Anna Blasiak’s bilingual ‘Kawiarnia przy St James’s Wrena w porze lunchu/Cafe by St James’s in the Wrens at Lunchtime’, Reviewed

Reviewed ByEmma Lee

‘Kawiarnia przy St James’s Wrena w porze lunchu / Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime’ Anna Blasiak

Holland House Books 

ISBN: 978-83-61381-11-2 (PL),

 978-1-910688-36-6 (UK)

A collection of Anna Blasiak’s poems with a response in Lisa Kalloo’s photographs and English translations of the poems by Marta Dziurosz, Maria Jastrzębska, Danusia Stok and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese in one bilingual publication. Most of the photographs are abstracts, focused on textures of everyday objects such as wood and metal, the mechanics of a bike, street or beach scenes, sometimes two photographs overlaid. Many of these poems have a similar discipline to the photographs: they present an idea and ask a viewer to respond, e.g. “Rakarz”/ “Dog Catcher” (quoted in full), 

‘Na szczęście

w kieszeniach mam

zawsze pod ręką

rachunki ze sklepu,

strzępki gazet,

stare bilety.

Inaczej tyle słów

by się ode mnie uniezależniło.’

‘Luckily

in my pockets

I always keep

shopping receipts,

torn newspaper clippings,

old tickets.

Otherwise so many words

would work themselves free.’

Pockets become a treasury of memories and reminders of things that might have been forgotten altogether had the receipts, clippings and tickets been binned immediately after their initial use. However, a receipt will tell you what you bought but not why, a clipping will give you the article you kept but not tell  you why it caught your attention and a ticket will tell you what event you saw or journey you took but not who you were with so each thing triggers more discoveries. It’s not just sight that’s remembered, “Zbiory”/ ”Harvest” is all about taste (complete poem),

‘Miąższ truskawek

nagrzanych słońcem

był jak krew.

Zlizywałam łapczywie.

Zaraz przyjdą wiśnie.’

‘Sun-drenched

the flesh of strawberries

was like blood

I licked greedily.

Cherries next.’

The poems aren’t just static, ‘Metro Może’/ ‘The Underground I See’ takes an underground train, the narrator sees herself as a boat steering around human reefs, 

‘Morza ciągną się w

nieskończoność peronów,

a potem znowu i znowu.

Na chwilę zamknięty

ludzki ocean

jak słona woda

przywieziona z wakacji

w słoiku.’

‘Seas stretch

in an infinity of platforms

then again and again.

For a moment enclosed

the human ocean

like salt water

brought from holiday

in a jar.’

The ending takes readers back to the theme of mementos and memories, the trigger for which is a smell of brine from sea water in a jar. The narrator doesn’t consider what the other humans temporarily caught in this underground sea might be thinking or remembering. Taking a café break, the narrator has an uninvited guest in the title poem ‘Kawiarnia Przy St James’s Wrena W Proze Lunchu’/ ‘Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime’ (complete poem),

‘Siedzę cicho,

zaczajam się.

Gołąb nagle skręca,

zatacza koło,

drepcze pod inny stolik.

Zostaję sama

ze swoimi okruchami.’

‘I’m sitting quietly,

holding my breath.

The pigeon veers off,

makes an arc,

potters to another table.

I’m left alone

with my crumbs.’

Presumably the breath-holding is to deter the pigeon. The narrator wants to be alone to observe. The poem is timed after lunch, the narrator seems reluctant to share, leaving readers to imagine the details from remaining crumbs backwards, now the intruder has been seen off. The idea of warding off others continues in ‘Zrywanie Tapet’/ ‘Stripping Wallpaper’ (complete poem), 

‘Stare życia śpią warstwami, schowane przed wzrokiem.

Para wodna obnaża ich kleisty zapach.

Ręka drży

za każdym razem, gdy mam zerwać kolejną płachtę.

Naga ściana pod spodem opowiada zupełnie inną historię.’

‘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.’

Removing the wallpaper means removing the old lives and the stories lurking beneath each layer until the bare wall is reached. The bare wall becomes a blank canvas for the narrator to create her own story, free from those trapped between the layers of old paper.

‘Kawiarnia Przy St James’s Wrena W Proze Lunchu’/ ‘Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime’ presents a series of poems in Polish with their English translations along with photographic interpretations. The poems have a haiku-like feel: they present a pared-down idea which is open for readers to interpret however they choose in a book with high production values.

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