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Café By Wren’s St James-In-The Fields, Lunchtime by Anna Blasiak, photography by Lisa Kalloo (Holland House Books)

Café By Wren’s St James-In-The Fields, Lunchtime by Anna Blasiak, photography by Lisa Kalloo (Holland House Books)

This extraordinary and substantial 136 page bilingual publication in English and Polish is a collaborative work between Polish poet, Anna Blasiak, her accomplished translators, Marta Dzivrosz, Maria Jastrzębska, Danusia Stok and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, and photographer, Lisa Kalloo. Each translator took a set of 12 or 13 poems to translate into English. The results are uniformly exquisite, pared and pointed. The book is a joy to read and a feast for the eyes thanks to Lisa Kalloo’s photography which enhance the reading and visual experience of the work.

The poems move through the isolation of the migrant condition searching for roots whilst dealing with home and family memories to the near silence of a new condition.

Amnesia, Obstinately

Every evening I learn a day
by heart.

Mornings I forget everything again.

Blasiak’s poems, pithy fragments, are almost epigrammatic and allusive in their dealings with emigration, otherness and hidden moods. Typically, a few lines long they are like fists of pressured existence.

Draught

The doors to both rooms
propped open by my shoes.

In the end
I might be
swept away.

This poem appears next to a close up image of a chain lock on a shabby door with pealing blue paint. The photograph adds depth and texture as the eye is drawn to the original wood behind the blue paint, and this in turn echoes the half hidden past beneath the surface veneer.

The narrative selves are often pressured, trying to take root and absorbed within the condition of being isolated, swinging from one mood to another, liable to stumble and be swept away at any time. One collects ‘unfinished sentences / to stubbornly piece them into / something like a whole.’ Another knows that ‘Expectations have / to be heeded. / They do overwhelm.’ The poems reminded me of Paul Celan and to some extent, Anne-Marie Albiach, in that they are sparse and coming out of silence with uncertainty and sparsity. They certainly make one think of some of the best European poetry.

I was sitting on the plane tree,
Slowly taking root.
One more branch.

Someone walked past.
Didn’t spot the difference.

Kalloo’s colour photography augments and enhances the texts serving to widen the perspective, provide additional viewpoints, which add to the whole work. The various photographs, capturing lights and shadows, interiors and street scenes, are works of art in their own right, reverberating around the stillness and isolation of the poems, providing provocative juxtapositions and new elements. I also like the way that both the poems and photography move avoid any linear chronology in recognition that the condition under review is dynamic as well as fragmentary.

I am sad that the collaborators are missing out on a book launch due to COVID-19 as this work is tremendous and put together with great care and attention to detail. I applaud everyone involved in this wonderful book.

David Caddy 8th April 2020

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