Books: Canadian poets talk about Russia’s attack on Ukraine

Penn Kemp and Richard-Yves Sitoski have forged a collection of powerful verses against the war

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Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology for Ukraine

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Penn Kemp and Richard-Yves Sitoski (publishers) | Pendas Productions (London, ON, and Laughing Raven Press, Owen Sound, ON, 2022)

$30 | 121p.

“Because poetry doesn’t make anything happen… it survives, A way of arriving, a mouth. -Auden.

“War: what is it for? Absolutely nothing!” —Edwin Starr.

Like many observers, Canadian poets Penn Kemp and Richard-Yves Sitoski were horrified when Russian troops, tanks, bombs and artillery rolled into Ukraine this year. And their outrage and compassion quickly spurred them into action.

They contacted Canadian poets, including British Columbia authors like Marilyn Bowering, Kate Braid and Susan McCaslin, and Ukrainian poets and translators like Svetlana Ischenko, and in a surprisingly short time created a collection of powerful verses against War, Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology in Support of Ukraine.

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Scholars now believe that it took generations of accumulation of oral tradition to create the works later attributed to Homer. But things move faster in modern times, and this gallant book of anti-war lyrics was created and published in a month.

In defiance of Auden’s assertion that “poetry doesn’t make anything happen,” this book will not only swell the world’s supply of poetry against the bloody tides of war; it will also raise funds for Ukrainian aid. Proceeds from the sale of the books will be donated through PEN Ukraine to help Ukrainian children.

Publishers are working hard to expand the reach of their collection in cyberspace. A reading of many collected works can be found on YouTube, and the online version is open. Poets who wish to add their voice by reading their work live online can contact Richard-Yves Sitoski at

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The quality of the poems in this anthology is, unsurprisingly, uneven, but it contains some remarkably impressive works. Ukrainian poet Dmytro Kremin’s lament ‘The Lost Manuscript’ is searing with grief, and Susan McCaslin’s tender homage to a fragment of Ukrainian culture and history, ‘Dark Madonna’, is a beautiful elegy. On a different note, Tanis MacDonald’s “We Lived in Canada During the War” is a wry and wise reflection on the limits of solidarity from a distance, including the telltale lines “And when they bombed other people’s homes, we have known/sigh and look sad.”

Here, in the slaughterhouse of history, it is not enough to just sigh and look sad. I urge you to buy this book and let it inspire you to act in human solidarity with the victims in Ukraine and in the many other bloody wars on our planet.

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Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your comments and story tips at

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Post expires at 1:46pm on Thursday July 21st, 2022