Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tomasz Różycki’s Colonies Translated by Mira Rosenthal

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.

Military Exercises

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.

Service Office

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.


Colonies is available from Amazon.  Click here to go there.

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 The Local World, 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 Ploughshares, APR, Harvard Review, and A Public Space. You can listen to her read her work on Slate and The CortlandReview.  Her website is at

Friday, April 5, 2013

Anteroom Poetry by Adam Lizakowski and Neal Warren

Review by Vincent Francone 

“The poet should be a DOG who pokes his nose in the garbage can smells the roses in the emperor’s garden barks and howls at the moon even if it ignores him.”  - Adam Lizakowski.

So begins Anteroom Poetry, a chapbook of poems split between Neal M. Warren and Adam Lizakowski.  As someone who has tried to write poems, and has at times renounced the writing and reading of them, I find these opening words to be nothing short of inspiring.  The poet’s job is not to seek glory but to write without it, in spite of all obstacles, to be the dog seeking and howling, with or without acknowledgment. 

The poets present different styles on different themes; Warren’s poems speak of war, the inhumanity of it and the struggle of those who fight, both on the battlefield and after returning home.  Lizakowski’s work bounces from culture clashing with American poets to the erotic ruminations and many points in between.  The collection is tight enough to contain nothing but stunners and offers a glimpse into a friendship and collaboration through poetry. 


(Vincent lives in Chicago and has been published in Spectrum, Rhino, The Oklahoma Review, the Jet Fuel Review, and other journals.  He writes reviews for Three Percent and won the 2009 Illinois Emerging Writer award for his long poem, "Chicago.")

Anteroom Poetry bNeal M. Warren and Adam Lizakowski was published by Outskirts Press, 2013.  It is available at Amazon.  Click here.


Two of Adam Lizakowski's poems from Anteroom Poetry

American Poets

American poets known to me
are reminiscent of a prehistoric bird
that still retains talons and scales
is too heavy to fly far
or sit on a branch
but stubbornly looks up
and stares at the stars

American poets know to me
like to listen music from the sixties and seventies
bob dylan, beatles, stones, Joplin,
hendrix, led zeppelin,
smoke grass, drink beer
write poems about Vietnam
during the 66-68 period
complain about politicians
and are displeased with new wave music
American poets know to me
cannot tell me why
there is no poetry –none
in newsweek, time, people, new york tiems,
washington post, san franscisco examiner,
penthose, usa today, hustler

American poets known to me
still read verses of 19th  century French poets
and dostoevesky and albert camus
whitman, poe, ginsberg
letters to a young poet by rilke
blake, eliot…

American poets known to me
cannot tell me why
none of their pictures
appear on first pages, any page
of the above-named newspapers
but there are pictures
of the politicians, presidents, pope
 naked women, ports stars, spies, astronauts
rock and movie stars, communists, murderers
pepsi cola and hamburgers.

American poets known to me
live in San Francisco
a city where there’s 4.5 poets per square yard,
who paint their faces in bright colors
wear leather, carry mace
and go hunting:
the poetry  that they seek is a wild animal
neither fed or touch
which has been living in America
since the end of the third ice-age.

The Cherry Bandits

The copper moon
hung in the ink-black sky
sky above the cherry-tree peaks
peaks above the blond heads
of three twelve-year-old boys
from the same street-
connoisseurs of amazing cherries.

(In the darkness by moonlight
cherries are not cherries
but precious stones from royal crowns-
exotic, expensive jewels stolen
by pirates-stashed
in the dark caves of mysterious islands.)

Hidden amid branches, devouring the cherries
each races to cram his mouth with more.
They-their heart-leaves shook by the cherry-trees-
eagerly grab what’s not theirs
boldly drawing the soft branches nearer
dancing like birds among the leaves, singing as they munch
passionate in the moment.

They spit out the cherry-pits, look down
and a vision lighter than a May-bug’s wings rises
above the tips of grass-
in the distance chimneys deeply inhale and exhale
for the last time
dozing after a moment, stretching out in exhaustion,
sleepy windows blinking their shuttered eyelids . . .
it is quiet-the crickets sing in chorus
and night, the bell-smith, slowly, precisely
casts the delicate bells of dew
on the lead tenor.

Between the three
and the cherry-tree and the night
love is born-between the heart and cherries
between leaves and moonlight-
there runs a feeling so evasive
that no one can put a finger on it,
let alone express it.
Boys beautiful and innocent, joined by sweet cherries.

Stuffing the labyrinth of their stomachs
they put their guard, Vigilance, to sleep.

Their treasures hidden under their shirts
they had little chance for escape.
The cherry-orchard owner, Mr Michalski, promised
that if they ate the stolen cherries on the spot
he’d forget the whole thing.

But he didn’t keep his word,
led them back to their parents
who boxed the boys’ ears as a lesson.

Twelve years later the three cherry bandits
stopped at the camp gates in Traiskirchen, Austria.

They hadn’t eaten in two days,
slept in three nights, bathed in four days-
it was November, arch-foe of dreamers, of carefree men.

If you don’t find happiness in your own country
it won’t be found elsewhere.

Fresh are the mornings for those rising at dawn
to milk the cows, feed the animals,
fasten the grapevines.

But not to those slaving for their naps
at the gates of the camp in Traiskirchen.
Trains, roaring like waterfalls, roll
into the Viennese station-the river of people rushes
to the ocean of freedom.

The port of freedom is the administration building-
painfully its grim exterior pricks
the tired eyes of the refugees.

The regimental barracks of Joseph the Friar
one-time school for the Nazi’s bravest cadets
and current garrison of the brave Red Army
now-ironically-give hope of a better life
not happier, just better-
for these Eastern Europeans, traitors to their countries.

Million-copy print-runs, poetic  honors,
front-page newspaper photos,
the most beautiful women, fame, money
dreams of distant and sunny California.

Reality is otherwise,
the eyes open wider
reluctant-everyone was reluctant
against their ears hummed the ocean waves
which they’d demanded with so much greed,
more patient now they wait in kilometer-long lines
in their hands tin receptacles for dinner-
answer the more and less
idiotic questions of the officers,
photos, fingerprints,
signatures, endless signatures,
decisions weighed,
numerous decisions, the selection of countries, of cities,
of sponsoring organizations,
brief friendships, sometimes but a moment,
tears, letters sent, glances back-
there’s Poland like a dog
jumping at you, tugging its chain,
baring its teeth,
Jaruzelski’s martial law in a fury-
what’ll happen to the prisoners
will they shoot them-
not my family I hope-
fatigue, distraction, apathy, depression,
lines to the stores, to the beds, the toilets,
interrogations everywhere,
          hundreds, thousands of people.

on their lips, in their skulls, dreams
source of the people’s tragedy
and its prophets damned to their cores
stretched, coaxed, paired, spit upon
mud’s synonym, soiling even the best men-
though the few gored most by communism’s
(or those with the most imagination)
were the first to fly away on angel’s wings.

Squabbles with the Albanians,
Hungarians cursing the Romanians,
the Czechs and Slovaks,
the Yugoslavians dominating everyone,
knife-fights, drunken brawls,
drawn-out disturbing howls.
Sex is at a high price-
though there’s few women,
Polish hookers the cheapest
but unwilling with the Polish men;
a golden age for homosexuals;
a floor up there’s a brothel run
like the best American supermarkets.
Thank God you survived another day,
pray for a quiet night-
many are sleeping in bunk beds,
in the hallways,
keep your papers under the pillows,
sleep with your eyes open.
The blankets a purgatorial curtain-
border between
being a beggar-slave of the commune
or humble servant of capitalism.
Of the thousands of refugees only a few will return.

Then day arrives, the smartest men, the earliest risers
(there might be a bread-shortage at breakfast)
dash to the toilets,
dash to the bulletin-boards and scan the lists-
no, not today,
though their wings are growing
rustling in their dreams:
Angles-creatures so delicate
God gave them wings.

The good-hearted people published a book
in Polish and English,
A Handbook for Polish refugees, prepared and presented
by the International Catholic Migration,
Geneva, Switzerland.

The Americans bathe daily
keep their money in banks,
there’s a hundred pennies in each dollar,
packages are mailed at the post office
letters go in the boxes painted blue,
in an emergency dial 911,
in the USA
the British measurement system is standard,
in a few days you’ll understand:
cars are the most popular form of transportation,
fruit is cheapest in season,
meat comes in packages
kept in the freezers of the big stores. . . .
America is a country of immigrants
and immigrants are America’s wealth.


Adam Lizakowski writes the blog Polish Arts and Poetry Asoociation of Chicago.