Thursday, August 10, 2017



Oxygen by Julia Fiedorczuk, Translated by Bill Johnston
(Zephyr Press, Brookline, MA, 2017)

There are several ways to delight in Oxygen by Polish poet Julia Fiedorczuk, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston. One can appreciate, as suggested by Brenda Hillman in her Prefatory Note, how “contemporary ecological writing, language theory and feminist studies all inform Fiedorczuk’s poetry.” Or—make it And—one can appreciate how Fiedorczuk’s inspiration from the “hard sciences” of physics, astronomy, chemistry and microbiology are at ease with personal poems from the poet’s “intensely experienced life,” as suggested by Bill Johnston in his Translator’s Introduction. As both Hillman’s and Johnston’s ways are discernible from reading through the collection, my engagement focuses instead on the narrower point of view of Fiedorczuk’s language, which was what moved me to do this review.

Specifically, I was struck by the organic manner in which Fiedorczuk involved language—its poetics, its elements, its metaphors—in her poetry. For one, her relationship generated such pleasing lines as:

for salt is on the tongue’s tip and is the dot over the i
—from “Lands and Oceans”

and the river will release a drop of blood
in the place the star has pierced:
two commas in the supple dance of life,
cyclops and daphia
—from “Evening”

The sadness of our stories upon a winter sky
—from “Oxygen”

eases the hard shapes of specters and the poem
lets its braids down like a sea
—from “Eclogue”

yet I’m writing to you in the air, I’m wearing the rain
—from “on the way”

(Thus,) One also can take away quotable wisdom, like

…one lost word
would be the fall of kingdoms
the stoppage of time
—from “for S.F.”

some poems cannot be written any longer.
some could not be written until now.
—from “Psalm 1”

I believe I focused on language because I sensed a pervasiveness in Fiedorczuk’s tie to words—that while she may write about other things, she sooner or later will have to self-consciously refer to words. Indeed, she seems—in a positive way—self-conscious as a poet. When I came across her poem “Relentlessly Craving,” I nodded at the logic of its compulsiveness. I don’t know anything about Fiedorczuk’s personal life so I’ll take—and easily believe—Johnston’s word for it that it is “intensely experienced.” But what I do glean from reading Fiedorczuk is that she is chosen as much by Poetry as she chose to be a poet. Here is an excerpt from “Relentless Craving”—an effective ars poetica for Fiedorczuk:

 (click on image to enlarge)

I relish this fine introduction of Julia Fiedorczuk to an English readership. Recommended.


Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea ResurrectsHer 2017 poetry releases to date include two books, two booklets and six poetry chaps. Forthcoming this fall are two new poetry collections, MANHATTAN: An Archaeology (Paloma Press) and Love in a Time of Belligerence (Editions du Cygne/SWAN World). Her books have been released in nine countries and cyberspace. More info about her work at

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