Last weekend I went to a big birthday party. It was a chance to catch up with over a hundred family and friends, and family of family and friends of friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen for some years, some I’d really wanted to talk to for a while, and some I’d never met before. Name cards had been thoughtfully placed at large round tables, but we didn’t stay seated long. The mix of people led to some surprising conversations.
Reading this book was like that.
In Scattering the Dark (White Pine Press, April 2016) Karen Kovacik has gathered a fine company of Polish women poets. Some were classics when I was studying Polish literature two decades ago (Wisława Szymborska received the Nobel, and Ewa Lipska was directing the Polish Institute in Vienna), while others were in primary school then (like Joanna Wajs and Joanna Lech). The ‘seating plan’ is by theme, which is very refreshing. With Kovacik’s chapter introductions, this gives space to challenge the canon and start conversations between poets who never met. My only quibble is that to fit in so many voices, there was no space for the original texts. So all the poems appear in English translation only.
It’s almost impossible to choose, but I will share four with you.
Something old: Julia Hartwig’s Some Women from Warsaw (1969) translated by the editor, is history written by the survivors.
Something new: Julia Fiedorczuk’s Bios (2003, 2006) translated by Bill Johnston, left me thoroughly impatient for his translation of her collection Tlen/Oxygen to come out next year.
Something borrowed: Ewa Lipska’s My Translators (2005), translated by Robin Davidson and Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska, wonders at how words travel.
Something blue: Mira Kuś’ From the Land of Childhood (2009, 2010) translated by the editor, is nostalgic and longing, and gave the anthology its title.
Now you have four invitations to the party. I guarantee that even if you have never met any of the guests, you will meet some amazing people, and hear some extraordinary stories…