Vancouver-based poet Elizabeth Bachinsky got in touch with her Ukrainian heritage with her new book, God of Missed Connections (Nightwood Editions).
“I’m third generation Vancouver and we’re pretty closed off from that culture,” she says.
“It’s a really good vantage point,” she adds. “I never tried the superficial stuff like dancing or food. That’s the stuff I wanted to get past. You have to take those kitschy qualities and transform them. It’s about taking Ukrainian culture into the post-modern. It’s hard to do but not impossible.
“Ukrainians are deadly sexy.”
The poems cover Bachinsky’s family history and Stephen Leacock’s casual racism, Canadian internment camps and forced starvation in the old country. The Bread Basket of Europe gives new, terrifying meaning to a cliché I often heard growing up. She makes poignant use of the word Holodomor (or “murder by hunger,” referring to the millions who staved to death under Stalin).
“I get corrected all the time after readings,” she says. “I like to be corrected. It means to me that things aren’t getting through the way they should. It’s the nuances that get missed, not the big historical facts. Which are the story, but not the whole story.”
Update: I found an interview with her done from Agora:
EB: I wanted to write the book I couldn’t find. When I began this project I found it fascinating how many (hundreds!) of academic texts, memoirs, interviews, short stories, poems, documentary films, videos, paintings, collages, sculptures, websites, blogs, etc. are dedicated to the history of Ukraine and of Ukrainians in Canada—yet very few of these resources are produced by Ukrainian-Canadian authors of my generation. And almost none of these are creative works. I practically fell over when I found work by Lisa Grekul whose first novel Kalyna’s Song (Coteau, 2003) is the coming-of-age story of a third-generation Ukrainian Canadian girl who grows up in northeastern Alberta and southern Africa. I also took a lot of interest in a website called Poetry International Web where you can read poetry in translation by Ukrainian poets born between 1954-1974. I was particularly impressed with poems by Andriy Bondar, Halyna Krouk, Yuri Andrukhovych…all the Ukrainian poets you’ll find on that website, actually. It seemed to me that my poetry was often in conversation with those young poets in Ukraine. And Lisa Grekul’s fantastic book of essays, Leaving Shadows, gave valuable context for my work here in Canada.
It is important to say, I think, that I wrote God of Missed Connections from a place of ignorance. I had never, for example, heard of Holodomor or the internment operations during the First World War that saw between five and six thousand Ukrainian Canadians imprisoned. And I’m not ashamed to say I was ignorant. Ignorance is the resource that made me seek out the works of Myrna Kostash, Helen Potrebenko, Andy Suknaski, Natalka Hussar, and countless others. But, of course, in the act of inquiry there is always the problem of selectivity. Robert N. Proctor writes in his book Agnotology: the Making and Unmaking of Ignorance (Stanford University Press, 2008):