Poetry Travels: Lithuanian Poets for Ukraine – ANSWER TO THE PRAYERS by Vainius Bakas, translated by Kerry Shawn Keys

On the morning of February 24th, the world was stunned by news that no human being could ever desire: a war was being waged in the heart of Europe. The Vilnius Book Fair, a beloved annual festival of literature began that very day. Only this year, the festival was imbued with sadness and the premonition of world war: not a single book presentation, discussion, concert or poetry reading was performed without a reference to the war. Thirty-two years ago, as Lithuania had been fighting for independence, poetry could be heard at every demonstration, rally and meeting: once again poetry has become an important form of resistance and a means for expressing civic responsibility. This time, the battle is being waged by Ukraine, and Lithuanian poets dedicate their verses to her and her people.
Lithuanian poets and writers have responded to the war in Ukraine in various ways: the voices of those who have lost their faith in the power and meaning of their art, those who feel paralysed, poisoned by anger and hatred, can be heard on social media. Others continue to write silently; still others contribute to relief work for Ukrainian refugees. Poet and translator, editor of the Vilnius Review, Marius Burokas, has become one of the most reliable war chroniclers on Facebook.
Ukraine‘s heroism has inspired the Lithuanian Culture Institute to create a poetry archive to document the authentic experiences of and contemplations on the war and the empathy for Ukraine. Some of the poems have been translated into Ukrainian and English and disseminated to wider audiences. An unexpectedly large number of authors, some well-known, others completely unknown, from Lithuania and beyond her borders, responded to the poetry initiative. We invite you to become acquainted with some of their testimonies.

Introduction by Rūta Mėlynė

Translated by Jura Avizienis

In partnership with Lithuanian Culture Institute


Again and again at prayer, I start each day: 			
Lord, please, shelter me from gusts at doorways, 
I don’t want to see bloodshed nor savagery
Stray dogs and dead pigeons in the city 

I keep on praying on and on, so I don’t see 
starving, heartbroken orphans, helpless, all around.
Please, open a clear sky above, like an umbrella, if you can, 
Don’t let me fall, pass out on the rails of a train. 

I don’t want to see war beyond anything else 
Nor torn bodies – nothing and nobody’ll ever heal, I know, 
My eyes don’t want to see this. And the Lord answered my prayers –
Brooches of golden rays
				    silently blinding, aglow.
 
 
February 24, 2022

By Vainius Bakas

Translated by Kerry Shawn Keys


Vainius Bakas was born 9 May, 1989 in Ukmergė. His first book was published in 2003, five years before he graduated secondary school (2008). In 2012, he completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Lithuanian Philology at Vilnius University, and in 2014 he received a Master’s Degree in Anthropology and Culture. He has published six collections of poetry: Lietaus spalvos (The colours of rain) in 2003, Pretekstai (Pretexts)in 2010, Kas vėjo – vėjui (Render to the wind what belongs to the wind) in 2014, Kaštonų tonai (Tones of chestnut) in 2016, Tylos fonetika (The phonetics of silence) in 2021 and a book of poetry for children, Ką manė kamanė (In the Opinion of the Bumblebee) in 2019. His poetry has been published in various periodicals and anthologies. He was editor at the literary journal Literatūra ir menas, and currently he is editor and copyeditor at several publishing houses. He has been a member of the Lithuanian Writers’ Union since 2012.

Bakas translates children’s poetry and history from English to Lithuanian. He is an active contributor to cultural life in Lithuania, participating at poetry readings, cultural programs for high school students and young writers and at roundtable discussions on the importance, values and goals of contemporary adult and children’s poetry. Bakas has been awarded many important literary prizes and awards. 


Kerry Shawn Keys (born June 25, 1946 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA) is an American poet, writer, playwright and translator. From 1998 to the present, Keys has lived for the most part in Vilnius, publishing, editing, translating from Lithuanian and Portuguese, and writing poetry, plays, children’s books, and wonderscripts. The fountain of Kerry Shawn Keys’ poetry is in the Appalachian Mountains, urban America, India, Brazil and Lithuania, but the roots go worldwide. He has performed and recorded with the free jazz percussionist and sound-constellation artist, Vladimir Tarasov (CD-Prior Records), and quarterbacked the jazz Nada Quartet. Recent books are Black Ice, 2020; Night Flight (poems), 2012; Pienas (prose tales and plays), 2013; Sich einen Fluss verschaffen (bilingual English/German poems), 2017;  New Poetry from China, 1917-2017, co-translated with Ming Di, 2018; Shoelaces for Chagall (bilingual English/German selection of love poems, 2021); Kerry Shawn Keys, Life and Selected Works, 2021. Keys received the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America in 1992, and in 2005 a National Endowment For The Arts Literature Fellowship.


Photo by Lisa Kalloo

Check out the Poetry Travels book list on bookshop.org.

Read previous poems from Poetry Travels:

AGGRESSOR’S MONOLOGUE by Artūras Valionis, translated by Jura Avizienis

THAT’S ALL by Jurgita Jasponytė, translated by Jura Avizienis

UNTITLED by Linas Umbrasas, translated by Audra Skukauskaitė

FIRST SPRING OF THE WAR by Vytautas Kaziela, translated by Jura Avizienis

A LETTER TO A CHILD by Lina Buidavičiutė, translated by Ada Valaitis

UNTITLED by Aneta Kamińska, translated by Anna Blasiak

TWO LYRICS OF LOVE AND MEMORY by Lina Kostenko, translated by Stephen Komarnyckyj

CROW STUDY by Yuri Andrukhovych, translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

UNTITLED POEM by Serhiy Zhadan, translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

UNTITLED POEM by Ludmila Khersonsky, translated by Maya Chhabra

UNTITLED POEM by Iryna Vikyrchak

From THE ANDROMEDA NEBULA by Anna Gréki, translated by Souheila Haïmiche and Cristina Viti

TEAPOT by Nurduran Duman, translated by Andrew Wessels

IT’S COMING AGAIN by Michael Strunge, translated by Paul Russell Garrett

REPORT FROM ANOTHER CITY by Marcin Niewirowicz, translated by the Author

INTERIOR by Ana Blandiana, translated by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Patea

THIS IS LOVE by Joanna Fligiel, translated by Anna Blasiak

REVELATION IN H&M by Menno Wigman, translated by David Colmer

*** (I WANT TO FOLD THIS DAY) by Inga Pizāne, translated by Jayde Will

THE SIEGE by Marcin Świetlicki, translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

FISH by Jana Putrle Srdić, translated by Barbara Jurša

THE WELL by Maarja Pärtna, translated by Jayde Will

THE SHADOW by Pentti Saarikoski, translated by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah

A FAREWELL TO MY DEAD CLASS by Irit Amiel, translated by Anna Blasiak and Marta Dziurosz

THE GIRLS IN BERGEN-BELSEN by Nora Gomringer, translated by Annie Rutherford

DECEMBER, by Jaume Subirana, translated by Christopher Whyte

ROSE RED, by Ulrike Almut Sandig, translated by Karen Leeder

*** (I D[R]IPPED MY PEN…) by Mario Martín Gijón, translated by Terence Dooley

WHAT COMES by Magda Cârneci, translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Mădălina Bănucu

TRANSLATION by Justyna Bargielska, translated by Maria Jastrzębska

*** (MY EYES, DENSE NIGHT…) by Gëzim Hajdari, translated by Ian Seed

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