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... For seven years my parents and I remained with thousands of others in Displaced People's Camps until we were able to enter the USA legally. We eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. I was 13 and had to take on a new culture.


I did not fit anywhere. My contemporaries were unbearably callow, and the adults seemed mystified as to why anyone would choose to flee those lovely Russsian Communists, friends of America, for the land of those horrible German Nazis, the enemy! That left me plenty of time to study, to get to know other Latvian refugee kids, and take advantage of Cleveland’s employment opportunities. A few years later, studying at Case Western Reserve University, some of my classmates were GIs returning from the Korean War. Finally! Contemporaries who were real adults! I became more accepting of American society and dropped my accent. I earned two degrees in German and Architecture.


The next turn in my life was voluntary rather than forced by events. After I married and had a child, my husband and I decided to have an adventure so he accepted a job in Saudi Arabia. The next two decades were an exciting period in our lives: the pay was good, we learned a great deal about the Saudi culture and we traveled extensively. But before our three children were fully grown, my wonderful husband became ill and we were forced to leave Saudi Arabia, our home and all our friends, and return to the U.S. To make matters worse, this occurred during the oil crisis when jobs were scarce; my husband could no longer hold a job, so earning a living was up to me. There were no jobs for architects, so I returned to education, and earned my third diploma (in Applied Linguistics) from the University of Houston. 

Earning that degree required that I take a heavy load of literature classes, and it was this period of study that eventually led me to realize that the Latvian dainas belong right next to Western classics and the Bible in terms of their literary value and weight. 


I searched all the translations of dainas I could find. None came close to capturing their spirit, gentleness and elegance. For years I hoped some inspired poet would recreate them in English in all their beauty, but nothing happened. The conventional wisdom stated that transposing the dainas into English was impossible, so why bother? Besides, each poet had something all his own he or she wanted to express.


I rejected the "impossible" claim. If Shakespeare could write his marvelous works in English, why couldn’t someone express a quatrain of simple country folk poetry? I had a serious talk with myself:


Why don't I try it?  

Because I am not a poet.

But the poetry is already in the dainas! All you have to do is transpose it!

My English is better than the vast majority of Americans. Should I try? Just one?


Eighteen years later, on Latvia's 100th birthday, Volume I (1st edition) of Dainas: Wit and Wisdom of Ancient Latvian Poetry was published in Rīga. It sold out in four months. The second, a luxury edition, quickly followed. Now, after ushering Vol. ll off to the printers, I am busy working on Vol. lll.


Bringing the dainas to the English-speaking public has been a source of great frustration, joy and satisfaction to me. I hope this poetry brings you pleasure and offers some food for thought as well.

Ieva Szentivanyi

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