The Folding Star and Other Poems
by Jacek Gutorow, translated with an introduction by Piotr Florczyk

If we define translation as “to change from one place, state, or form to another,” there is no question that the translator is also an alchemist. Here in Jacek Gutorow’s The Folding Star and Other Poems, translated by Piotr Florczyk, the author and translator have worked together to create the best possible translations from Polish to English—in some instances, altering or eliminating certain lines or titles from the originals. Readers will appreciate this introduction to Jacek Gutorow’s meditative and multi-layered work in English.

Translator Florczyk aptly defines Gutorow’s poems as “ontological gems of time and place, endowed with the poet’s desire not only to examine, but also to penetrate the dull scaffolding we erect about ourselves as we move through our daily lives.” It is true that Gutorow’s poems mark time and place, but they offer much more than an examination or a recording—readers are invited into the experience of Gutorow’s poems.

Gutorow’s poems reveal their own imagination; each stanza is like a scene in a film or a diorama. The season, the light, and the mood are all described for the reader, for example, in the poem, “Apocryphal”:

A boy stood on a narrow balcony.
The sun cast its trapezes and triangles,
and autumn was getting underway somewhere
in a labyrinth of dishwashing and cigarette smoke.

Pines and starlings stenciled one another:
gray sphere of stripes and dots.

The rain was a code, the little arrows pointing
to the future tense. And the boy
was walking around, grasping in the air,
and nothing else mattered.

In naming this poem “Apocryphal,” Gutorow offers his addition to sacred texts. In doing so, he rightly claims that the ordinary and the everyday are sacred. This undergirds much of Gutorow’s work as we’ll see in the ekphrasis poems,“Bonnard’s Poppies” and “Unfinished Translation of Vermeer.”

In “Bonnard’s Poppies,” Gutorow begins with the painting:

Fresh from the field.
In silent vigil against the background
of the white wall, their petals
oversaturated with redness.

The following lines of the poem become a meditation in the vein of Wallace Stevens by asking the question: “When will the wholesale of meaning end / and give way to the retail of chance?”

The reader is then given a possible answer to this question in these lines that follow and end the poem:

The shadows on the wall have nothing
against each other, except the calm indifference
of things more permanent
than the thought that gave them birth.

In “Unfinished Translation of Vermeer,” the reader is invited into the speaker’s experience of observation through the following lines:

and the sun was in chaos, like today, when the shining
slivers collect in the corner of the room.

You are reading a letter in my favorite painting.
Grounds sink to the bottom of the cup, and what remains
is the rich clarity of the morning, in which
the yellow city recovers its sight.

All art belongs to the observer when we commune with the poem in our own space and in our own time. Gutorow makes this holy transmission between writer and reader possible.

Let’s hope that we see more of Gutorow’s poems in translation; they are a golden offering to the world of language.


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