NEW YORK – Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library hosted a poetry reading by the Ukrainian American writer, linguist, computer scientist and literary scholar Yuriy Tarnawsky in conjunction with an exhibition of material from his collection housed in the Bakhmeteff Archive Division of the library that was open to the public on March 1-31.
Dr. Tarnawsky’s collection is part of the archive of the New York Group, which he was instrumental in founding in 1996 while a professor of Ukrainian literature and culture at the university. The archive was opened officially in March of that year with a retrospective exhibition curated by him.
This year’s exhibition, curated by the head of the Bakhmeteff Archive, Tanya Chebotarev, which was housed in the Chang Octagon on the library’s premises at the Butler Library, showcased the highlights of Dr. Tarnawsky’s 60-year professional career. The exhibition concentrated on various aspects of his activities, displaying manuscripts, books, correspondence, photographs, and artifacts in the areas of poetry, fiction, theater, travel, as well as scientific and scholarly work.
The poetry material ranged from the manuscript and the1956 publication of his first book of poetry in Ukrainian, “Life in the City,” through his 2013 English-language collection “Modus Tollens”; and fiction – from his 1961 Ukrainian-language novel “Roads,” through his recent English-language “Placebo Effects Trilogy” and the collection “Crocodile Smiles.” Dr. Tarnawsky’s portrait by Jurij Solovij was augmented by the artist’s letters.
The theater exhibit concentrated on the 1998 performance of his play “Not Medea” at the renowned New York City avant-garde theater Mabou Mines, where he was artist in residence. Travel through Spain and Latin America, countries which have exerted strong influence on Dr. Tarnawsky’s work, was exemplified by photographs and numerous artifacts.
The non-literary section displayed, among other things, an Outstanding Contribution Award certificate from the IBM Corp. presented to Dr. Tarnawsky for his work on automatic language translation, a sample syllabus from a course he taught at Columbia, and the original of his 1982 New York University Ph.D. dissertation in linguistics, “Knowledge Semantics” and its Ukrainian translation, “Znannieva Semantyka,” recently published by the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
The well-attended poetry reading on March 23, which was held at the spacious Kempner gallery of the library, included a lengthy overview and analysis of Dr. Tarnawsky’s work by Prof. Maria Grazia Bartolini of Milan University, who wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on Dr. Tarnawsky’s poetry and published a monograph on the subject, as well as a speech by Prof. Ray Dougherty, Dr. Tarnawsky’s dissertation adviser, who explained the importance of his dissertation.
The reading concluded with Dr. Tarnawsky’s reading of the long poem “Stephen Hawking Goes Flying” from his still unfinished book of poetry in English titled “Modus Quasi Ponens.” A tour of the exhibition and a reception followed the reading.
Dr. Tarnawsky is the author of more than three dozen books of poetry, fiction, drama, essays and translations in Ukrainian and English. He is known as a radical modernist innovator who brought to American literature the strict attention to form and spirit characteristic of experimental European fiction, in particular in the use of language.