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To the Letter

By Tomasz Różycki
Translated By Mira Rosenthal

The void has an outsized presence in To the Letter, by Polish poet and translator Tomasz Różycki, whether it’s a “void filled to the brim” with someone’s “absence,” or the “space left by a body,” or “a mirror filled up with want.” In her translator’s afterword, Mira Rosenthal notes that the poet’s family was displaced from Lwów during World War II. For Różycki, the void is thus about loss—whether of the place he was forced to flee, or of the life he missed out on as a consequence. The poems, as Rosenthal points out, have “multiple addressees,” though the most compelling among them may be the self, “the ‘anti-I’ or doppelganger or second self, located somewhere else.” This other “I” is usually found coursing through an ordinary day that mirrors that of the speaker.

In “To Give Water to the Thirsty,” Różycki attempts to speak to his doppelganger: “Where are you now, what address should I use, / what’s your name?” And later:

From time to time we must
brush by each other on the street, at the store,

in the bathroom.  Someday. Just around the bend.
You leave the papers in a mess, and you’re the one
responsible for all things lost—your own collection
of lost things, is that it? And in the end

will I get to know you, will we meet at last?

The conceit of an elusive surrogate works against the very tangible despair of war, exile, and displacement, but it also hints at a delusional grandeur more common in fiction than in poetry. Where poetry usually stops at anguish, Różycki goes the whole length to realize the fullness of a proxy conjured by loss, the stranger who lives on in the mind.

Hello? If you can hear me, give a sign, raise a voice,
strike a tone.
I myself
created you, it’s clear, but what about the future tense


left for me at some point in a penultimate verse,
from where I took it, where else?

Reviewed By Janani Ambikapathy
Cover of To the Letter by Tomasz Różycki
Publisher Archipelago
Pages 130
Date January 9, 2024
Price $18.00