Thursday, March 30, 2023

Ida was, indeed, my favorite grandmother, by Wendy Wasdahl.

Last night, trying to thread a needle to sew a button back on a shirt, memories of my grandmother came flooding in. As a child, if I wasn't brushing her long, white hair, I was also engaged in helping her thread needles for her sewing projects, as seeing small detail close-up was a challenge to her older eyes. I can relate to that now. 

She was my only grandmother and, actually, she was my step-grandmother. My family history is too complicated to go into now, except for the fact that I am the only child of an only child who was a single working mother. We lived in San Francisco, but as my mother needed childcare help when I had long breaks from school, I spent much of my summer school vacation with my grandparents in Los Angeles. When I came to stay with them, my grandmother, who I called Mommo, would bake and have it ready for my arrival, my favorite cookies. They were very thick, round, heavy cookies of flour, butter, and sugar. Her cookie cutter was the top rim of a drinking glass. They were very plain but sprinkled on top with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. I loved them. They were much like my grandmother herself, who was also stocky, plain, gruff, and from the "old country." But like the mixture of cinnamon and sugar, her fierce love for me had the toughness of spice and the sweetness of sugar. I loved her. She was, indeed, my favorite grandmother.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023


Artists in Solidarity with Ukraine

One year since the start of Russia's unprovoked, illegal aggression against Ukraine, we're acknowledging the resilience of the Ukrainian people and the solidarity shown by Romania and the rest of the peace-loving world through a project that demonstrates the power of visual art and the spoken word to denounce the ordeals and preserve the memory of these tragic times. Presented in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute of America (UIA), "SHATTERED: SYMBOLIC GESTURE" is a large-scale international collaboration that consists of a multimedia exhibition conceived by the Romanian-Canadian visual artist and polymath Oana Maria Cajal, accompanied by a series of video-poems and poetry readings offered by U.S.-based Romanian and Ukrainian poets.

The event took place at the Romanian Cultural Institute in the presence of artist Oana Maria Cajal along with readings of poetry written in reaction to the war in Ukraine offered by Adina Dabija, Olena Jennings, Mihaela Moscaliuc, Claudia Serea, Adela Sinclair, Vera Sirota, and an opening remarks by Kathy Nalywajko, the President of the Ukrainian Institute of America.

The multimedia exhibition included 24 collages – "picto-impulses" by Oana Maria Cajal and a video  made by Ștefan Cajal with music by American composer and pianist Michael Roth.

The following poem by Vera Sirota honors the strength of a woman in dire circumstances.


Despite All Odds

by Vera Sirota

When the air raid siren blares 

I remain


in my bed

on the top floor of my home.

I dare a Moscow missile to find me.


I am 99 years old.

I survived the Nazi invasion.

I survived Stalin’s terror.

I survived Soviet oppressors.

I will survive Putin’s pillagers.


Hope animates my heart

because this is a national trait –

a pride that propels us

a song that sustains us.


We bow to no one

and never will.

Vera Sirota reading her poem at the exhibition, Shattered: Symbolic Gesture, hosted by The Romanian Cultural Institute.

Oana Maria Cajal's Babusya inspired Vera to read Despite all Odds at the event.


Ukrainian American Poets Respond anthology edited by 

Olena Jennings and Virlana Tkacz (2022).


SHATTERED: SYMBOLIC GESTURE edited by Claudia Serea (forthcoming fall 2023).


Vera Sirota is the proud granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants. 

Vera serves as a mentor for Girls Write Now, a creative writing organization for high school girls and gender-expansive youth in NYC. Vera’s poems have been featured or are forthcoming in the Armstrong Literary, Dark Onus Lit, Music of Hope: a benefit concert in support of Ukraine, Poetry Distillery, SHATTERED: SYMBOLIC GESTURE, exhibition, Stories by Girls Write Now, and Ukrainian American Poets Respond. 

Vera is a 2022 Martha Award Finalist for the David Wade Hogue Scholarship. She is a co-founder of the West of Willow poetry and music collective in Hoboken.


Saturday, March 18, 2023

My Grandmother Set Her Ladder Against the Moon. The SHATTERED PROJECT.

The SHATTERED PROJECT is the brainchild of visual artist Oana Maria Cajal and the result of a complex international collaboration. 

Inspired by Oana Cajal’s artistic vision, poets from Ukraine, Romania, the United States and Canada contributed poems, and several musicians composed instrumental or vocal pieces, all reacting viscerally against the atrocities of Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

The concept is simple but original: artists respond to Oana's artwork with new creations while protesting the war at the same time. Here as part of this project is a poem by Claudia Serea in response to Oana Maria Cajal's painting BABUSYA.


BABUSYA by Oana Maria Cajal

My Grandmother Set Her Ladder Against the Moon 

by Claudia Serea

She kept all her belongings in a small wooden trunk

where she hid her despair among linens.


Nightgown billowing in the wind, 

she climbed to the sky each evening

on her thin ladder:


Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.


Why did you make my world bruised 

and blood-warm?


Thy kingdom comes; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


Why did you allow brothers 

to butcher each other?


Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses.


Why did you give this burden to me?

I can’t carry it.


As we forgive those who trespass against us


Here it is, translucent, 

quivering like the egg 

still unformed inside the hen:


my life 

with no protective shell.


And lead us not into temptation. 


Take it.


But deliver us from evil.


And I’ll only keep this prayer

for my family’s return,




Oana Maria Cajal is an award-winning visual artist, playwright, screenwriter, and poet. She was born in Bucharest and immigrated to the United States in 1980 with a grant from the American Theatre Association. She attended the Ph.D. Theatre Criticism program at New York's City University and obtained her M.F.A. in Playwriting from University of California San Diego (UCSD). Cajal has written plays that have had successful performances in cities across North America. She returned to graphic art in 2007, with her volume of Picto Poems, Solenodon, and had numerous solo exhibitions in Canada, America, and Romania. 


Oana Maria Cajal is a Fulbright scholar and a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Playwriting Fellowship, as well as many art prizes. She is also a member of Dramatists Guild of America, Writers Union of Romania, Theater Union of Romania (UNITER), the Union of Fine Artists of Romania, Playwrights Workshop Montreal, and Playwrights Guild of Canada. Her play, The Last Pact, was voted “Best Play of 2011” by UNITER. Her screenplay for the feature film The White Gate was nominated for the Gopo Awards, 2015. 


Claudia Serea is a Romanian-American poet, translator, and editor. Her poems and translations are published in Field, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, The Malahat Review, The Puritan, Oxford Poetry, among others. She is the recipient of the Joanne Scott Kennedy Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of Virginia, the New Letters Readers Award, and the Franklin-Christoph Merit Award. Her poems have been translated in Russian, French, Italian, Arabic, and Farsi, and have been featured on The Writer’s Almanac

She is the author of seven poetry collections and four chapbooks, most recently In Those Years. No one Slept. (Broadstone Books, 2023) and Writing on the Walls at Night (Unsolicited Press, 2022). 


Serea is a founding editor of National Translation Month, and she co-edited and co-translated The Vanishing Point That Whistles, an Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry. (Talisman House Publishing, 2011). She also translated from Romanian Adina Dabija’s Beautybeast  (Northshore Press, 2012) and Iulia Militaru’s The Seizure of the Beast. A Post-research (Guernica Editions, 2023). 

Claudia Serea serves on the editorial board of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets and is one of the curators of the Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Readings in Rutherford, New Jersey.


The SHATTERED PROJECT multi-sensory exhibition was featured at La MaMa Umbria International in Italy in June 2022, at the National Museum of Romanian Literature in Bucharest, part of the International Poetry Festival in September 2022, at the Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado, part of the Ukraine-Freedom Showcase in December 2022, at the National Theater from Craiova, Romania, in early February 2023; at the Ukrainian Institute Open House ; and at the Romanian Cultural Institute . We are also planning to publish an anthology including all the writing and visuals created so far.


Many of us have reacted as soon as news of the war broke out, offering material support and donations to help the refugees and different organizations who are on the ground in Romania and Ukraine. 


The SHATTERED PROJECT offers another kind of support—support for the soul: a direct connection with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. Because we are far away from the war, but we feel very close. Personally, I feel like the war could have happened in Moldova or in Romania, as it did in the past. So we offer this symbolic gesture of solidarity, a metaphorical holding of our hands together channeling strength and hope. We hope that the SHATTERED PROJECT will inspire you, reaffirming the power of culture to connect us across borders and to ensure the survival of our shared humanity.  

18 poets participating in the project: Ana Blandiana, Angela Baciu, Cristina A. Bejan, Magda Carneci, Adina Dabija, Catalina Florescu, Ioana Ieronim, Nora Iuga, Olena Jennings, Ruth Margraff, Mihaela Moscaliuc, Dzvinia Orlowsky, Ksenia Rychtycka, Claudia Serea, Adela Sinclair, Sylvie Simmons, Vera Sirota, Gabriela Toma. 

Composer, pianist: Michael Roth
Video director: Stefan Cajal