Pray to the Empty Wells by Iryna Shuvalova

Iryna Shuvalova COLT MA Graduate D'14 published a new book. Pray to the Empty Wells is a prayer that overflows. Shuvalova's lyric poetry is thick with beauty, memory and sorrow; with folklore, story and song. In these superb translations the strange charm of her voice lures us, catches in our throat and threatens never to leave us.

—Sasha Dugdale, British poet, playwright, translator, and author of four poetry titles, including Joy, The Red House, The Estate, and The Notebook.

Praise for Pray to the Empty Wells

In the 21st century, Ukraine had more revolutions than any other country in the world. I have lost count. The people stand up, protest, and then again see their hopes crushed by yet another corrupt politician that rode to power on the wave of populism. And, yet, in the midst of this crisis, one sees a new generation of Ukrainians--young people who are deeply intelligent, optimistic, full of energy. They love poetry. Their poets are amongst the most energetic in Europe. What a joy it is to open the English translation by one of them, Iryna Shuvalova. 

     What are Shuvalova's poems like?

     They are spells. 

     They step out of time, out of reality, out of mundane detail.

     While around her, the country is erupting in violence, Shuvalova imagines the bathroom in which she washes  off her "future children." 

     While the country tries to step out from its past, and hope for the present, Shuvalova asks us: what is memory?

     And, indeed, what is memory?

     She sees memory as smoke that "hangs between the trees/ between the buildings / like bedsheets left to dry, they stick to your face."

      This is a vision of a poet who builds the country of dreams in order to survive in one of real drama.

      What is memory, again?

      "Memory /thick as milk / flows between houses"

       How does one live with such a memory? What can be done "when there is an ax in the pocket, a knife in the sleeve"?

Her answer is very matter of fact:

      "There is no need to make up stories, when right / in front of you is history." Indeed. This is beautiful work.

—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic

Iryna Shuvalova's poems weave a mythical landscape with the force of folk incantations that can both sparkle and burn. Here, like in Oleh Lysheha's otherworldly poetry, we surrender to magic conjured up by familiar objects, as we become aware of a Nature that is very conscious and breathing on the back of our necks. Pray to the Empty Well, is a handsome collection that also includes Shuvalova's longer poems on parting, New York and the war in Ukraine. There is hope that "a brand new era" will begin, "but no one comes out of the night's big house." This is a bilingual volume and translator Olena Jennings has worked with the poet to deliver the original Ukrainian as striking poems in English. 

Virlana Tkacz, translator and theatre director, Yara Arts Group at La MaMa Experimental Theatre, New York