Building the Barricade and Other Poems by Anna Świrszczyńska (a.k.a. Anna Swir) features fifteen poems about the Warsaw Uprising, as well as poems in which the poet’s focus is the human body and her experiences of love and family. The author of the foreword to this bilingual volume is Jericho Brown. Calypso Editions, 2011
Anna Świrszczyńska (a.k.a. Anna Swir) was born in 1909 in Warsaw, Poland, to an artistic though impoverished family. She worked from an early age, supporting herself while she attended university to study medieval Polish literature. In the 1930s she worked for a teachers’ association, served as an editor, and began publishing poetry. Swir joined the Resistance during World War II and worked as a military nurse during the Warsaw Uprising; at one point she came within an hour of being executed before she was spared. In addition to poetry, Swir wrote plays and stories for children and directed a children’s theater. She lived in Krakow from 1945 until her death from cancer in 1984.
In the same way that memory gave birth to the muses, Anna Swir crafted exquisite mnemonic miniatures thirty years after the Warsaw Uprising, miniatures that allowed human hope to shine through bloody rubble. Reading Swir, one longs to know this heroic poet, who, like Whitman, nursed humans broken by war. Piotr Florczyk translates the poems in Building the Barricade with chilling precision, constructing equations that become magical spells to address the twentieth century and serve as cautionary tales for the twenty-first.
—Sandra Alcosser, author of Except by Nature
To translate Anna Swir is to translate a cemetery’s stories as nakedly and starkly as any human can. It is to tread on hallowed, stunned ground—the ground of an earth stricken not by its own nature but by our species’ own warring, bombarding instincts. Only reverence could lead someone properly into the reaches of Swir’s numbed witness of the atrocities of WWII. Piotr Florczyk has the reverence and skill to bring Swir into English verse with crystalline witness and warnings.
—Katie Ford, author of Blood Lyrics
These short poems by Anna Swir, keenly translated by Piotr Florczyk, have the urgency and clarity of a poet staring back at a burning building from which she somehow escaped, except the building is Poland and she is looking back in memory, talking to its war-torn corpses, and to us, the lucky recipients of these explosive poems.
—Edward Hirsch, author of The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems