Archives for posts with tag: Modern Poetry in Translation

55eb637e-b533-4fab-92af-ae2cb29f6018My summer sea swims have been curtailed by the strong winds here in Brighton. Is that it now?

But there are things to look forward to in the coming autumn: Festivals where I’ll be running workshops and reading from my latest book THE TRUE STORY OF COWBOY HAT & INGÉNUE published by Liquorice Fish imprint of Cinnamon Press  ISBN: 978-1-911540-03-8. Listed below. I’m also teaching an online course for the Poetry School, QUEEREADING so am re-posting the blog I wrote for them below that. 

Brighton’s first ever, The Coast is Queer Festival

on Friday 13th, Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th September Brighton’s first ever

Tears in the Fence Festival on Saturday 21st September

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival on Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th November

And thoughts about Queereading at the Poetry School:

“Robin Morgan started her Lesbian Poem with a dedication to everyone who had turned to that poem first in the Contents page of her Monster chapbook.

I’d done exactly that, of course. I was hungry. Hungry for anything I could get my hands on to read with a hint of a non-heteronormative narrative or some reflection of my experience. This was the 1970s and I clung to a handful of authors I’d found, Jean Genet, Violette Leduc, James Baldwin… I’d scan every index for words like homosexual, bisexual etc. Old habits die hard and I still do that (though our language has changed and keeps changing so I look for other words).

I’ve been stock-piling queer poems for years. To this day, for instance, I am ‘discovering’ nineteenth century Polish writers I thought/ was taught were heterosexual but who weren’t. I love finding writers all over the world exploring what it means to be queer. But back when I couldn’t find what I was looking for I made it up, ‘translating’ mainstream narratives into my own. Is the hunger still there?

In her Modern Poetry in Translation essay ‘Queerness as Translation’, Mary Jean Chan* talks about the relief of finding others who mirror our experience and how she found solace in the work of Adrienne Rich. She also describes the process of queering texts we read – in her case Shakespeare’s playful Twelfth Night. Despite reading it in school where it was presented in a conservative, traditional way, and despite Shakespeare’s heterosexual resolution of all his gender-bending in the play, it provided her with her ‘first glimpse into the multiplicity of queer desire’:

‘there was Viola/Cesario who had fallen hopelessly in love with Duke Orsino (whilst wearing her dashing military uniform), and their passionate conversations about the true nature of love made me question who it was I found myself increasingly drawn to – Viola, Cesario, or both?’

With Allie Rogers and Persia West at Brighton Library Let me Be Perfectly Queer event, July 2019.

This process of re-imagining and reinterpreting texts – or songs or films – is so familiar. What nourishment do we need as queer readers? What do we want reflected back at us? Or do we want to be transported somewhere different from ourselves, away from our own backyards? Poetry is often our safe place to explore who we are, but what if we still can’t find ourselves in the depictions of queer that become popular or enter the mainstream?

Introducing the poetry section of Queer Riveter, Lawrence Schimel* acknowledges the complexities of defining queer poetry. For his selection he chose recent work which is ‘celebrating or overtly expressing this identity’ but recognises this can’t be exhaustive. How explicit do we want to be? He also points out how many queer anthologies within Europe are national and thus mono-lingual so we are missing each other’s voices in different languages, from different cultures. And that’s just one continent!

I live in Brighton, the ‘gay capital of the UK’, where we have well established queer communities, lesbian networks, LGBTQ+ Pride, Trans Pride, etc., and even here people can feel isolated, attacked, vulnerable. In my birth country, Poland it’s a different, harsher story again. Is queer poetry – necessarily – a literature of protest? What of reflection, introspection, imagination? Not only that, but for many of us queer identity is not our sole identity. Is it meaningful to say ‘we’ when we come from different communities, ethnicities, face different issues be they race, class, health, age, language, & gender/s?

During my upcoming Queereading course we’re going to be reading poems which address the full richness of our experience, many already translated into English, and responding to them, ‘translating’ them into our own. So this course is for those who turned to the word ‘queer’ in its title, whether from hunger or from the sheer delight of wanting more, of expecting a broader, chewier, more delicious feast.

*Modern Poetry in Translation LGBTQ+ issue House of Thirst, 2018

*Queer Riveter – Riveting Queer Writing from Europe, Edition Six, June 2019, European Literature Network

Queeread and queerwrite across the borders of ourselves and others on Maria Jastrzebska ‘s online course,Queereading. Call 0207 582 1679 or book online.” Concessions available.



Some years ago myself and the wonderful Brighton-based writer John O’Donaghue were kidnapped (metaphorically speaking) by two Slovenians, the poet-mountaineer Iztok Osojnik and scholar/translator Ana Jelnikar. They took us to an international poetry translation workshop in the lovely, peaceful village of Škocjan in the Karst region famous for its limestone and Dante-esque caverns, festivals and plum brandy. This was The Golden Boat (a name referencing Srečko Kosovel, Slovenia’s iconic poet, translated into English by Ana Jelnikar and the American poet Barbara Siegel Carson who was also there). We met poets from Finland, Romania, France and Slovenia. That’s how I – who’d foolishly said I wasn’t really keen on translating poetry as it’s so hard – came to translate Iztok Osojnik’s poetry in collaboration with Ana Jelnikar, with Elsewhere his selected poems (Pighog Press 2011). It was extremely hard. And inspiring!

Elżbieta Wójcik Leese that most prolific of Polish poetry translators, and a very fine poet herself, then introduced me to the work of the Polish writer Justyna Bargielska and I have not looked back. Modern Poetry in Translation published an issue with a focus on Polish poets, among them Bargielska. She is the author of eight poetry collections, two fiction books and two children’s books, has won the Rainer Maria Rilke poetry competition, twice won the Gdynia Literary Prize and her work appears in a myriad of journals and anthologies and in a variety of languages in Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia and Slovenia as she gains a rapidly expanding international reputation.

I’ve written more in another blog about the challenge  – what Canadian poet Anne Carson would call ‘maddeningly attractive’ aspects of translation  – of translating Justyna Bargielska. Or keeping up with her as Jamie McKendrick accurately sums it up below. But now I am delighted to tell you for the very first time in the U.K Justyna Bargielska’s work will be published by Smokestack Press later this year in my translations of her selected poems The Great Plan B . I’m hoping audiences here will soon get to meet her for themselves. To translate a book I think you have to fall in love with the work and that’s definitely what happened to me.

Two poets I admire put it like this:

“Justyna Bargielska’s poetry is an art of fierce surprises. Poems that might look small and docile on the page are anything but: they soon reveal themselves to be rigged boxes of devilish wisdom, opening out onto a world that is both familiar and suddenly, unpredictably, luminous, frightening, or both at once: ‘Do you know what our odds are? Zero./ But I’ve learnt to play for time / as it’s the body no less which is left on the battlefield’.  Bargielska’s flexible idiom accommodates the most intimate, absurd and profound aspects of our contemporary lives at an almost breathless speed: like telegrams these poems demand to be read over and over. And Maria Jastrzębska’s razor-sharp, glittering translations now bring the full range of Bargielska’s extraordinary voice to an English-speaking readership. If there can be such a thing as a tender rallying cry, this poetry is it: ‘I’m not enclosing hugs, I don’t send kisses, I wage /war on all fronts. Write back to me asap’.” Tiffany Atkinson

“These poems by Justyna Bargielska make the word ‘daring’ sound tame. They move at a cruel speed, or as she puts it with characteristically mordant wit “I’m not leaving you, shoes, I’m merely walking ahead.” In a fairer world talent as prodigal as this would not be allowed. Maria Jastrzębska’s translations are urgent and electric, and effortlessly manage to keep up.” Jamie McKendrick

The Great Plan B cover




Childhood 001

There is an old Polish joke from the communist days when managers were sent on placement among the ordinary workers so: a high-ranking director gets put to work on a conveyor belt sorting potoatoes into small, medium and large. Pretty soon there’s a bottle-neck, with a mountain of potatoes piling up and toppling around him and everything grinds to a halt. Comrade Director! cry the other workers, What’s the hold-up? You just have to sort them by size. Ah, replies the director, but each potato means a decision

It’s better in Polish but you get the idea. This is a translator’s – and a poet’s – life. Every word counts, must be weighed carefully. Rush these things at your peril. A kind of fever takes over your waking moments and many sleeping ones too. The search for les mots justes quickly develops into obsession. You become unbearable to live with. At inappropriate times you ask your partner – if you are lucky enough to still have one – endless, peculiar questions about the turn of a phrase, nuances of meaning.

When I translated the poetry of Iztok Osojnik I had the benefit of my co-translator’s, Ana Jelnikar’s, wonderful sensibility and immense experience. Recently I have been working on my own translating part of a Justyna Bargielska’s fantastic book Obsoletki. In it she uses the word ‘harpaganka’. It’s the female, and not used, form of ‘harpagan’, slang for a daredevil, a tough cookie who goes to extremes, gets away with stuff. I pestered friends and went on Facebook to see if anyone had any ideas. I thought maybe one or two nerdy friends would comment. Instead there was a massive response. I hadn’t even posted any pictures of kittens or fluffy ducklings or mentioned anything currently on TV. Maybe all my friends are nerds or perhaps translation really is fun. Or was it the idea of a heroine? It certainly helped me feel less alone in my obsessive state. In fact it makes all the difference having family and friends here in England, and in Warsaw and Bucharest, Stranraer and Copenhagen who are willing to share their wisdom with me.

Here are some words they came up with: Amazon, valkyre, geezer-bird, badass, dragoon lady, virago, ball breaker/buster, bodacious, Mame, audacious, mettlesome, vivacious, Pirate Jenny, sick-chick, Satan’s sista, kick ass, vixen, gutsy girl, Annie Oakley, kapasta (which is actually in Greek), tomboy and champion of extreme sports… I loved these yet stuck with my own choice: ‘hardcore’. However it’s an adjective and I really wanted a noun. At the last minute I switched to a word created to appeal to girls (sic) the way He-man had been created to appeal (sic) to boys… You can read the passage below. To reward those who gave of their generous time I enclose a picture of lambs.

And if you’re still wondering how to be a translator and stay sane, the answer is simple: you can’t.

Childhood 003

“‘How are you feeling?’ she asked seeing my double buggy from New Zealand and sleeping children. ‘I’ve heard you’re a She-Ra, you don’t feel pain, don’t feel tiredness. Piotruś told me. Oh God they’re rising,’ she added, peering inside the buggy. They were indeed rising, like a July dawn over Stalingrad, hazy but ultimately still threatening.

The phone rang and a friend asked me what I was doing tomorrow.

‘What do you think I’m doing? Sitting at home, the nearest decompression chamber is in Gdansk,’ I said. ‘Come on over.’”



Copyright Maria Jastrzębska, copyright original Justyna Furgal.

You can hear some of Bargielska’s poetry in my English translation at Modern Poetry in Translation and on )



Two entirely wonderful writers, activists and friends, Naomi Foyle and Seni Seneviratne asked me to join in with MY WRITING PROCESS BlOG TOUR. So I said yes, am joining it late and now realise I rarely talk about what I am working on! Why not? Modesty? No, superstition. What if it doesn’t work out?  What if I abandon the project in despair? What if, what if, what if? So here goes nothing.

What am I working on?

It has been described in a poetry seminar run by poet Mimi Khalvati for Lewes Live Literature alternately as a ‘spaghetti western’ and a ‘prose poem novel’…

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I am not sure I know anyone who has written anything quite like this to be honest. Though this blog may well prove me wrong! I do know excellent poets writing prose poetry though and you will find many of them in a terrific anthology This Line is Not For Turning An Anthology of Contemporary British Prose Prose Poetry published by Cinnamon Press in 2011, the first of its kind in the U.K and to which I was especially pleased to have contributed. Given how squeamish the poetry world in this country has been about the prose poem it hopefully signals a – long overdue – sea change.

Why do I write what I do?

Here’s what I wrote for Poetry International Web some years ago: “I’ve always been concerned with borders and boundaries: between countries, cultures, languages, between social and sexual identities, health and illness.”  This is still true and it also leads me to question – push at – the boundaries between verse and prose. I also love telling stories, as well being told them, so narrative is an important part of what I write. Either-Ors are something I’m looking for creative ways to escape. It feels natural to include stories of love alongside stories of destruction or war and in my new work I am interlacing different themes even more than I have done before.

How does your writing process work?

I tell my creative writing students to be disciplined, to make regular time and space to write, to face the blank page daily. Isn’t it easy to give advice?! In practice I am chaotic, undisciplined. I do carry a notebook with me much of the time however and I usually start off writing by hand. (I love pen and paper) I do carry ideas in my head for days. (Incubation.) I do block out time in my diary (not enough). I do go back to things. I do believe in the unconscious lending a hand. I walk along the seafront and that helps too.

I do try out work on trusted peers and mentors. (Invaluable). I do research and read. I do work my socks off. When I’m truly in it it makes my heart sing. I edit. Endlessly.


Next on the blog tour you can read about the writing process of two exciting writers poet and editor Astrid Alben and novelist and poet Louise Halvardsson



Photos: above from Exiled Writers Ink reading at the Poetry Cafe in London April 7th 2014 (photo courtesy of Magda Raczyńska) with Katarzyna Zechenter, Anna Maria Mickiewicz and David Clark (photo courtesy of Magda Raczyńska), above top Piękni Ludzie Polish poetry anthology launch with Adam Siemieńczyk in Birmingham last year, below with poet/editor Sasha Dugdale & Deborah Dekock from Modern Poetry in Translation, poet Wojciech Bonowicz and poet/translator Elżbieta Wójcik- Leese at Aldeburgh Festival 2013.