Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology in Support of Ukraine, edited by Penn Kemp and Richard-Yves Sitoski. (Pendas Productions/Laughing Raven Press, May 2022, 121 pages). ISBN 978-1-927734-37-7
Recent coverage for the book includes The Globe and Mail, June 17:
http://www.sage-ing.com/Sage-ing41.pdf P.2, a full page poster in colour and P. 27, info and a poem, June 19.
Island Catholic Times. P. 17, info and a poem. June 19.
An article is coming out in The Vancouver Sun soon as well as other reviews…
Reviews by Nick Beauchesne, Sergiy Kuzin and Catherine Owen
Here’s our first review, by Catherine Owen: “this boldly and appropriately designed blue and yellow and sunflowered anthology of poems in support of Ukraine… this essential anthology of voices against decimation is one form of multiple approaches to knowing, in politics, through poetry, for humanity.”
And two more reviews:
- by Nick Beauchesne, PhD, MA, BA, Sessional Instructor
Department of English and Modern Languages, U. of Alberta
“Canadian editors and poets Penn Kemp and Richard-Yves Sitoski have assembled 61 poems by 48 of Canada’s most prominent poets in response to the current crisis in Ukraine and other perils afflicting our troubled times.
The underlying question of this anthology is: what can poetry do in the face of such horror? The answer is complex and manifold.
As one contributor, Susan McMaster posits, “Poetry is the voice of the spaces between the words, of the heart between the beats, of the caught breath before the long exhale… Poetry hums and sings and says what can’t be said” (63). It traces the edges of the inarticulable.
In a similar exercise, Marilyn Bowering offers this glimpse into the “emptying of Mariupol,” her attempt to comprehend bombings and mass evacuations:
its people slipping on shoes, into cars, along the secret paths
of their bodies. They are the silence inside missiles,
and bombs. They are the silence. (25)
These lines are all the more haunting with the knowledge that they were written in March—while there was still a Mariupol to evacuate. Now, that city is little more than rubble, “destroyed completely,” as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky bluntly stated in early May.
In attempting to articulate these perils, Kemp and Sitoski affirm in the Preface that, “while this book was inspired by Ukraine, it can serve as catalyst for us to see the human tragedy of all the world’s conflicts” (xiv). Offering comfort, community, and solidarity is a beginning—not only for those suffering in Ukraine, but in Palestine, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria, and anywhere else gripped by terrorism and war.
Beyond solidarity, poetry can be a call to action. As Kemp later writes in one of her poems, the poetry itself, along with the too-familiar phrase, “thoughts and prayers,” need be accompanied by material support:
May Kyiv keep safe beneath the holy
mantle of Maty Zemlya, Mother Earth
as if prayers were enough. Send money. (48).
Profits from the book will be directed toward PEN Ukraine’s efforts to provide the Ukrainian cultural community with evacuation and resettlement help. In purchasing this striking, heartbreaking, and beautiful book, one supports not only Canadian artists, some with Ukrainian roots, but also directly helps the people affected by the Russian “special operation.” Poems in Response to Peril is a marker for these times, a resounding, polyvocal cry of “enough!” that will echo into history.”
2. by Sergiy Kuzin, Ukrainian translator and publisher of the literary magazine Zaza, based in the Kiev region. See his translation of a poem in our collection, “Touches Souls, I Suppose”, on https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2022/06/02/translation-into-ukrainian-touches-souls-i-suppose/.
Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology in Support of Ukraine edited by Penn Kemp and Richard-Yves Sitoski contains 61 poems by 48 of Canada’s prominent poets. They were written in March 2022 when Putin’s military planes were dropping bombs on Ukrainians and his artillery was targeting the Ukrainian army and civilians. The book is a gesture of Canadian poets’ solidarity with the people of Ukraine, including its cultural workers and activists.
The book abounds with questions as people throughout the world are trying to digest the enormity of this crisis in Europe. Poets Yvonne Blomer, Kate Braid, Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, Karl Jirgens, Blain Marchand, Marianne Micros and Greg Santos all resort to questions in an effort to make sense of the tragedy that befell the sovereign East-European nation following the Russian attack on its soil on February 24.
What was the first thing you noticed?
the wind was a hammer
birds in trees were sparks
the sun did nothing
but cast shadows. The dog’s
loose ears became sheeted ghosts
(Yvonne Blomer, “Poem with Questions”)
Who are we? What do we want?
Current possibilities reduce intention, trying.
(Karl Jirgens, “Words of Peril in 3 Parts”)
When the thunder assaults you, you wonder
if your home’s hard-won memories survive?
(Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, “Kudos, Dear Ukrainians”)
As the world was watching the conflict unfold and start to affect growing numbers of civilians in Ukraine, the people sympathetic with their plight were unable to dismiss the Ukrainians’ need to survive. Several authors in the anthology depict the difficulties of those who were forced to flee their homes:
In bed at night, I listen to the emptying of Mariupol,
its people slipping on shoes, into cars, along the secret paths
of their bodies.
(Marilyn Bowering, “Mariupol Water”)
The mothers and bundled children. The elderly in
wheelchairs or hobbling with canes. Terror
sketched and straining each of their faces.
(Blaine Marchand, “About suffering they were never wrong”)
The anthology includes a poem by renowned Ukrainian poet Dmytro Kremin (1953-2019) with what seems like a glimpse into the future:
…The ashes of burnt fires are flying, flying down out of the sky
(“The Ashes of an Eyewitness”, translated by Svetlana Ischenko and Russell Thornton)
Animals belonging to their besieged owners also had to be rescued from the advancing troops:
In Ukraine, poems still spill from the wings of storks,
the mythopoetic pinions of dream horses
along with the whinnying of flesh and blood ones
transported in trucks away from the killing fields.
(Susan McCaslin, “Poetry in Times of Peril”)
The contributors to the anthology paint a picture of the fighters who resist the aggressor:
A Ukrainian man protests in front of Russian soldiers, a
crack, he crumples.
A grandmother armed with Googled instructions prepares
Molotov cocktails in her back yard.
A man climbs onto a moving Russian tank to defiantly
wave a Ukrainian flag.
(Jennifer Wenn, “Kaleidoscope for the Invasion of Ukraine, February 24 2022”)
The poems in the anthology range from a simple human heart’s cry in protest against harm inflicted on others (Albert Dumont, “The Tears I Shed”) to straightforward advice on what ammunition needs to be sent to the Ukrainian army (Jay Yair Brodbar, “What We Need Beyond the Pale”).
Some of the poets probe their faith in adversity. David C. Brydges invokes the story of the icon of Our Lady of Kyiv, a holy image that was commissioned for a church in Kyiv and stolen by Russian invaders in the 12th century. The Canadian poet speaks about his search for answers to the world’s problems and eventually finds comfort in the iconic image.
The poets represented in the publication condemn Putin, calling him an ‘errant madman’ (Penn Kemp, “Fast Poem for Ukraine”), a lunatic from whose despotism innocent people have to suffer. In his response to W.H. Auden’s famous adage that “poetry makes nothing happen”, Robert Girvan points out that
…war and power are not all,
not the best or most important part.
When one sees a blackbird or red
cardinal, they might see snowy
mountains, and think of many things.
(“13ish Ways Poems Make Something Happen”)
Poems in Response to Peril is a joy to read and a reminder to all of us that a shared grief is easier to endure. The profits from it will be going to PEN Ukraine.”
Promoting POEMS IN RESPONSE TO PERIL
April 2, 2022. Zoom, A Gathering of Poets in Response to Peril, #poetsinresponsetoperil. A 3-hour international Zoom reading, now up on YouTube > Poets in Response to Peril). The Zoom featured more than 30 of the book’s Canadian contributors, expressing solidarity with those afflicted by war: https://www.rsitoski.com/event-details/poets-in-response-to-peril for National Poetry Month. Along with host Richard-Yves Sitoski, we celebrated How Poems Matter. Why Poems Matter. This “Oh!Sound Reading” https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2022/03/04/a-gathering-of-poets-in-response-to-peril/ was a cross-Canada marathon with 100 participants. Sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets.
April 9, 2022. “Slava Ukraini“, Summerland, BC. “It was a really good community event with music and words, including some history of Ukraine and its culture and poems Patricia Keeney sent us from a brand new anthology by Canadian poets.” Peter Hay, organizer
Poems by Patricia Keeney, Penn Kemp and Daphne Marlatt were read at this fundraiser for Ukraine.
May 28 2022. Launch of Poems in Response to Peril , Blackfriars Bistro, London ON. Readings by Andreas Gripp, Penn Kemp, Tanis MacDonald, Frances Roberts Reilly, Richard-Yves Sitoski, Solo and Jennifer Wenn on the glorious Blackfriars Bistro patio.
In the News
The London Free Press column, “Piercing Hearts”: https://lfpress.com/entertainment/local-arts/poets-are-talking-tough-and-their-words-make-a-difference.
#poetsinresponsetoperil. Richard-Yves Sitoski, video curator and co-editor of our playlist of videos submitted by poets, 53 so far, up on https://www.youtube.com/user/veggiemeister/playlists.
Poets are welcome to submit their readings on the theme to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cost: $30. For orders, please contact Richard-Yves Sitoski at email@example.com.