The very act of translating Tomasz Różycki’s “Dark Coat: On Adam Zagajewski,” a tribute to the phenomenal Polish poet who passed away earlier this year, has been a process of mourning for me. Tomasz and I met thanks to Adam, who introduced us nearly two decades ago. Our friendship and collaboration since then can be credited to his keen facilitation, and now we come together to honor the role he played. Adam was my mentor and M.F.A. thesis advisor at the University of Houston, where he started the Kraków Poetry Seminar that brought me to Poland for the first time. Sitting here laboring to render Tomasz’s words in English, I feel Adam’s presence at every turn, just as he exists in so many books that do not bear his name but that never would have come into existence without him. This presence includes both encouragement and critique—the amalgam of true mentorship that, perhaps, one can only fully appreciate after the fact. I take courage in recalling his exacting gaze whenever I translate, whenever I write.
In addition to this personal act of mourning, I’m also aware of the way that all translation is a kind of elegy. The original words die away and are transmogrified, reborn in a new language. “One is never ‘by oneself,’ however isolating the act of writing might appear,” Rosanna Warren says of how all writing receives and transforms—translates—literary tradition. Some transformations gain in the new version, providing consolation for what has been lost and even acquiring additional nuance. I love, for instance, the way this tribute speaks differently to American and European readers (it has also appeared in Polish and German), highlighting how Adam’s work leaves distinct legacies in each place, in each language and literary tradition. One era’s “poet of 9/11” is another’s forbidden fruit, another’s establishment. Other transformations that occur in the process of translation remain in the realm of grief. How can I, for example, here make up for the fact that what we call a bell’s “clapper” in English is called its “heart” in Polish? And the bell’s body, which we call the “waist,” is its “coat”—a word that plays out in the very title of this tribute and its striking final image. Thus, the process involves both love and loss. It entwines the two in a ritual of grief, this translation, which I offer for you.
As the fires keep igniting in our region of California and all along the West coast, it’s particularly poignant to share my poem “Bluff” that appears in the new Poetry Northwest. I’m honored to have it kick off the issue!
I’m so grateful to have two poems, “Ancient History” and “Labor,” in the latest issue of December magazine. One reflects on being a girl, and one reflects on giving birth to a girl. As companion poems, they speak to each other about childhood and childbirth, violence and safety, body and mind. Many thanks to the editors for featuring them together!
I wrote “Liberty Bell” while researching the 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco for a cycle of sonnets about that city and wage labor and miscarriage and widening income inequality. Many thanks to the editors of the Southwest Review for their enthusiasm and for a beautiful issue!
My deep gratitude to the editors for publishing my poem “Mythology” in the latest issue of Ninth Letter.Rarely have I had a poem write itself. But this one came out in one sentence, one breath, ending with one deftly wielded stick against men who try to take what they want. It’s for anyone enraged by all the rape stories, from ancient times to the present day. Anyone sick and tired of being groped on the bus or followed down the street. Anyone done with being paid less than male counterparts or told that your experiences are minor exceptions and not worth being told. Tell them!
I started my poem “Then a While Dedication” (featured at The Missouri Review) while sitting on a bench in a field at the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Redwing, Minnesota. The Center—an old estate built by the inventor of puffed rice—was originally in the middle of nowhere. But now a four-lane highway runs right by its gates, so the sound of passing trucks and cars reaches every last corner on the property. The sound brought to mind the history of our interstate system, which was built as a defense route, and how it dispossessed thousands of people of their land, destroying neighborhoods and communities. It also brought to mind the ocean waves and my two young daughters, running along the beach. I was missing them. The poem comes from a series set in the California chaparral region, a landscape affected by climate change and the ecological disaster of drought—only in this case the drought is also internal, reflecting the silences that society maintains around the experiences of women. The poem owes some of its structure of thought to Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Initiation Song from the Finder’s Lodge,” and the title is a misquoting of Shakespeare’s “A cause more promising / Than a wild dedication of yourselves / To unpath’d waters, undream’d shores, most certain / To miseries enough.”
Many thanks to the editors of Meridian for providing safe passage into the universe for my poem “Constellation,” in which I finally figure out some words for what bugs me about the Pleiades, why I distrust global positioning systems, and a haunting memory from adolescence.
“There are those who say that translators will save the world,” Polish poet Tomasz Różycki writes in his new essay, “Star Vehicle: On Translating Poetry,” out today at the LA Review of Books. I tend to agree with him! Many thanks to the editors for publishing my translation of this star-gazing essay.