The latest issue (#15) of the San Francisco-based translation journal Two Lines came in the mail yesterday, and what I’ve read so far is tremendous: two really amazing poems by French poet Emmanuel Moses, translated by Marilyn Hacker; works by Latvian poet Pēters Brūveris, translated by Inara Cedrins (two poems that remind me somehow of that other great Baltic poet Johannes Bobrowski) and Lithuanian novelist Ričardas Gavelis, translated by Elizabeth Novickas (an excerpt from Vilnius Poker, which Open Letter has just published); a number of Old English rune poems translated by John Estes (I have to admit I was more interested in discerning a connection with the Old English, which I know almost nothing about, than reading the translations…); and three lovely poems by Ewa Lipska, translated by Margret Grebowicz. There’s a lot more that I haven’t gotten to, all of it enticing. The issue is subtitled “Strange Harbors” and is quite thoughtfully edited. You can find more information about it (and past issues of Two Lines) at the Center for the Art of Translation website.
It’s nice to see work by Lipska in English again. She has been one of the stalwarts of Polish poetry since her debut in the early 1960s, and is associated with the New Wave poets— Barańczak, Zagajewski, Kornhauser (in the same way that Barbara Guest is associated with Ashbery, O’Hara, and Schuyler, I would add)—both because they are of the same generation and on account of the linguistic skepticism that characterized all of their work in the 1970s. Lipska, however, has continued to pursue this poetic, while the others haven’t really, except maybe Kornhauser. And if her contemporary Zagajewski can be considered an inheritor of Herbert, she might be considered an heir-apparent to Różewicz.
The now defunct Forest Books brought out a book of Lipska’s poetry in 1991, Poet? Criminal? Madman?, translated by British translators Barbara Plebanek and Tony Howard, which is out of print. I’ve just learned of another Plebanek-Howard collaboration, Arc Publications’ Pet Shops and Other Poems, which is not distributed in the U.S. and was evidently not very well publicized anywhere. She has also appeared in several anthologies over the years: Barańczak’s and Cavanagh’s 1991 Spoiling Cannibals’ Fun, Bassnett’s and Kuhiwczak’s Ariadne’s Thread, Regina Gról’s 1996 Ambers Aglow. But probably because of the galvanization of a canon of Polish poets that happened more or less when Szymborska got the Nobel Prize in 1996, Lipska has fallen out of view—the American view, at least.
(Based on my own memory of the time, I’d say that prior to 1996—or let’s say 1995, when View With a Grain of Sand came out—Szymborska was only marginally better known in the U.S. than Poland’s other major woman poets: Lipska, Julia Hartwig, Urszula Kozioł; and was certainly no better known than Różewicz, with whom she shared Magnus Krynski and Robert Maguire as her first translators. Also, in the 1980s, largely due to Miłosz’s very active promotion of her and a single hardbound volume with Harcourt Brace, Anna Świr was far better known than Szymborska, though who reads her now?)
Anyway, back to Lipska. We’re about to see a lot of her again in a very short while: Northwestern University Press has a volume slated for their fall catalogue: THE NEW CENTURY, which comprises poems from at least six of her recent books, with the lion’s share coming from 1999 (1999) and Newton’s Orange (2007). The volume will also be furnished with forewords by Ewa Lipska herself, Szymborska, and both of the translators: Robin Davidson (who is a professor in the English Department at University of Houston Downtown) and Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska (a younger Polish poet based in Kraków). Lipska’s translator for the poems in Two Lines, Margaret Grebowicz (who is a professor in the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department at Goucher College), also has a complete manuscript that is looking for a publisher. I haven’t seen it, but judging from the three lovely poems in the magazine, I hope it does find one soon. In any case, with Knopf publishing books by Julia Hartwig and Janusz Szuber (forthcoming in May—I’ll be posting something on this shortly) and this book by Ewa Lipska coming out with Northwestern, it seems there might be a new wave of interest in Polish poetry afoot.