Monday, June 13, 2022

Backstory of the Poem "Why Honey Matters"

Big thanks to Christal Cooper for featuring me on her website!

#373 Backstory of the Poem “Why Honey Matters” from her poetry collection A Sky Full Of Wings by Ksenia Rychtycka

MIDDLE: Ksenia Rychtycka on the Potemkin steps in Odesa, Ukraine. 1990. Copyright by Ksenia Rychtycka 

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? 

“Why Honey Matters” first came to mind after an odd experience I had about 18 months after the death of my mother. It was shortly before Christmas, and I was alone in the kitchen preparing to make honey cake for the holidays. I had all my ingredients out and mixing bowls and was just getting started. All of a sudden, I sensed my mother’s presence near me – so much so that I actually spoke aloud, telling her that I knew she was next to me. It was an emotional moment as my mother loved my honey cake and was always so happy when I would bake traditional Ukrainian dishes. At the same time, it was comforting to sense her presence and made me very happy. From this, the poem evolved into three sections about how honey has played an important role in my family history.

Ksenia Rychtycka and her mother at the Ukraine airport for their first visit to Ukraine. Copyright by 
Ksenia Rychtycka. 

Credit and Copyright by Ksenia Rychtycka. 

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail. 

I typically write at home, downstairs in a cozy finished basement office where the walls are filled with my daughter’s artworks. There is also a colorful Ukrainian kilim hanging on the wall. That kilim is special to me as my aunt bought it for me when I was living in Ukraine and was made by Hutsul artisans in the Carpathian region where some of my family roots lie. Hutsuls are an ethnographic Ukrainian group that live in the high regions of the Carpathian mountains in western Ukraine. They are known for using bright colors in their clothing and weaving, and their Easter eggs called pysanky are vibrant with green, yellow and red colors and sometimes blue highlights.

The corner of Ksenia Rychtycka’s office. Credit and Copyright by Ksenia Rychtycka

What month and year did you start writing this poem? 

I started writing the poem in 2019. I’d jotted down a few lines at first and later returned and expanded on the poem.

Ksenia Rychtycka in 2019. Copyright by Ksenia Rychtycka

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version?  And can you share them with us? 

The poem was revised numerous times and I remember playing around with the ending in particular. I don’t hang on to previous versions once I feel the poem is complete and final edits are made.

Ksenia Rychtycka and her mother, who was also a poet, participating in a literary event in Ukraine. Copyright by Ksenia Rychtycka

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? 

The sense of history and tradition that is passed down through generations. Bonds that endure even in extreme circumstances. The cycle of life and death and how we remain connected to our family members through memories, and the legacies that are, in turn, passed on to future generations. Also, how using a specific image or item in a poem can take you down so many different paths. The poem started as a memory of an emotional moment in the present and the deeper I got into writing it, the more it delved into the past. The interconnectedness was a surprise during the crafting of the poem.

Ksenia Rychtycka’s mother (FAR LEFT) with her family. Copyright by Ksenia Rychtycka

Which part of the poem was the most emotional for you to write and why? 

Writing the entire poem was emotional and bittersweet as my grandparents, mother and great-aunt have all passed away. But it was therapeutic to get it down on the page and tell these stories – stories that were passed down to me and ones that I experienced too. It all came full circle to be able to return to my ancestral land, to meet family that war and political persecutions had torn apart for many years. And I find it heartbreaking — in light of Russia’s current brutal war in Ukraine — to see how history is repeating itself.  My family became reluctant refugees – they wanted to live in an independent Ukraine just like the brave men and women currently fighting for Ukraine’s survival and freedom.

From LEFT to RIGHT: Ksenia Rychtycka’s Great Aunt, Ksenia Rychtycka’s mother, Ksenia Rychtycka, Ksenia Rychtycka’s brother; Ksenia Rychtycka's two uncles. Copyright by Ksenia Rychtycka

Ksenia Rychtycka with her grandmother “Babtsia”. Copyright by Ksenia Rychtycka

Has this poem been published? And if so where? 

“Why Honey Matters” was published in The Literary Bohemian as well as in my chapbook: A Sky Full Of Wings.

Why Honey Matters

                        I (1944)

Back in Ukraine, Dido loved beekeeping. 

Behind barbed wire at an internment camp, 

his honey bought bread for Mother, Uncle 

and Babtsia. Every crumb prized.

Each morsel gulped. Always aching for more.

II (2018)

Mother comes to me as I’m making honey cake, 

measuring out sugar then whipping eggs. 

Never mind that Mother left this earth

eighteen months earlier. I can sense her pleasure, 

her presence -- palpable as smoke. 

I apologize aloud for running out of buckwheat 

honey which we both know tastes best. Dark 

as amber -- flavored like musk and molasses. 

But Mother doesn’t mind. In my empty kitchen, 

I sense no disapproval. 

Now that Mother’s with me, I grow bold

with my spices. Extra ginger and cinnamon.   

Grated orange rind. Splash of rum.

Like Mother, I don’t hold back. 

III (1990)

First boil honey. Then cool it. 

But don’t get lax. Boiled too long, 

honey loses its essence. 

Great-Aunt whispers in my ear

after too much Crimean Muscat  –

table laden with cheese, kovbasa, crepes,

thick slices of seven-layered honey cake –

one layer for each decade she’s lived. 

Homemade cherry wine slips down my throat.

It’s been 47 years since Great-Aunt last 

embraced Mother. This morning, in Carpathian 

hometown -- a blue door opened. Tremor 

of hands. Rush of feet. No words spoken. 

Only the chirping of birds outside.

Only the caress of reunion inside.  



Click on the link below to purchase A SKY FULL OF WINGS from Amazon:

Click on the link below to read “Why Honey Matters” from The Literary Bohemian:

Click on the link below to visit Ksenia Rychtycka’s website:

Friday, September 14, 2018

Celebrating Maya: Our Dog Tale

Three months ago we lost our beautiful dog. Here's my tribute:

Maya – our energetic bundle of apricot-gold goodness. Pure love with an attitude when she didn’t quite get her way although that never happened too often. We were softies and our goldendoodle knew it. How she loved it when we’d rub her belly, when I’d gently stroke the sides of her face. That sweet sigh of satisfaction she’d emit. How she loved to “play rough” with Volodya, giving no ground in their tug of war battle, her tail swinging from side to side. 

On the few occasions she didn’t get what she wanted immediately, there was that little grunt she’d make of dissatisfaction, but then she’d come over and with a swish of her tail, lie down nearby and put her head on her paws. She loved to be near us wherever we were – on the couch, on the bed, in the kitchen. She’d squeeze her 70-pound body under the small kitchen table as we ate, sometimes so silent I’d forget she was there. Of course, she was aptly rewarded, more often by Volodya than me, but I couldn’t resist her pleading brown eyes either. Feed me, they said.

Linochka was often her accomplice and took great pleasure in throwing her the discarded food she didn’t feel like eating. She usually was careful to do it when Volodya and I were distracted or out of the room. Maya would hover near her, knowing she’d soon be rewarded. From time to time, Lina would like putting her feet on Maya’s soft fur and the two of them would lie there quietly in an understood silence and sense of camaraderie. 

Maya was the one who’d alert us to the arrival of the school bus in the mornings. She’d walk over to the bathroom where Lina would still be brushing her teeth while I supervised, and stand there looking up at us, letting us know to get moving faster. In the afternoons, she‘d like it when I’d open the front door and she got to observe Chalfonte street in all its glory. Trilevels and an occasional ranch house dot our quiet subdivision and many dogs reside here. Any child walking by or truck slowing down would get her barking, but as Maya grew older, she mellowed out and simply observed the surroundings from our cul de sac. She had this deep alto bark that easily distinguished her from all the other dogs in our neighborhood. In some ways it resembled a croaking frog. 

These days, our house feels different, empty and morose, even when all three of us are there. Her bowls and dog bed have been put away and we realize how much this place was her domain. Her spirit resides here and it’s where I sense her the most, inches from my feet. That’s where she appeared to me in my dream, two nights after her soul passed. She was lying snuggled at my feet, as she’d done countless times over the years. In the dream I was asleep on our bed with her and Lina while Volodya was still in Kyiv, visiting his mom and brother. Maya started growling in the dream and I opened my eyes, noticing that one of our windows was open. But this window was decidedly more ornate and immense, resembling a window in a castle. Just then the sound of unfamiliar voices wafted into the room. It seemed as if a group of people had gathered outside our house. I was stunned, wondering who they were and what they wanted. I knew I had to close the window as I felt the first pinpricks of fear. That’s when the window started opening by itself even wider and the voices grew louder. Maya stayed next to me and kept growling. Just as I started to get up, I awoke from my dream. 

Later my friend Dorene pulled out her dream cards and wrote that the window and castle suggest an exit to an otherworldly realm. When she looked up window, the Opening card came up: Sometimes simply letting events happen as they will sets the stage for new intentions. Allow things to happen in your life, following where they lead you. In contrast, looking up castle produced the Protecting card: To protect is to preserve our essential nature against what would destroy it.


I’ve loved dogs since I was a kid. Although I love animals in general, I felt some strange kinship with them, was always happy when they came sniffing round our small lot on Mitchell Street in Hamtramck. One golden lab would regularly escape her back yard and amble down the street, settling herself near me as I’d skip rope or bounce my large polka-dotted ball against the side of the house. 

Back then I’d periodically pester my mother for a dog but we lived in a small rented flat and there was no grassy back yard for a dog to even play in. One time when I renewed my request for a dog, my mother started tearing up, telling me that when she and her family fled Ukraine during World War II, their beloved Chunya had gotten separated from the family. There was no time to stop and look for her as they were literally fleeing for their lives. Later as I grew older, I learned more about the wartime horrors and losses that my family and countless others had endured but that childhood memory of my mother’s lost dog has always stayed with me.


Before Maya came along, there was Sirka. Sirka was my sister’s dog and though her whole family doted on her, my mother, brother and I considered her ours too, and were excited for any opportunity to take care of her when they were out of town. She was a gray-white mix of Siberian husky, terrier and German shepherd, and lived to the dog-ripe age of 15. Her name derives from the Ukrainian color “siriy” which means gray. Sirka was a sensitive soul, just like Maya. When she had to be alone for a while and Volodya and I would come over, she snuggled next to me, in a loud tone complaining at the injustice. I’d stroke her and agree wholeheartedly until she’d settle down. We’d take Sirka for car rides, just to watch her excitedly race from one back-seat window to the other. When she was young, we’d go for walks in the woods near my sister’s house and she’d race freely about at supersonic speed. Sirka was a rebel too but then what dog isn’t? My sister would drive up to the house and catch Sirka gazing out the front window, sitting on the forbidden front room couch.

Maya, on the other hand, was anxious in the car even when Lina or I sat next to her during our annual trips up north. What she loved though was racing into the water, swimming round us at Lake Louise or Little Bear Lake, and excitedly jumping into the waves of Lake Superior the summer we visited the UP. Her joy filled us with joy and Lina would burst out laughing at her antics, following Maya’s steps through the waves near the shoreline.

Maya loved chasing the squirrels and hapless bunnies that reside in our spacious, pie-shaped yard. She also learned the hard way that running after the skunk was not the best idea. It took days to get rid of the scent from that encounter. But in everything, Maya was persistent. She’d eye the cupboard door where her snacks were kept and then look over at me numerous times wondering what a dunce I was before I’d finally cave and give her a snack. After the squirrels tired of dodging Maya, they’d run up one of the trees and Maya would sit nearby for long stretches, staring up at the limbs, waiting for them to come back down.

These days it’s those routines we miss most. Like when she’d curl up by our feet and put her head on our knees, sighing deeply like she just hit the jackpot. How excited she’d get when we’d pull out the leash, jumping around like a puppy even in her last days. The sweet jingle of the red heart-shaped tag on her pink collar as she’d run to greet you at the door. The prance of her step when Volodya would take her on her daily walk, sauntering past all the houses where dogs were locked inside or in the back yard, barking furiously at her. The ringing of the bell hanging near the back door when she had to go outside. At least that was the purpose of the bell. But quite often Maya would lift her paw and hit it, hoping for a snack. She became a master at ringing that 

The nasal cancer diagnosis came out of nowhere shortly before Maya turned nine and a half. It was a surreal time, right around the first anniversary of my mom’s death. My mom had loved Maya just as she’d loved Sirka years earlier. She especially enjoyed seeing her fly across our yard in joyful abandon. 

But in a crazy twist, the universe had a surprise for us. The day before Maya crossed the rainbow bridge, Volodya won $1,000 on a lottery ticket. It seemed unbelievable as he’d just started playing on a whim and used our birthdates. I was sure he was joking. At the time we had no idea we’d have to rush Maya to the vet hospital the very next morning, that she’d decline drastically during the night, that we’d have to come home without her, that the hospital bill would turn out to be just over the thousand we’d won.

I believe that people and animals come into our lives with a purpose. Sometimes it’s just for a little while and sometimes it’s for longer. Maya came into our lives at a time when our family needed all the love and joy that only she could bring. We had her for almost a decade and although that wasn’t nearly enough, every day proved to be a gift.


A few weeks ago as I hurried from the kitchen to the hallway, I had a vision of Maya sitting on the couch in the way she always did, her brown eyes looking steadily at me. It took a few seconds before the realization sunk in and I suddenly stopped, then turned around in an incredulous double take. Of course, the sofa was empty, not even a pile of blankets on it to resemble a small mound, much less a dog. A couple of hours later, Volodya came home to tell me he’d finally cleaned out the back seat of his car, nearly two months after Maya had laid on it in what would turn out to be her final day with us. I froze, remembering my dream. She had again sent me a sign that she was nearby.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Artist Spotlight: John Nagridge

I haven't posted anything on here in quite a while but I'd like to share my interview with local Detroit artist John Nagridge, which was published in the Ukrainian Metro News (Detroitski Novyny) magazine. John's an incredible artist and his art (along with other local artists' works) will be exhibited at the upcoming Grand Opening of the Ukrainian American Archives & Museum on November 11 in Hamtramck, Michigan. If you live in the area, stop by Saturday or on Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for the Open House. Click here for more info: Ukrainian American Archives & Museum Grand Opening Celebration

When it comes to landscape painting, John Nagridge likes being outside, always on the lookout for an inspiring vista. It allows him to be spontaneous and encourages him to interpret the world around him in a way that painting a scene from a photo simply can’t.

Photo by Jovan Jacobs
John grew up in Detroit and attended Immaculate Conception Schools. His drawings, etchings, woodcuts and paintings have been exhibited in various Detroit galleries, including the Detroit Artists Market and the Scarab Club. He was awarded a David Groff Purchase Award for a woodcut that was later exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts. John also designed the 2013 exhibition catalogue “A CULTURAL THREAD: The Enduring Ukrainian Spirit” for the Ukrainian American Archives & Museum of Detroit, art directed the display boards that were exhibited at the Detroit Historical Museum, and created the Ukrainian Museum website.

How did you first get started on your path as an artist?

My start began with a love for Peanuts comic strips. My dad bought me a paperback collection when I first learned to read. I learned to draw all the characters from it, especially Snoopy. I was pretty much self-taught until I went to Immaculate Conception High School, where I had art classes every Friday afternoon.

I majored in art at Macomb Community College and the Center for Creative Studies. I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a Concentration in Drawing and Printmaking from Wayne State University.

After graduation I continued woodcuts and linocuts. These printmaking mediums don’t require a special studio with chemicals and acids. I’d also do an occasional micropoint painting, a technique that involves masking a canvas and applying colors with spray. It’s like doing the pysanky technique on canvas. A few years ago, I started concentrating on painting and fell in love with it.

Please talk about your earliest influences.

There have been so many influences: teachers, friends, artists!

My first fine art influences were Mychailo Dmytrenko’s paintings on the inside of Immaculate Conception Church in Hamtramck. I love how he mixed realism with cubism with mosaic with Byzantine icons. His use of color and composition was so original. On the front right wall of the church is his painting of the Holy Trinity laying the crown on the Virgin Mary. It’s been one of my favorite paintings since I was in first or second grade. I don’t know if I’ve ever paid attention to an entire Mass whenever it’s been in my eyesight — including my own wedding!

Caterpillar and Alice
My high school art teacher Luba Kytasta encouraged me to sketch. I would draw scenes from a violent Conan the Barbarian tale or a strange comic book character to try to shock her. Instead of being shocked, she simply nodded at each page and pointed out a shading technique I could try to get my effect across better.  She then told me to draw more for her to view a week later.  The constant output of sketches dramatically improved my drawing.  She’s been a supportive influence ever since.

At Wayne State, I was strongly influenced by Stanley Rosenthal, Michael Mahoney and John Hegarty. Other early influences include Detroit artists Stephen Goodfellow and Lowell Boileau. They taught me micropointillism.

The rest of my influences range from comic book artists to Michelangelo to the 19th century Romantics to the Impressionists and the German Expressionists.

What impact has your Ukrainian background had on your work?

Like a lot of Ukrainian youth, I attended Saturday Ukrainian school. In between the lessons on grammar and memorizing the usual poems and songs, our teacher, Mrs. Julia Kapitanec, told amazing stories. I loved the tales of the rulers of Kyiv Rus, especially the Death of Prince Oleh. Mrs. Kapitanec also introduced me to the character Baba Yaga. I did a lot of sketches and paintings based on Baba Yaga tales with the thought of maybe doing a children’s book one day. One of my Baba Yaga paintings was exhibited in a show dedicated to Ukrainian artists at the Scarab Club in Detroit, coincidentally where I also showed my five-color linocut of the Death of Prince Oleh. Another favorite is the Revenge of Queen Olha (a subject I would love to paint).

Dzvinka Hayda has made a huge impact on my art. I met her when she was the president of a Ukrainian art organization named ADUK. She invited me to show at the Scarab Club Ukrainian art shows. She introduced me to the writings of Nikolai Gogol, whose scary and funny tales set in Ukraine influenced some of my art.

Baba Yaga

What’s the best advice you ever received and would like to pass on about being true to your creative vision?

Make art. A lot of it. When you’re done, make some more. The concept of talent is overrated. You become a good artist because you worked hard at it, devoting countless hours to your craft. To admire an artist’s work and say he or she did it out of talent, dismisses all the hard work and practice the artist put in over many years of development.

What inspires you?

Other people’s art! Whenever I leave an art museum, art fair or gallery, I’m very eager to get working on my own work. When I hang around other artists and talk with them, I can’t wait to draw or paint.

You’ve used various techniques in your artwork throughout the years. Can you talk a little about the evolution and why plein air knife painting is now your preference.

I met Kim Rhoney at the Northville Art Fair. She did these gorgeous knife paintings with amazing color and nice, thick paint.  I asked about her technique and she generously gave me tips to start. The next day I used a knife on a small oil painting, but didn’t care for it. I returned to brush and acrylic paint because I felt more familiar with them. A year or so later, I gave a mini painting workshop to a niece and my wife’s goddaughter. While they were painting, I thought I’d do a painting of them. Since they took my brushes, all I had left was a painting knife. This time the technique took. I did a quick acrylic painting of them and everyone loved it. A couple of years later, I took a workshop with Kim and she converted me to strictly oil painting. I haven’t stopped since. 

Aged Splendor

It’s a great technique for me. It forces me to not get fussy with details. I have to simplify the forms in my painting. It encourages me to be loose, free and generous with my paint. It’s so expressive that I can’t help but reveal my mood or personality in every painting I do. Hopefully, that’s a good thing, ha ha!

The past few years, I’ve really gotten into plein air painting. My in-laws have a neat little place in the Thumb. My wife and I will go up for a week or even a long weekend. I’ll bring my supplies and paint in Caseville, Bay Port, Kilmanaugh, and various parks and nature centers. It’s especially lovely in the fall.

Pumpkin Patch

Elmurst Fall
What's next for you on your artistic journey -- exhibits, plans, dreams?

I have a few paintings hanging at the new location of the Ukrainian Museum in Hamtramck. In August, I’m also participating in the Dexter Paint Out. I’ll make my usual treks to the Thumb area to do more plein air painting. One day, I’ve got to do a painting at Dibrova.

Caseville Breakwall

My dream is to retire from my job as a graphic designer and have all the time I want to paint, paint, paint. In 10 to 15 years, who knows?

2 Arrows Sign

For more information about John’s art, check out his website at: or