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Translator's Note: New York

by Franz Wright


My wife and I first met the young Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort at a literary festival in Ireland a couple of years ago. For reasons which remain mysterious, Valzhyna and I found ourselves taking part in an elementary school assembly outside of Galway. There we followed a group of ten-year-old step dancers and a girl who sang, unaccompanied, and with truly appalling beauty, a long ancient Irish song. But at least my own reading preceded Valzhyna's—because it was clear to me from the instant she began that, except for the Irish girl's, I'd seldom witnessed a performance of such charismatic authenticity and power. Anyone who has had the good fortune to hear Valzhyna will know what I mean. It's simply impossible on the basis of one relatively short printed poem to convey the cumulative impact of her work, with its naked directness and poignancy and dark wit.

Her first collection in English will be published this year, and we are grateful to have had a small part in making her work available to readers. Her English is quite good and getting better, so our role was merely to assist in polishing the English versions of the poems she provided, and as a result there is really nothing to say in terms of the technical problems of translation. Perhaps Valzhyna will continue to produce, the way Beckett did, English versions of her own works based on the originals, or in time she may follow the examples of Charles Simic and Andrei Codrescu and more directly make her contribution to the rich variety of present American poetry.

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2007

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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