THE WORLD SHARED
Poems by Dariusz Sosnicki, translated into English by Piotr Florczyk and Boris Dralyuk
Series: Lannan Translations Selection Series
BOA Editions Ltd.; Bilingual edition, June 2014
112 pages / BOA Editions / Amazon
The conceit of a ship-of-state, and of a speaker advising his fellow citizens on how to guide the rudder through perilous waters goes as far back as Aeschylus. Although The World Shared by Dariusz Sosnicki—in an excellent translation into English from the Polishby Piotr Florczyk and Boris Dralyuk—is no Greek tragedy, it is marked by the tone of the “public poet.” Richard Hugo discusses this term when speaking of Auden in The Triggering Town; in his view, public poets do not create an obsessive matrix of personalized tropes, but rather develop a more classical one, and, as a result, are able to speak of social concerns, of communities, of their epochs as convincingly as their talent allows. Sosnicki has loads of talent, and this volume offers North American readers entry into his necessary poetry.
Although Sosnicki seems most concerned with his particular corner of the world—Poland— lurching in the muck of crass consumerism, Google instead of the library, subpar hip-hop, and a “disastrous geopolitical situation,” the reader knows we´re on board the same global ship-of-fools. A stunning poem titled “Monster” describes a train full of children squirming in their seats and playing with “PlayStation” or “hamsters.” The poem reveals they are seated inside the “swollen belly” of the monster that travels across the “great plain,” the terrible plain of our century. Although we are trapped aboard this monster, Sosnicki reaches out to each of us, tries to wipe the anonymity off our faces, and to recover, if not rescue us, as an archeologist recovers a mud-smeared amulet from a deep stratum. In “From the Ground Floor,” the speaker lists the way the nameless ascend and descend the stairs in a building; most “won´t be seen,” only heard for a few moments. They will end up as part of the same “compote,” those with hopping, birdlike descent, or those who take to the stairs as if they were “dragging a plough.” Still, “many are wondrous.” This danse macabre perfectly captures Sosnicki’s stance as a public voice.
Yet some of the poems bypass this tone–the voice of a wry observer in conversation over a Bloody Mary or three. One of Sosnicki’s shortest poems is also one of his best. The eight-line “AWorker On A Scaffolf, A Minor Raster of The Debris Netting” demonstrates a gift for concision worthy of the Objectivists, reminding one of Charles Reznikoff’s pregnant images in “These Days The Papers In TheStreets” or “About An Excavation.” In Sosnicki´s poem, a proletariat on a scaffold asks if it was worth being born. The answer is laconic and striking: “down went a bucket on a rope like a droplet of mucus.” As the collection progresses, the juxtaposition between artful phrasing and grotesque or dismal content, conveys a stance that is unflinchingly sober and suited for our times. A grey Polish village called Marlewo transmogrifies into every village and city; its inhabitants–just like all of us—“won´t escape” from the “outhouse,” “trash pit” and the inescapable “autumn.”
In the second section of The World Shared, readers are introduced to Mr. and Mrs. P, embodiments of Poland’s petty middleclass. Worthy of skewering in a novel by Flaubert, they live their days attending a few exhibitions, reading the occasional newspaper, keeping their personal affairs ¨fairly in order,” and shopping: in one poem, tons of empty, plastic shopping bags come “mushrooming” from a kitchen drawer. Although they may pride themselves that they don´t live in a Marlewo—or, say, Bakersfield—they are clearly headed to the same shit-house. When the frail meat of humanity is exposed in these wonderful persona poems, the reader tastes the bitterness of a speaker out of Larkin, who works a long day, gets half-drunk, and wakes to the throbbing darkness, unable to sleep; yet the reader also tastes Larkin’s humor, and partakes in his weary but unshakeable commitment to the one life we’re given. Mr. P and Mrs. P know the world isn’t getting any better, but they’re not about to quit it. In another poem, Mr.P’s cogitations turn to the concept of an autumn coat. As global temperatures rise, the heavy coat will be consigned to the Plexiglas cube of a history museum. What to do? Continue shopping, of course.
With “The Ikarus,”the reader returns to the conceit of the ship-of-state. Among a busload of local losers, one passenger achieves a flash of clarity. (The translators’ note explains that “Ikarus” is the make of a bus, a name appropriate to the vehicle’s “temperamental” launch along a road of “poplar fluff.”) Seeking peace in this humble version of hell (which is, as Sartre claimed, other people) the speaker peers through the rear window and notices the “strips of mud” that “fall off the tires,” as well as a “contrail” that remains in the air for a “luminous” moment. The reader can’t help but think of Auden´s “Museé des Beaux Arts,” of the mythical Icarus’s contrail, his “splash” and “forsaken cry.” The body has plummeted, and though the afterimage remains, it dissolves quickly. In Sosnicki’s Audenesque world, we are all both Icarus and the common men on the Ikarus who have “somewhere to get to” and sail “calmly on.” This mordant, yet humane tone informs most of the poems, successfully carried over into English by Piotr Florczyk and Boris Dralyuk.
The World Shared closes with a two-page suite of pansies encapsulating the speaker´s world-view–one that is quite reasonable, given the “monstrous” nature of our world. Sosnicki’s Earthly Delights spares us of Bosch’s nude lovers mounted on fantastic creatures, florid crustacean submarines, and strawberries the girth of jeroboams. Instead, Sosnicki enumerates the practical and necessary, such as a “good night´s sleep for anything, even death,” “refrigerator in hot weather, working,” and “three-month-oldleather shoes, very solid,” and even makes room for the mildly annoying, such as a “fad for Hula-Hoops.” This tangible grasp of what keeps one alive, grudgingly or with a grin, gives the collection true distinction.