Women in Translation Month: Ginczanka

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Ginczanka (centre), photo from the Polish Museum of Literature exhibition about her

Whenever I am in Warsaw, there are a couple of bookshops near the university that I have to visit. I always come out with something unexpected that keeps me going till I can come back to Poland. This time, the discovery was Ginczanka.

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New edition of Ginczanka’s poems available from czuły barbarzyńca

How could I have got this far without reading her work before? She had studied at that very university and sat in cafes just up the street from where I bought her poems, discussing literature with the greatest writers of the age. She was the only woman member of the Skamander group, and Tuwim, one of Poland’s best-loved poets, was her patron. Born 100 years and 5 months ago, on 9 March 1917, she started publishing while still a schoolgirl in newly-independent Poland. As a beautiful young woman, confidently writing about her sexuality, she had to battle greater interest in how she looked than what she wrote. As a Jewish student, she was increasingly restricted from access to higher education in interwar Poland, but this did not stop her publishing her first volume, Centaury, in 1936, and numerous satirical poems in literary magazines.

Her life and work was tragically cut short by the holocaust; after two years in hiding, she died in a concentration camp in 1944. Apparently her own poem about her demise was the only artwork to be used successfully in a court of law. It was used in the trial to convict Zofia Chominowa, the woman who denounced her. Non omnis moriar is her best-known poem:

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Non omnis moriar has been translated in a glorious variety of ways, which show what a difference a translator can make. Click on each image to see a reading-sized version:

You can download a bilingual, printable book with these translations, and many other translations of her poems bz Marek Kamiński, from her centenary website. As the editors say, Ginczinska needs to be better known, so print some copies off and give them to everyone you know! Hopefully this will lead to even more translations of this extraordinary poet.

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Posted in books, gender, poetry, translation

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