Stealing Shadow, Stefan Kielbasiewicz
Smith/Doorstop, 2018 £5.00
Using direct speech — in three languages
Stefan Kielbasiewicz uses direct speech in English, French and Polish, peppering poems with utterances in European languages to capture the spoken reality of our populations. He knows we don’t all stick purely to English but dip into learned vocabularies, speak in phrase-book ways when needed, use other tongues as currency.
In ‘Marie’ he recounts a casual breakfast conversation in a London hostel between the narrator and a girl. It begins with the poet chatting her up:
— T’es française? — Oui. — Tu viens d’où? She points
at her necklace: CANNES. I say we’re practically
neighbours — Je viens de Nice.
Is the narrator from Nice? We assumed he was Polish. Does the narrator follow her upstairs? He imagines so. And there she reveals she holds down two jobs.
Je travaille comme masseuse pour six heures
et après comme serveuse pour six heures
As the narrative unfolds we realise we’ve being effortlessly reading a bilingual poem — très bien! Given the mix of nationalities in a youth hostel, why should we expect the poem to occur in English alone — in lone English?
Kielbasiewicz goes further. ‘Five-a-day’, begins with a question about our daily quota of fruit and veg. It moves beyond gardens and orchards to bring in teeth and tongues and chin in French, and other words in Italian and Russian we probably don’t know. The effect is playful and fragmentary with language dripping. It’s an impossible, unstable inquisition, a rave of diacritics and spacing.
Does ton third język
have twardą skórę
ou an aureole de fuzz
mais qui est bursting z środka
so that le jus
In the poem ‘mama’, Kielbasiewicz gives voice to the adult who learned languages and became English-speaking, doing so through the child’s confused voice:
mama, why did you let mr. gray take my tongue and make it
learn these strange words these gummy phrases and
mama, why did i like this thing english hanging from
the roof of my mouth which became my room […]
This is a pamphlet that interrogates place and identity in the shadow of Brexit, one language conversing with another — just like Europe.