One of the best received recent translations of Polish poetry is Mira Rosenthal's translation of Tomasz Różycki’s Colonies (Zephyr Press, 2013), a collection of 77 sonnets deepening our collective memory of what happened in Central Europe in the 20th century
Susan Stewart said that it's "One of the most remarkable sonnet sequences of our time: the work of a wandering, restless, and moral mind, here rendered with clarity and vividness by the translations of Mira Rosenthal.”
The reviewer at The California Journal of Poetics wrote, "Tomasz Różycki stands at the crossroads of historicism and new aesthetics. It is important that poets like Różycki are translated into English ... In this case, Różycki, through Rosenthal’s clean and stunning translations, succeeds at giving an American audience a new perspective in a constantly changing world.”
I asked Mira to tell me about how she first came to translate Różycki. Here's what she was kind enough to write back:
In 2004, Tomasz Różycki won the Kościelski Prize for his mock epic poem Twelve Stations. I happened to be living in Kraków on a Fulbright fellowship at the time, working on what would become my first book of poems and slowly unpacking (with my fledgling Polish) the work of poets I had never run across in any of the anthologies available in English translation. The awards ceremony for the Kościelski Prize was taking place just minutes from my apartment, so I went. I had never heard of Różycki before. But many of the Polish poets who were quite familiar to me—Zbigniew Herbert, Adam Zagajewski—had won the prize early on in their careers. It was a prestigious marker of things to come.
The reading that Różycki gave at the ceremony was enthralling. His book-length poem was deadly serious and exceedingly playful at the same time, a personal response to the classic epic poem Pan Tadeusz. After that night, I began reading through all of Różycki’s work, including four earlier collections of short lyric poetry. What I found was a very worthy successor to an amazing literary tradition. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who sought to put aside the burdens of history and moralism in the work of their immediate poetic forerunners, Różycki seemed to embrace his poetic lineage. His lyricism and formal play were enthralling and expansive. His poetry built on the work of those poets who had brought me to Poland in the first place. It gave me a window into the contemporary extension of historical and cultural themes, and compelled me to try my hand at translation.
Here are two of the Różycki poems translated by Ms. Rosenthal.
Imagine for a moment that I live
right here, was born here, that my parents always
have had a shop here, and on Boulevard
du Temple there’s a bistro with a nice
young waitress—I’ll be there. Imagine that
there’s no such thing as Eastern Europe, no
cellars for hiding neighbors, no transports,
no round-ups, never any dreams of going
from house to house—for a moment suppose
it looks like this: a cat stretches its neck
in sunlight on a porch, a secret game
of chess unfolds between the waitress and
that guy. He tracks her moves, she brings him coffee,
as if by chance her hip jostles the board.
I played the part of man, and more or less
it came to me quite well. I used deceptions,
makeup, mascara, base, a huge number
of words, for nearly everything is possible
with words, and everything was going well,
life from a suitcase, life on credit, nerves
before a trip, a house, a name and surname,
words, a whole host. I played the part of man,
and I was expert at it. Words like friendship,
father, woman, love, the word betrayal,
the word forgive. I could have forgotten myself,
I could have gotten lost in making words
my body, hands, and heart, little was missing.
Only the dog could tell. He bristled in his sleep.
Tomasz Różycki (born 1970) is a Polish poet and translator. He studied Romance Languages at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, and taught French at the Foreign Languages Teaching College in Opole. In addition to his teaching, he translated and published Stéphane Mallarmé's "Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard" in 2005, and continues to translate from French for publication. He has published six books of poetry: Vaterland (1997), Anima (1999), Chata uimaita (Country Cottage, 2001), Świat i Antyświat (World and Antiworld, 2003), the book-length poem Dwanaście stacji (Twelve Stations, 2004), Kolonie (Colonies, 2006) and The Forgotten Keys (2007). His work has appeared in leading literary journals such as Czas Kultury, Odra, Studium and Pen America. He lives in his hometown, Opole, with his wife and two children.
Mira Rosenthal is the author of which won the 2010 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, as well as two volumes of poetry translations. Among her awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN American Center, the MacDowell Colony, and the Fulbright Commission. Her poems and translations have been published in many literary journals and anthologies, including and . You can listen to her read her work on and http://mirarosenthal.com/