Epic of the Ex-Urbs, by Tomasz Rozycki

All at once, led by a curious intuition, his cousin

began to brake, using not only the pedals but also his feet, his knuckles,

and his facial expression, causing smoke to issue from his Polish-made sneakers

and a strange smell to rise into the air. They came to a halt. But though they had stopped,

within them their stomachs and duodena continued to hurtle onward,

their organs were still rushing ahead and their entire bodily system was still

moving in the direction of their appendix, scattering its concentrated wholeness

in form and state. They had come to a halt; but though they had stopped,

kinetic forces continued to roar within them and exit clamorously

from their anterior orifices and other frontal parts.

They had come to a halt, but the braking had damaged their facial skeletons

in such a way that veins the color of the ocean popped out on their foreheads,

along with multiple boils in volcanic shapes, while their eyes attained their gamma point,

causing significant problems for further conversation.

They had stopped in front of a tiny cottage with an exceedingly low fence

lost in the grass, beyond which grew stunted little trees.

The cousin, declaring that this was the place, jumped nimbly

out of the car, his sneakers still trailing considerable quantities of smoke,

and went up to the gate.


Translated by Bill Johnston

Read more in Little Star Weekly

We were amazed by Tomasz Rozycki’s modern-day epic Twelve Stations when we published a great chunk of it in Little Star #4 (2013). (Its book-length entirety is forthcoming from Zephyr Press.) Rozycki managed to sweep into one whole the tiny and domestic (the oddities of contemporary provincial Polish life, with their Soviet and imperial and rustic residues, the sleepy unfolding personalities in a multi-generational family, the wistfulness of the young person lingering over and losing patience with his childhood) and the elegant cadences of epic verse and their larger mythic and historical resonances. Twelve Stations is both fun and an utterly original development of modern verse.

He’ll be reading with us next Friday at our Little Star Poets’ Cafe (RSVP here) with another poet who mixes magic out of contemporary language and classical means, Glyn Maxwell. Both have, coincidentally, written modern-day epics of suburban late adolescence (Maxwell’s being Time’s Fool, in terza rima no less, from 2000).

We at Little Star offer as a next generation of verse magicians—after Heaney, Walcott, Milosz, Paz, Brodsky: Rozycki, Maxwell, and, to our ears, their German counterpart, Durs Grunbein.

Tomasz Rozycki was born in 1970 in the Polish town of Opole. He has published, in Polish, nine books of poetry and a translation of Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés. Two volumes of his poems have appeared in English, The Forgotten Keys and The Colonies.

This passage is drawn from his book-length mock-epic poem, Twelve Stations, which received many awards in Poland including the Koscielski Foundation Prize. A long excerpt appeared in Little Star #4.It is forthcoming from Zephyr Press.

Bill Johnston is the translator of many works from the Polish. His translation of Wiesław Mysliwski’s Stone Upon Stone received the 2012 PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award for fiction of that year.

Read another passage from Twelve Stations, a divertimento on pierogis that we published for Thanksgiving, here on Little Star Diary.




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