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What We Live For, What We Die For

Selected Poems (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)

Serhiy Zhadan, Virlana Tkacz (Translated by), Wanda Phipps (Translated by), Bob Holman (Foreword by)


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An introduction to an original poetic voice from eastern Ukraine with deep roots in the unique cultural landscape of post-Soviet devastation

“Everyone can find something, if they only look carefully,” reads one of the memorable lines from this first collection of poems in English by the world‑renowned Ukrainian author Serhiy Zhadan. These robust and accessible narrative poems feature gutsy portraits of life on wartorn and poverty-ravaged streets, where children tally the number of local deaths, where mothers live with low expectations, and where romance lives like a remote memory. In the tradition of Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski, and William S. Burroughs, Zhadan creates a new poetics of loss, a daily crusade of testimonial, a final witness of abandoned lives in a claustrophobic universe where “every year there’s less and less air.” Yet despite the grimness of these portraits, Zhadan’s poems are familiar and enchanting, lit by the magic of everyday detail, leaving readers with a sense of hope, knowing that the will of a people “will never let it be / like it was before.”

Praise For What We Live For, What We Die For: Selected Poems (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)

“Stunning translations that don’t read like translations, but read as English-language poems . . . When we read this book of poetry we are letting ourselves be part of history being formed.”—Olena Jennings, Ukrainian Weekly

“[Zhadan’s] work has become important to a generation experiencing, simultaneously, war and global interconnectedness . . . With this volume, [translators] Tkacz and Phipps will whet Anglophone readers’ appetites for Zhadan’s poetic engagement with a dangerous, polarized, uncertain world . . . The United States needs a Zhadan as much as Ukraine does.”—Amelia Glaser, Los Angeles Review of Books 

“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.”—World Literature Today

“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

Selected as a 2020 PEN Translation Award Semi-Finalist, sponsored by PEN America Literary Awards

Shortlisted for the Walcott Prize, sponsored by Arrow Press

Received honorable mention for the Lois Roth Award, sponsored by the Modern Language Association of America

Yale University Press, 9780300223361, 160pp.

Publication Date: April 16, 2019

About the Author

Serhiy Zhadan was born in the Luhansk Region of Ukraine and educated in Kharkiv. His previous works include Mesopotamia, and his books have been translated into several languages. Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps are an award-winning translation team who have been translating Ukrainian poetry since 1989.