Magazine article World Literature Today

Froth

Magazine article World Literature Today

Froth

Article excerpt

Jaroslaw Mikolajewski. Froth. Piotr Florczyk, tr. Los Angeles, California. Calypso. 2013. ISBN 9780983099994

Although Jaroslaw Mikolajewski's poetry debuted in Poland in the 1990s, he has eluded American readers until now. In Froth, an English translation of the Polish by Piotr Florczyk, readers can witness the intimate absurdities of Mikolajewski's life: his wife's spine, his daughters' playtime rituals, his father's casket built from cardboard, or the yellow froth that lurks after he showers. Froth is full of surprise, sudden endings and clever wordplay, and it moves readers to answer Mikolajewski's many questions.

The extended metaphor is one of Mikolajewski's strengths. In "My Wife's Spine," for instance, eight stirring stanza-length metaphors outline the subject of the title, as if readers are trailing the spine while moving down the page. Momentarily, her spine is "the zipper in a suitcase / that won't close, even under a knee." Next, it is "a bunch of frightened kids / who broke the kindergarten's piano," and later, it is the keyboard from that piano.

The poet, a professor of Italian literature and translator from Italian into Polish, expectedly addresses language and culture in his work. In "Area aerea," the speaker sits at the airport, "playing with language," observing how the same words sound in different tongues: "'aeroporto' and 'areoporto,'" he says, wondering, "does only one of these have the right / to launch aeroplanes // or is it all the same to pilots. …

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