BY Justyna Bargielska

Ninety-eight point six; the world's ovulating nicely,
i'm sitting here a little alone, will you grab your stuff and come?
Because: a helmet, a yashmak, a frock and tennis player's shorts,
burqa, a pinafore, a mini, a three-quarter-length skirt,
an ethanol garter and embroidered smocks,
panties in ponies, in doggies, in sleepy kittens,
a P.V.C kit and vinyl gaiters,
thong-wrong, grandma's bland yards of laces,
a purse with sequins, a hat, a pit in the ground –
the world has no armor that would keep me from you.

translated by Katarzyna Szuster


Translator's note:
My first encounter with Justyna Bargielska’s poetry was when Mark Tardi and I were searching for younger, emerging poets for the ninth issue of an American literary journal “Aufgabe” which was to focus on translations of Miron Białoszewski’s output, as well as new, vibrant, Polish poets. We managed to find a number of poets for the project but in the process we both felt that Justyna's work needed to be looked into more deeply.

It’s hard to summarize Bargielska’s poetry since each one of her books of poetry differs so greatly from one another – maybe not so much in the form, but in themes and ambiance. She doesn’t shy away from topics that would easily be considered uncomfortable. There’s lots of sensuality, sexuality, violence, death, quiet despair but also dark, nostalgic humour.
Bargielska’s poems are tricky for translation purposes but not nightmarish (if you compare them with Białoszewski’s neologisms, for instance). The images that loom from the poems are subtle, both nuanced and unveiled, concrete like a brick, part of which comes from the source language. And Polish really allows for these linguistic surprises and tweaks in syntax, which Justyna happily and enthusiastically employs. English, on the other hand, has low allowance for tampering with word order, which takes away some of the magic of Bargielska’s wonderfully contorted sentences. Consider this example from the poem Ciemne wody [Dark Waters]: “gdy na brzegu / jakieś teraz skończy już się w zimowym / lusterku przyglądać pomarłym / na nim gronostajom.” I had to move around the lines and add an extra word to clear up the subject-object issue: “while on the shore / some kind of present will finally stop looking in the winter / mirror at the dead ermine it's been wearing.” In my view, though, it’s better to alter certain elements and have a  poem that works in the target language rather than a messy caricature of itself.
Other matters such as idioms, slang, or everyday phrases, which also appear abundantly in the poems (though always with a twist – nothing in Bargielska’s poems feels trite or cliché), required more work and familiarity with the English language and Western culture. However, I think I was mostly successful, with the help of Mark who is a native English speaker and also a poet. I could count on his judgment if something was of the right register or tone, though first of all I had to be mindful of whether a line or phrase would work in English, or if maybe it was too artificially convoluted even for poetry standards.
Naturally, I also contacted Justyna whenever I was at a loss with some phrase, or when I had to choose what to sacrifice (one example is the title of the poem Koniki, which was to imply the animals, movement, and of course the people who sell tickets at a double price. I had to go with Scalpers which preserves only the last meaning, though with other disturbing associations in English). Justyna was always ready to offer some suggestion and bear with my thousand questions.
To sum up my reflections, I’d say that Justyna’s poems are a treat to translate – not too easy and not impossible, simply challenging. Since I also write poems myself, it helps to find the right resonance and feel for Justyna's poems. Additionally, as I said, even though I’d probably be categorized as a fluent speaker of English, it’s not my mother tongue. I'm currently working on translating Dwa Fiaty, and Mark’s help as a native speaker and as a poet was and still is invaluable to make the translations mirror as closely as possible the quality of Bargielska’s poems.
However, most of all, I’m glad that the author likes and appreciates the results – when I sent Justyna some early translations, she wrote me back: “It’s the first time that after having read the English version of my poem, I still get the impression that it’s my poem.” This is what matters.

Katarzyna Szuster

Justyna Bargielska – born in 1977, a social activist, a writer and a poet. The author of three books of poetry: Dating Sessions (2003), China Shipping (2005) and Dwa Fiaty (2010). In 2010 her book of short stories, Obsoletki, will be published by Wydawnicto Czarne. She lives in Warsaw.

Ola Bilińska – born 1986, singer, songwriter and translator, student at the English Literature Department of Warsaw University. She is currently writing her MA thesis on the influence of music, sound and performance on the poetry of G.M. Hopkins, T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. In an attempt to put theory into practice, she writes song lyrics and translates for other bands, most recently for Pustki.
Ola sings in Płyny, an urban-folk band from Warsaw, and Muzyka Końca Lata, a group of nostalgic neo-bigbeaters, while slowly working on her own stage project involving poetry, music and image.