Poetry Travels: Lithuanian Poets for Ukraine – UNTITLED POEM by Rūta Ju, 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

I clung to a tree
To a bridge
To a path
Having fallen
On a hill of sand
My ear pressed down –
What do they say?

I clung for a grip
To a backrest,
Heads, shoulders and elbows.
I clung to words
Onto words,
On to lapels
I clung
While I’d rather
Have pushed away

I clung to the end of a train
To the terminal station
Toward hope
While I asked for another,
One more round
Of vodka
For me
From a barrel

I unhooked my coat
And my granny’s motley kerchief
Tying my thoughts
And memory
Into knots
When the war made me flee


By Rūta Ju

Translated by Kerry Shawn Keys

Rūta Jurkuvienė (born in 1973), pen name Rūta Ju, started writing poetry in her forties, seemingly out of the blue, when her “poetry chakras opened” as she jokingly says. Having been a teacher, a mother, an educator, a reader, an art admirer, a constant student, now training to become a psychotherapist, always a thinker and a feeler, it took a while to admit that she is a poet, too. Her poetry is inspired by strong emotions, philosophical questions, inner turmoil and events in the world around. Each poem comes with its particular rhythm that invites a string of words to fill it in. Rūta loves reading her poetry aloud, she shares some of her poetry on Facebook page Rūta Ju and is compiling her first book for publishing. She lives in Lithuanian seaside town Klaipėda where she enjoys the sea and the nature as well as the moderately vibrant city life.

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:

ANSWER TO THE PRAYERS by Vainius Bakas, translated by Kerry Shawn Keys

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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