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Poetry in Translation Editor’s Note

My neighbor constructed a bridge of two beams allowing us to cross a flowing channel, so that we can walk along the miles of bog behind our houses. Crossing this homemade bridge the other day, I was reminded of the way literature and translation serve to connect us to each other as much as they allow access to further, otherwise distant worlds.

In two poems influenced by his experience as a soldier in WWI, the great modernist Guiseppi Ungaretti articulates his own painful struggle toward hope, beauty and truth as he contemplates silence of a girl on a bridge and follows “the labyrinth/of his own troubled heart” toward a horizon “pocked with craters.” There is no escape from feeling this intensity of the mystery and Wally Swist’s striking versions from Italian.

The opening image in Aleš Mustar’s “Prague Poem” deftly translated by Manja Maksimovič, of tourist crowds as refugees on Charles Bridge introduces a perspective that resonates with political, historical, economical, social and religious significance. Details from Hello Kitty to the skinhead serving beer to Marina Tsvetaeva sinking in mud to her knees yield to a penetrating truth.

Wojciech Bonowicz’s poems are epigrammatic and witty, as well as reflective. Instead of linguistic fireworks, they offer reflection and silence. The poems selected for this issue in translation of Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese are also a scathing commentary on Polish polarization in current politics (particularly the poem entitled “Second Bell.” These poems are intimate in their coding, They thrive on ambiguity and ellipsis. By being elusive, they invite a reader to a special intimacy.

Natalka Bilostserkivet’s body “Arched like a bridge/over a river” has the ability to absorb the vapors that exist in all forms. Her poetry surreal and spare is bladed with “this music that kills” leaving us estranged and shaken in these crystalline translations from Ukraine by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky.


–Barbara Siegel Carlson and Ewa Chrusciel



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