As a Counterbalance to the International Poetry Post . . .
Congrats to Polish poet Tomasz Rozycki for winning the 3 Quarks Daily 2010 Prize in Arts & Literature. Rozycki won for Scorched Maps, a poem that was posted on PEN America with some commentary about the poem’s origins. (And translated by Mira Rosenthal.)
Here’s the actual poem and opening of the commentary:
I took a trip to Ukraine. It was June.
I waded in the fields, all full of dust
and pollen in the air. I searched, but those
I loved had disappeared below the ground,
deeper than decades of ants. I asked
about them everywhere, but grass and leaves
have been growing, bees swarming. So I lay down,
face to the ground, and said this incantation—
you can come out, it’s over. And the ground,
and moles and earthworms in it, shifted, shook,
kingdoms of ants came crawling, bees began
to fly from everywhere. I said come out,
I spoke directly to the ground and felt
the field grow vast and wild around my head.
The poem “Scorched Maps” came out of a trip I took to Ukraine in 2004, when I was invited to a literary festival in Lwów. I took the opportunity to visit the places associated with the history of my family, who were resettled from that area after the Second World War because of the agreement between Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt, who won the war. At that time the borders of Poland were shifted west, and the Poles who lived in the area that was lost to the Soviet Union were transported by freight train west to Pomerania and Silesia, where I live today. These changes affected several million people, who had to abandon their homes, neighbors, traditions, memories, and God knows what else—everything that had happened on that ground for centuries. The Second World War in particular afflicted those living in this area, Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Armenians—everyone who had helped form the unusual mosaic of cultures and languages there over the centuries. They experienced the terror of Soviet occupation—mass executions and the transportation of millions of victims to the Gulag and forced labor camps deep within Russia—which met with the terror of the Nazis as the Germans, in a systematic way during the extermination of the area’s population, prepared their future “living space.” Inconceivably, at the same time a brutal domestic war continued between Ukrainian nationals, who cooperated with Hitler during the period, and the Polish resistance—a war in which neighbors murdered neighbors and the number of victims and the atrocity of what happened calls to mind ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. My family was one of those that experienced all of the terror and mourned each of the victims.
And here’s what 3 Quarks Daily judge Robert Pinsky had to say about it:
Tomasz Rozycki’s poem “Scorched Maps” — translated by Mira Rosenthal into real lines of poetry in English. I will remember this poem about memory and Rozycki’s commentary (same translator) on it. The image of the past and its losses as “subterranean” is familiar. Re-imagined in “Scorched Maps,” the image regains its emotional force: the seeker face-down and speaking to the earth, and the earth along with the lives it contains responding, “vast and wild around my head.”