Mira Rosenthal


Griffin Poetry Prize 2014
International Shortlist

Book: Colonies

Translator: Mira Rosenthal

Poet: Tomasz Rózycki

Publisher: Zephyr Press

Click here to read and listen to an excerpt.



Raised in Northern California, Mira Rosenthal received her MFA from the University of Houston and her PhD from Indiana University. Among her awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the American Council of Learned Societies and Stanford University, where she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry. Her first book, The Local World, won the Wick Poetry Prize in 2011. While on a Fulbright Fellowship to Poland she discovered her passion for translating contemporary Polish literature. She is the translator of two volumes of poetry by Tomasz Rózycki, most recently Colonies that received the PEN Translation Fund Award and was nominated for the Robert Fagles Translation Prize. Her poems, translations and essays have been published in many literary journals and anthologies, including Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Slate, PN Review, A Public Space and Mentor and Muse: Essays from Poets to Poets.


Tomasz Rózycki is a poet, critic and translator who lives in the Silesian city of Opole in southwestern Poland with his wife and two children. He has published nine books since the mid-1990s, including the Koscielski Prize-winning epic poem Dwanascie Stacji (Twelve Stations, 2004) and the sonnet cycle Kolonie (Colonies, 2006), both of which were nominated for Poland’s most prestigious literary award, the NIKE. His many other awards include the Josif Brodski Prize, the Czechowicz Poetry Prize, the Rainer Maria Rilke Prize and the 3 Quarks Daily Prize in Arts and Literature (2010). His work has been translated into English, French, Slovak, Italian, German and Serbian. The Forgotten Keys, a selection from his first five books translated into English by Mira Rosenthal, was published in 2007. He is a member of jury Koscielski Prize (Lausanne) and Prix du Jeune Ecrivain en France.

Judges’ Citation

“The sonnet, or ‘small song,’ arose in 13th-century Italy. It was successfully transplanted into English, through the supple voice of Thomas Wyatt, well before the birth of William Shakespeare. In Eastern Europe, however, the sonnet flowered much later. In Polish in particular, when it finally appeared, it met both popular acclaim and stiff-necked critical resistance. So the sonnet in Polish is, or can be, even now, a contentious and lively form. Tomasz Rózycki’s sonnet sequence Kolonie (Colonies), first published in Polish in 2006, demonstrates this clearly. In Mira Rosenthal’s translation of this work, English-speaking readers can themselves confront the sonnet as something supple, fresh and a little bit strange. Rózycki’s quirky and self-deprecating humour permeates the poems. So does his sense of the fundamental homelessness of 21st-century human beings. Nine of these 77 sonnets begin with some variation on the line ‘When I began to write, I didn’t know …’ and blossom into wry and hilarious reflections on the writing life. Others exude a heart-rending nostalgia for a world that is constantly being translated from meaning into money, and thus constantly destroyed.”


Colonies, the latest collection by one of Poland’s most acclaimed younger poets, emerges from Tomasz Rózycki’s daily walks to work in his native city of Opole, a city that was once in Germany and became part of Poland after world War II. Through 77 linked sonnets, Rózycki examines colonization and postcolonial experience, reflecting on dislocation, borders, the historical legacy of his family and region, homes and homelessness, as well as imagined childhood adventures to exotic locales. The poems also suggest an inner journey and meditation on the nature of writing.

Note: Summaries are taken from promotional materials supplied by the publisher, unless otherwise noted.

Mira Rosenthal and Tomasz Rózycki read Coffee and Cigarettes

Coffee and Cigarettes

When I began to write, I didn’t know
that poems would transform me, make me into
a weary ghost, constantly sleep-deprived,
with see-through skin, roaming the streets as if

to ride some kind of high and only come down
with rabid dawn, the light finding me still
out wandering and dropping in on friends,
flat broke, a louse, a varmint, summoned by

a flash of naked skin, or just a sigh.
And how was I to know what all these dumb
poems would turn me into, darling, and
that you would summon me to life, that you

would make me visible again, in bed
beside you, waiting till you fall asleep.

From Colonies, Tomasz Rózycki translated by Mira Rosenthal
Polish Copyright © 2013 by Tomasz Rózycki
English Translation and Introduction Copyright © 2013 by Mira Rosenthal

More about Mira Rosenthal and Tomasz Rózycki

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