Writers' Corner

Karen Kovacik

2012 Translation Projects

Translator's Statement

I was first drawn to Agnieszka Kuciak's work as an antidote to the chattiness of much American poetry right now. Our suspicion of rhetorical grandeur, our wholehearted embrace of the plain style, feels like a diet of pureed potatoes to me, and I crave lemongrass, coriander, even Polish dill for variety's sake. When I began translating Kuciak's Distant Lands, her faux-anthology, I was impressed, first, by the scope of the project -- what a tour de force to make up 21 poets plus their poems and bio notes! Second, I've been pleasurably challenged by the formal intricacy of many of the poems: like many American poets who came of age during the reigning orthodoxy of free verse, I love immersing myself in Kuciak's complex webs of sound. And finally, I appreciate her adaptation of ancient stories for contemporary purposes. Even when she's satirical or digressive, there's a flash of Dante or Boccaccio, a bit of mortal terror, underlying the lightness. Both post-Freudian and medieval, she comes off skeptical, secular, but not devoid of ardor. I think Americans will appreciate her wit and longing and will see some aspects of themselves, distorted but recognizable, in her funhouse mirror.

"Waiting for the Blondes" by Agnieszka Kuciak

[translated from Polish]

Why these speedy scooters, this whiff of principles?
Why those hothouse muscles, those sunburned hearts?
Why do men's brains fill up with brilliantine
and dark glasses mask their dark eyes
as if to rush the onset of some tiny night?

What do Italian men do, as summer draws near?
Italian men wait for the blondes to appear.

Watch the blondes wring tears from the others,
all deserving as a legal dream--
the ones petite as demitasses, dark
as suspicion, lovely as their own rage.

What do Italian men do, as summer draws near?
Italian men wait for the blondes to appear.

They want the ones with Slavic sweetness,
full of charming grammatical errors,
the ones pale as daylight or the sky
when it's the color of tears.

What do Italian men do, as summer draws near?
Italian men wait for the blondes to appear.

Let the sun shine blond even on blondes.
And let them desire these foreign desires.
Let them aspirate the word "casa"
in the best Etruscan manner.

What do Italian men do, as summer draws near?
Italian men wait for the blondes to appear.

But blondes are like the sea breeze.
Blondes are hardly the solution!
After three kisses, all the blondes
lock down tight.

Sunny

SUNNY ##################################################### and is married to a brunette. (The editors regret that the rest of the contributor's note for this poet was wiped out by the I Love You virus.)

Excerpt in Polish

About Agnieszka Kuciak

Kuciak belongs in the company of world literature's distinguished fabulists: Borges, Pessoa, Kafka, Calvino. Her Dalekie kraje [Distant Lands] -- a faux-anthology of 21 invented poets -- includes, for example, a certain "N. Miłosz," who like his namesake, the Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz, is considered "the bishop of poetry," and the confessional poet "Sylvia," reminiscent of Plath. Kuciak's poems from her earlier book Retardacja [Delay] also complicate the relationship between the textual and actual worlds. The sonnet "Meter" attests to the salvific power of repetition, likening recurring rhythm to a homecoming, a child's growth chart, a hedge against the chaos of formlessness.