Astute observations: Reviewing “Tideline” by Krystyna Dąbrowska3 min read

 In Central Europe, Review, Reviews

Tideline (Zephyr Press, 2022) is Krystyna Dąbrowska’s fifth poetry book. Her previous books include Ścieżki dźwiękowe (“Soundtracks,” Wydawnictwo a5, 2018), Czas i przesłona (“Time and Aperture,” Znak, 2014), Białe krzesła (“White Chairs,” WBPiCAK, 2012), and Biuro podróży (“Travel Agency,” Zielona Sowa Publishing, 2006). She is also the winner of three Polish literary prizes: the Wisława Szymborska Award, the Kościelski Award, and the Warsaw Capital City Literary Award.

Bringing Dąbrowska to international audiences is the effort of three Polish translators — Karen Kovacik, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, and Mira Rosenthal. An English professor in Indiana, Karen Kovacik is a co-translator and author of two books: Metropolis Burning and Beyond the Velvet Curtain, which won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize. Her translation of Agnieszka Kuciak’s Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don’t Exist, was longlisted for the National Translation Award. London based co-translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones’ translation of Nobel Prize laureate Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize. Zephyr Press has previously published Lloyd-Jones’ translations of Black Square and Posts, both by Tadeusz Dąbrowski. Based in California, co-translator Mira Rosenthal is a past fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and Stanford University’s Stegner Fellowship. Rosenthal’s two translations of books by Polish poet Tomasz Różycki, Colonies and The Forgotten Keys were published by Zephyr Press, shortlisted for the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and won the Northern California Book Award.

Their contributions in the vast field of contemporary poetry are widely recognised and I’ve become intimately familiar with them through their first collaborative side-by-side English and Polish bilingual book: Tideline

Reading Dąbrowska’s poetry is like having a conversation with an uncannily observant friend. She’s sardonic in the characteristic way many Gen X’ers from Eastern Europe are, and she’s silly in a way that only a few writers manage to be. She has retained her playfulness even as her body of work has grown in prominence. 

Take, for example, the first lines of “This Evening, Underwater Light”:

This evening, underwater light in the glassy newspaper office.

A crimson maple in the courtyard shuffles its violet leaves.

Near the trendy shop selling sorbets of beet and tarragon

plus ice cream for dogs, a man hunched like Gollum is begging.


Wieczorem podwodne światło w przeszklonej siedzibie gazety.

Czarny klon na podwórzu tasuje odcienie fioletu.

Przy modnej lodziarni, gdzie sprzedają sorbet z buraków, estragonu

i lody dla psów, żebrze mężczyzna pokręcony jak Gollum.

The raw quality in this portrayal of an everyday figure is an example of the distinctive observations Dąbrowska is known for. The cheeky references to the taste of the nouveau-riche is a light jab at a rapidly-gentrified Warsaw. The vividness of how light dances off the ceiling is similar to a visual that delights a three year old — a refreshing way to observe the world. To me, only a gifted poet adept in chronicling the extraordinary in everyday life can accurately portray this perspective. 

The jury for the Kościelski Award feels the same: “Krystyna Dąbrowska’s poetry is sensitive to the fleeting subjects of our everyday life, intensively lived emotions and feelings, noting everything that is left unsaid in our existence with great precision: the silence, the search for its hidden meaning that is so hard to express.”

It is the beauty of Dąbrowska’s daily observations, combined with the collaborative effort involved in putting this volume together, that makes Tideline a book that offers something to every reader. With so much talent behind the translations, you’re able to get the full picture of what truly collaborative international poetry looks like. They’ve worked together to make something accessible to both English and Polish readers and because of that, it’s a bilingual poetry book that cannot be easily ignored.

Book details: Dąbrowska, Krystyna, Tideline / by Krystyna Dąbrowska; translated by Karen Kovacik, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Mira Rosenthal, 2022, Zephyr Press. Buy it here.

Feature Image: Canva / Zephyr Press
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