The Next Big Thing

My friend, the inimitable poet and translator Keith Ekiss, tagged me for “The Next Big Thing,” a viral self-interview about new books that has been hopping from blog to blog. I’m usually the one who drops those chain emails (my apologies to family and friends). But since I have a new book of translations just out and thus have someone else’s poetry to tout, I thought I’d join in. Here’s the next big thing (as of April 10, 2013):

What is the working title of the book?
Colonies by Tomasz Różycki (Kolonie in the original Polish).

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It was waiting in the faces of people on the Paris metro, in the scent of an open bottle of wine, in children’s adventure stories, on airplanes and cars and trains and busses, in a rumbling volcano, and in the history of World War II.

Or, as the publicists have put it: Tomasz Różycki’s sixth book seems like nothing if not an attempt to grapple with Elizabeth Bishop’s question, “Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” But for Różycki questions of travel and foreignness are never separate from those of history—personal history, political and national history, the history of things and places and trauma.

What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry in translation, a series of 77 sonnets to be specific (yes, there’s a nod to Berryman’s 77 Dream Songs). It was the best kind of challenge for me as the translator and a wonderful dialog to have as a poet.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
A key scene would involve Ethan Hawke aimlessly roaming the maze of the Parisian metro. And I’d cast a young Tom Waits as Bruno Schulz fleeing the Gendarmes.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
It’s all post-German—my post-German town and my post-German woods, post-German graves, post-German living room, post-German stairs and clock face, dresser, plate, post-German car and shirt and cup and trees and radio, and right here on this rubbish heap I’ve built my life, right here on refuse where I’ll reign, consuming and digesting this debris.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It took me five years to finalize the translation, from the first time I sat down with the book and Różycki’s voice got into my head. I worked in bursts of translating, with a year in between different drafts at times. I tried to capture a similar music in the English across the whole swath of sonnets and to write poems that stand on their own in English.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? (Or, in this case, translate it)
The fiercely exacting poems in Polish, the perspective on wartime experience that is so distinct from any in American poetry, and the first glass of wine I drank at Różycki’s table.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Różycki wrote these poems in his head while walking to work. “I do not have the comfort of being able to sit at a desk and dream up lines,” Różycki once said. “I do not have the time, nor the desk really.”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It just came out with Zephyr Press.

My tagged writers for next week:
I’m reaching all the way up to Fairbanks, Alaska, to tag the poet Sean Hill. Lines from his first book, Blood Ties & Brown Liquor, still ring in my ears. He has a new book forthcoming from Milkweed Editions that he’ll tell you about.

A little closer to home, check out novelist Stacy Carlson talking about her new project, The Gyre. She’s about to embark on a sea voyage to the North Pole for research!

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