The New York Group: Again, as if for the First Time

August 2015
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Maria G. Rewakowicz, Literature, Exile, Alterity: The New York Group of Ukrainian Poets. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2014, 250 р. 

There is no one there.

Julia Kristeva

 

In 1988, Ivan Fizer, in conversation with Bohdan Rubchak, spoke about his involvement in the New York Group, commenting on its English-language environment: “To be sure, sometimes the name must be explained at length; its translation in English sounds as if it were a type of business insurance, or perhaps, something even more suspicious – a conspiratorial “roundtable” of international politics of murky eminence. After nearly three decades of existence, after all of the publications and readings on the American continent, the name of the group still fails to evoke any significant association in the Anglophone reader. In what may truly be considered a rare event, at the end of last year, the Boston publishing house Academic Studies Press, with support from the Shevchenko Scientific Society in America, published a monograph by Maria Rewakowicz entitled Literature, Exile, Alterity: The New York Group of Ukrainian Poets, thus succeeding in bringing out the first English-language monograph on the New York Group (upon its nearly a half-century anniversary!).

The New York Group’s entry into English literary discourse has proceeded slowly and sporadically; as yet there have appeared only three publications (at intervals of not more than one per decade), that are not owed to members of the group itself: an article by Melanie Pytlowany (“Continuity and Innovation in the Poetry of the New York Group,” 1977), Liza Efimov-Schneider (“Poetry of the New York Group: Ukrainian Poets in the American Environment,” 1981), and Oleksiy Semenchenko (“The New York Group in Ukraine, 1990-1996: the Beginning of Understanding Between Two Ukrainian Literary Worlds,” 1999). These publications are completed by the expansive study of Bohdan Rubchak (“Homes of Shells: Ukrainian Émigré Poetry,” 1983) that was contained in a publication dedicated to Ukrainians in Canada. The only systemic research on the phenomenon of the New York Group in literary scholarship printed in the English language is owed to Maria Rewakowicz, whose four articles on the subject have appeared in Canadian journals dating to the early 2000s.

It is well known that there was mass emigration throughout the 20th century, and a great deal has been written about the experience of moving from one place to another. Yet, Ukrainian exiles, despite their considerable achievements, fail to make headlines in the publications on this theme. Researchers today write about Greek, Armenian, Jewish, and African experiences. They write of Indians and Arabs, of Chinese, of Russians, Poles, and Czechs – comprehensively, or individually. But Ukrainian emigration, if mentioned at all, appears as a separate discussion beyond the bounds of the general debate. Even when the space of the conversation narrows to Central Europe, Ukrainians remain nearly invisible. For example, in the recently published collection in English translation, Exile Literature in Central-Eastern Europe (2009) there are in total five sections, divided into Russian, Polish, Czech, and post-Yugoslav emigrés, as well as the “doubly cursed”—for political and moral reasons— German Klaus Manu, and Romanian Norman Manet. Quite sadly, attempting to propose in the introduction an applicable definition of the region in question for research purposes, the editor of the volume, Agnieszka Gath, refers to Milan Kundera’s essay, “The Tragedy of Central Europe” (1995) and his description of the region in question as “an indefinite zone comprised of small nations between Russia and Germany.” This is followed by a list of countries, which, in her view, comprise the space of East-Central Europe. Ukraine is not included in this list, rather, there is only Russia, Poland, Germany, the Czech...

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Originally Published in This Issue of Krytyka