These poems and photographs have been taken from Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime by Anna Błasiak and Lisa Kalloo, a book which has collaboration and translation at its heart: between people, words and images, languages, cultures. The poems were first written in Polish by Anna Błasiak. Then came the photographic responses to them by Lisa Kalloo. Finally, four translators, Marta Dziurosz, Maria Jastrzębska, Danusia Stok, Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, took a set of 12 or 13 poems each and translated them into English. All people involved were women: the poet, the photographer, the four translators and the two editors. Together they arrived at 51 Polish poems, 51 English poems and 51 photographs making this collection. They raise themes such as cultural identity and migration, queerness, racism, isolation and family memories.
Lisa Kalloo: Two photographs
Anna Błasiak: Six Poems
Layers of old lives sleep hidden out of sight.
Steam reveals their sticky smell.
My hand trembles
every time I start to peel another piece.
Bare wall underneath tells an altogether different story.
Stare życia śpią warstwami, schowane przed wzrokiem.
Para wodna obnaża ich kleisty zapach.
za każdym razem, gdy mam zerwać kolejną płachtę.
Naga ściana pod spodem opowiada zupełnie inną historię.
HOLIDAYS AT GRADMA’S
A tall willow tree
rocked in the wind.
You could touch its catkins
from the swing. Just needed to get it going hard enough.
Further down there was a walnut tree.
We built an entire world on it.
Grandma used to dry its fruits
in a cardboard suitcase in the attic. We scrumped them.
A sour cherry tree in the middle of the yard,
fruits the colour of dark blood.
They stained fingers, tongues and souls.
In the corner a root cellar
for storing potatoes.
Another one at the side of the house,
its dankness smelling of apples
spread in single layers on the shelves.
A row of acacia trees led to the gate.
We climbed it
and from our watchtower
gaped at the film unwinding.
All gone now.
Too true, the curse of the dark well
between the acacia trees and pigsty.
In summer granny peeled them outdoors.
Sitting over a basin in the yard.
Potatoes fell into water, peelings on the ground at the side.
But first they had to be carried
from a cellar dug into the earth
with uneven steps of brick.
Darkness smelt like the grave.
I also remember potatoes
mashed in a bucket with grains.
For the pigs.
They smelt like a hot day in the country.
SWIMMING IN A STORM
We rode a rickety motorbike
with no licence.
Through fields. To the canal. By the woods.
A storm was brewing.
The water was sticky, menacing, like molasses.
First lightning let fear off the lead.
Thick, warm drops pushed us under,
banks were suddenly much steeper.
on the rickety motorbike
through the fields
we swam back.
I’M SUCH A MOODOMETER
I’m such a
like a pendulum,
a mercury column
or like water.
I take up-on the shape of the vessel
you are, every day
TAKI ZE MNIE NASTROJOMETR
Taki ze mnie
i jak woda.
Przy-ubieram kształt naczynia,
którym co dzień jesteś
ON THE BARE TABLE
On the bare table
a bottle of Sardinian wine,
bought as a present,
a cigarette in the ashtray,
On the bare table.
On the bare table
On the bare table
wind off the summits,
on the wall a lady
in her Biedermeier bonnet.
Even if it ventured inside,
the wind wouldn’t sweep her away.
Za oknem wciąż ten sam
wiatr od gór,
a na ścianie dama
w czepku biedermeier.
Nawet gdyby wpadł do środka
nie przewiałby jej stąd.
The Polish texts of all poems are available here
Anna Błasiak is a poet, translator, journalist and literature co-ordinator for the European Literature Network. She writes poetry in both Polish and English. In the UK, her work has appeared Off_Press, Women Online Writing, Exiled Ink, The Blue Nib, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Queer Riveter and Modern Poetry in Translation. She has also been shortlisted for several major poetry competitions in Poland. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish. . She has also translated fiction and poetry from Polish into English. In addition to her book-length translations, her work has been published in Best European Fiction 2015, Asymptote, The Guardian, B O D Y Literature, Modern Poetry in Translation and York Literary Review. She has worked in museums and a radio station, run magazines, written on art, film and theatre. You can find more here: annablasiak.com.
Lisa Kalloo studied law but moved away from it towards more creative pursuits. Coming from a British Indo-Caribbean background, she explores as many cultures as possible. Born in London, she was raised in Basingstoke, studied in Wolverhampton and lives in Ramsgate. She tries to take a mindful approach to life focusing on elements of stillness, compassion and empathy and applies them to photography, combining it with the Eastern philosophies she learnt as a child and later in life. She sells a few limited edition prints, takes part in select exhibitions and installations. She runs a small photography workshop teaching the basics of this art. You can learn more here: lisakalloophotography.co.uk