|courtesy of Calypso Editions|
Calypso Editions is an artist-run, cooperative press dedicated to publishing quality literary books of poetry and fiction with a global perspective. We believe that literature is essential to building an international community of readers and writers and that books can serve as a physical artifact of beauty and wonder in a world of digital saturation.
I am a book collector. When I replied to the email, I droned on about how I love books. I've been slowly building a collection of CEE books and keeping meticulous records of books I have read in case I ever come into some money. In short, when I saw that they were willing to give me a free copy, the deal was too good to resist. I support their higher aims and have a keen interest in procuring their other books, like a translation of Tolstoy's How Much Land Does A Man Need and the forthcoming anthology of Romanian poets. Their books are not solely CEE focused (boo), but CEE is certainly included in the global perspective. I think it's an area that is frequently overlooked.
The book I received for reviewing was Building the Barricade and Other Poems by Anna Swir. The co-founder and editor of Calypso graciously assumed I was already familiar with Anna Swir's work, which I regrettably am not. She did not make it into the several Polish poetry books I read, though after reading these, I am wondering why. Her full name is Anna Świrszczyńska, a mighty, prophetically poetic woman who volunteered as a nurse in the 1944 Uprising. Her poetry deals frankly with the female body, female roles, and the destruction she witnessed. The book Building the Barricade was published in Poland in 1974, 30 years after the Uprising. While it had nothing to do with socialism, there were some elements that I could relate to that system. I'm not declaring that her poetry has ties to socialism, but her poems are so true and timeless that the message rings true regardless. Beautiful and true poetry has a message that applies beyond the time of its writing and Anna Swir's poems are no exception.
I will start my review with the bad news. The bad news is that I want more of the poems. Maybe three times as many. I loved them. The layout is very much like Dimkovska's Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers with the original language on the left page and the translation on the right. I liked this for two reasons: 1) I can sort of read Polish and 2) when I learn Polish, I will be able to appreciate this book even more. I can't comment on the translation aspect for glaringly obvious reasons, but I trust that Piotr Florczyk is a great translator. As I read through the poems, I noticed that certain poems brought up very distinct images in my mind. The poem "The Child Lives One More Hour" conjured up the exact same image I had when reading about a young German communist stealing milk from a cow to save his sibling. "I'm Afraid of Fire" related to the 1956 Revolution at Corvintető in Budapest, where students burned buildings. Yes, I know, I think of all things socialism, but the poems conjured up such strong images and feelings that they were comparable to other situations in other places and times. I will provide you with an example: "The Last Polish Uprising".
We lament the hour
when it all began,
when the first shot was fired.
We lament the sixty-three days
and sixty-three nights
of battle. And the hour
when everything ended.
When the place where a million people had lived
became the emptiness of a million people.
I hope you can see what I mean when I say that her poem transcends time and situations to talk about the undercurrent of feeling and meaning. The poem is an apt description for the defeated feeling of socialism or any Hungarian revolution. I will not go through all the poems, but what iced this cake for me was "Poetry Reading", which is the most heartfelt and beautiful explanation of poetry I may have ever read. I would share it, but I have to give you some incentive to go to Calypso's bookstore. They have so much to offer, it would be a shame not to buy from them!
Many thanks to Tony Bonds for noticing this blog and thinking I am a worthy promotional device.