maybe they’ll get out of there yet
maybe they’ll get carried out but probably not
so many names will be left forever without their animals
and where is my person who should be called Eve
the flesh of my flesh?
you no longer have ribs
when you slept
Kadyrovites cut the rib out, took it to a kindergarten and raped it
after that, they killed it
look, where it was supposed to be, there’s a black empty hole
so black and so empty that even a flashlight on God’s forehead won’t help
illuminate this emptiness
at least that’s what we all think
at least for now, that’s how we feel….
By Ella Yevtushenko, Translated by Ella Yevtushenko
there are bodies
but no words, no words, none
only bodies lying around
what can those words do anyway
against brute force
against their hate
such that even wild beasts
are incapable of it
such that you don’t even know
to which kingdom to attribute these creatures
cause biology has no such categories
no dictionaries have any such words, none no such words anywhere
I am a poet I should have had some of them but I have none, none, none of them and that’s all
poetry is dead they tortured her to death in Bucha
and threw her naked into a sewer hole
wrapped her into a stolen carpet and left at the roadside
after a long rape, naturally
that is why there are no words anymore
what are those words anyway
filling your mouth
when you fall flat on your face
after being shot in the back of your head
Poet and Editor
Kalpna Singh-Chitnis is an Indian-American poet, writer, filmmaker, and author of four poetry collections. Her works have appeared in notable journals such as “World Literature Today,” “Columbia Journal,” “California Quarterly,” “Indian Literature,” “Silk Routes Project” (IWP) at The University of Iowa, Stanford University’s “Life in Quarantine,” etc. Her poetry has been translated into fifteen languages. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize, she is the recipient of the Naji Naman Literary Prize, Rajiv Gandhi Global Excellence Award, and Bihar Rajbhasha Award, given by the government of Bihar, India. Poems from her award-winning book “Bare Soul” and her poetry film “River of Songs” have been included in the “Nova Collection” and the “Polaris Collection” Lunar Codex time capsules going on the Moon with NASA’s “Nova-C lander missions to Oceanus Procellarum” in 2022 and “NASA VIPER rover mission to the Lunar South Pole” in 2023. A former lecturer of Political Science, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis is also the Editor-in-Chief of “Life and Legends” and the Translation Editor of “IHRAF Publishes.” Her forthcoming poetry collection, Trespassing My Ancestral Lands, is in the making. Website: www.kalpnasinghchitnis.com
Poet and Translator of War. Day One
Lyudmyla Khersonska is a poet and translator from Odesa, Ukraine. She is the author of four poetry collections in Russian. In 2022 her joint volume with the poet Boris Khersonsky, her husband, came out in English translation from Lost Horse Press, titled The Country where Everyone’s Name is Fear. Khersonska was recently included in the list, “33 International Women Writers Who are Bold for Change” by Words without Borders.
Olga Livshin was raised in Odesa, Ukraine, and Moscow, and came to San Diego as a Jewish refugee with her parents. Her poetry and translations appear in Ploughshares, AGNI Online, the Kenyon Review Online, and Modern Poetry in Translation, among others. She is the author of A Life Replaced: Poems with Translations from Anna Akhmatova and Vladimir Gandelsman.
Poet and Translator of Untitled
Olaf Clemensen is a writer, poet, painter, and art scholar born in Kyiv on 05.07.1976. He graduated from the National Academy of Art and Architecture in Kyiv. He is the author of “The ATO Summer” (2015).
R.B. Lemberg is a poet, fantasist, and professor living in Lawrence, Kansas. R.B.’s LGBTQIA-themed books were shortlisted for the Nebula, Locus, World Fantasy, Crawford, and other awards. R.B. was born in L’viv, Ukraine. Follow them on Twitter at @rb_lemberg
Poet and Translator of #BuchaMassacre
Ella Yevtushenko is a poet, translator, and musician from Kyiv. She is the finalist of the “MRP” and “Dictum” poetry contests, laureate of the “Smoloskyp” contest, and participant at literary festivals, Book Arsenal, Ї BookForum, Translatorium, etc. Her first poetry collection Lichtung was published in 2016. In 2020 she founded a solo electronic and poetic project, Thuyone. She is the Co-founder (with Bohdan-Oleh Horobchuk) of the SHCHOHLA art association, which has held more than 20 cultural events, and co-author of the Kulturtrigger YouTube channel.