To the Letter


Translated from by

Published: January 9th, 2024





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Book Description

Tomasz Różycki’s To the Letter follows Lieutenant Anielewicz on the hunt for any clues that might lead 21st century human beings out of a sense of despair. With authoritarianism rising across Eastern Europe, the Lieutenant longs for a secret hero. At first, he suspects some hidden mechanism afoot: fruit tutors him in the ways of color, he drifts out to sea to study the grammar of tides, or he gazes at the sun as it thrums away like a timepiece. In one poem, he admits “this is the story of my confusion,” and in the next the Lieutenant is back on the trail. “This lunacy needs a full investigation,” he jibes. He wants to get to the bottom of it all, but he’s often bewitched by letters and the trickery of language. Diacritics on Polish words form a “flock of sooty flecks, clinging to letters” and Lieutenant Anielewicz studies the tails, accents, and strokes that twist this script. While the Lieutenant can’t write a coherent code to solve life’s mysteries or to fill the absence of a country rent by war, his search for patterns throughout art, philosophy, and literature lead not to despair but to an affirmation of the importance of human love. Różycki collects moments of illumination – a cat dashing out of a window and “feral sun” streaking in, a body planting itself in the ground like rhubarb and flowering. He collects and collects, opens a crack, and clutches a shrapnel of epiphany. 

A truly lyrical longing for the world to be transformed.
Polish Book Institute

In this philosophical collection that explores doubt—regarding language, God, and the prospect of repeating history—many poems address an unreachable “you” who could be a lover, a deity, or a ghost of someone long dead. Rosenthal’s translation draws out these poems’ shades of melancholy and whimsy, along with the slant and irregular rhymes that contribute to their uncanny humor. Różycki’s verse teems with sensuous, imaginatively rendered details.
The New Yorker

“We live in feral times,” the poet says, asking us “what shape this era will carve / in flesh.” In Mira Rosenthal’s exacting, beautiful translations, Tomasz Różycki's work gives us a moment of honest assessment, answering hard questions without patronizing, with lyric precision. One of Poland’s best living poets, he is writing at the height of his powers. Which, for me, means: there is mystery in his work, that feels trustworthy—“we will dig ourselves out of our private muck /of subtext, shed the weight,” he says, “and fly off, empty, for the nearest lightbulb.” It is amongst the quotidian that he seeks to be saved, his is a vision in which despite all the tragedy of this new century, the thrush that sings “at two a.m. outside /our window in the parking lot has saved / the day, the month.” If that is to be our new metaphysics, count me in.
Ilya Kaminsky

Irony is the spice of poetry . . . Różycki’s irony can be caustic (“some people are so poor the only thing they have/is money, money”), or it can be sublimely political . . . Rosenthal deserves special praise for rendering Różycki’s wordplay, musical density, and metonymic dazzle into powerful English . . . Różycki’s poem as “rolled-up paper/gun” is a handmade, fragile, but potent technology for survival.
Ange Mlinko, The New York Review of Books

Across the ninety-nine poems of Polish poet Tomasz Różycki’s To The Letter, presides a calling out to absence, often in the form of this “you” whether in loss—cultural, global, personal—or self-examination . . . This collection has, perhaps, added resonance landing in 2023: “You—out there where the future pushes through like a worm from an apple, only the hole is in heaven and so enormous we’ll all fall in, along with tenements, convenience stores, our entire state—let’s say it’s nowhere—” A notable contribution to Polish poetry available in English–and a vital living voice, no less.
Rebecca Morgan Frank, LitHub

For Różycki, the void is . . . about loss—whether of the place he was forced to flee, or of the life he missed out on as a consequence . . . Where poetry usually stops at anguish, Różycki goes the whole length to realize the fullness of a proxy conjured by loss, the stranger who lives on in the mind.
Janani Ambikapathy, Harriet Books (the blog of the Poetry Foundation)

Praise for Tomasz Różycki

Rózycki’s quirky and self-deprecating humor permeates the poems. So does his sense of the fundamental homelessness of 21st-century human beings.
From the Judges’ Citation, International Griffin Poetry Prize

In Tomasz Różycki’s lyric profusion, I hear the sharp blasts of a mordant intellect, but not without the human notes of an infinite melancholy playing in the background. This is the soundtrack of a valiant mind, a layered imagination that nonchalantly apprehends and formally measures the tarnished world in demotic language such that it enchantingly restores simplicity and bewilderment to our existence.
Major Jackson

The world that Tomasz Różycki shows us is neither sentimental nor straightforward nor unambiguous. It is a world of global reality, a postmodern mix of arrangements and styles in which the desire for meaning, even temporarily anchored, seems to be the dream of a daydreamer, a naïve seeker of something permanent from ads, TV frames, newspaper gossip, collective hysteria: words, the entire pop cultural pulp in which—whether we like it or not—we are sunk up to our ears.
Paweł Huelle, “A Letter to a Young Poet: on Tomasz Różycki,” Words Without Borders

Praise for Colonies

The map of Eastern and Central Europe is a palimpsest, bearing the traces of countless traumatic erasures and obliterations, and still changing day to day… Tomasz Różycki’s idiosyncratic rapprochement with tradition is an attempt to make peace with his losses, even as they mount.
Boris Dralyuk Times Literary Supplement

Colonies is a deeply lyrical book juxtaposing love poems and poems, although also personal, that have a wider frame of references. ‘Personal’ for Różycki means also transpersonal; the persona of his poetry holds the memory of an entire family or tribe, or perhaps even of society in general. And there’s no mockery here. Różycki’s poetry is serious, a private response to the historic moment. Without a doubt, a vital new poet has emerged from the Polish language.
Adam Zagajewski

One of the most remarkable sonnet sequences of our time: the work of a wandering, restless, and moral mind, here rendered with clarity and vividness by the translations of Mira Rosenthal.
Susan Stewart, Princeton University

The past will never leave us. It will haunt our photographs; it will speak between the words that we read and write. Różycki’s collection, brought to us through Rosenthal’s beautiful translation, helps us remember that it is art that will lead us through to a bearable future, and art that will always speak the unspeakable.
Iris Dunkle, Words Without Borders

Read “Shadow” and Mira Rosenthal’s translator’s note in Poetry Magazine

Mira Rosenthal and Tomasz Różycki discuss their decades of literary collaboration in LitHub