Christine Lysnewycz Holbert is the director of Lost Horse Press, an independent nonprofit poetry press based in Washington State, and the daughter of Ukrainian refugees who came to the U.S. after WWII. Part of Holbert’s mission in establishing her publishing house was to “honor her ancestors and promote underrepresented literature by publishing Ukrainian poets in dual-language editions,” she said. In 2017, the publisher established the Lost Horse Press Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series, which is edited by Grace Mahoney. There are now 10 books in the series.
In April, one of the poets published by the press, Lyuba Yakimchuk, author of Apricots of Donbas, was featured at the Grammy Awards, reading from her book to the accompaniment of John Legend. Serhiy Zhadan, whose A New Orthography was released by Lost Horse Press in 2020, is currently featured as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition of Ukrainian artists. In late April, the press hosted an online reading with poets Boris Khersonsky, Lyudmyla Khersonsky, Iryna Starovoyt, Mykolya Vorobiov, Lyuba Yakimchuk, and translators, including Mahoney. PW spoke with Holbert about her work and the current interest in Ukrainian poetry.
Could you share a little about the background of the publishing house?
Lost Horse Press was established in 1998 while I was living near Spokane, Wash. Shortly after the press was established, I moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, on the shores of 93-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille, taking the press with me. We had a good run in Sandpoint, but the politics of Idaho were getting too right-wing radical for me, so I recently moved to Liberty Lake, Wash., to be closer to family, and the press is now back in Washington, where it first started. We have been distributed for close to 11 years by the University of Washington Press. Our mission statement: established in 1998, Lost Horse Press—a nonprofit independent press—publishes poetry titles by emerging as well as established poets, and makes available other fine contemporary literature through cultural, educational, and publishing programs and activities.
How has the war impacted your business?
It has had a direct and significant impact: I am receiving so many orders at the press, I can hardly keep up. The printer is having a heck of a time keeping the Ukrainian poetry titles in print because of the book paper shortage. But we are filling orders, and somehow, the printer is finding paper to print more books. Since we are a tiny nonprofit poetry press, we have never experienced this type of commotion around our books. It’s wonderful, though, that more people are willing to try poetry, especially in translation. The Ukrainian books were not selling well at all before February 24, but they are now flying off the shelves. And I’m seeing more orders for our backlist; I imagine people are going to the website to place an order for one of the Ukrainian books, but become interested in some of our other titles.
What distinguishes the poetry on your list?
The Lost Horse Press Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series represents the best writers in Ukraine. How was a tiny little press in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest even considered to publish the likes of Serhiy Zhadan, the most popular living writer in all Ukraine? Because before this war kicked off for real on February 24, Ukrainian literature wasn’t on American readers’ minds at all, but the war changed all of that.
Our contemporary Ukrainian poetry series features dual-language editions of poetry from Ukraine’s most significant poets operating in the contemporary context. These critically acclaimed and award-winning books showcase the diversity of poets who write from a range of geographies, poetic perspectives, and literary movements. Of critical importance is the fact that many of the poems featured in this series meditate on the significance of Ukraine’s independence and the positionality of the poet in a literature-centered culture in times of war.
Are you doing any work to assist in the relief efforts?
I am personally doing what I can. I have helped the Ukrainian community in Spokane collect and sort and pack donations of clothing, food, and medical supplies to be shipped to Ukraine. And I am awaiting a refugee family that will stay in my home until a house or apartment can be found for them. I have family in Ukraine with whom I stay in close contact. They live in and near Lviv and have made the decision to stay to help with the war effort, taking care of refugees from the East before driving them to the Polish border. I am sending supplies to my family, as well as being ready to help them get out of Ukraine should it become too dangerous in the west of the country where they are located.