Waiting for the Dog to Sleep (2006)

Polish title: Czekanie na sen psa (1970)
Translated by: Soren Gauger, Marcin Piekszewski
Published by: Twisted Spoon Press
Originally published by: Wydawnictwo Literackie

Waiting for the Dog to Sleep is poet, translator, and scholar Jerzy Ficowski’s only collection of prose. In these short fictions and sketches Ficowski reinterprets a question posed by the writer central to him, Bruno Schulz, about the mythologization of reality. For Schulz, fiction was a way of turning the quotidian into the fantastical and eternal. Ficowski’s prose seems to reinterpret this approach to address the sense of loss and bleak landscape of postwar Poland. Effortlessly weaving memory, religious ritual, daily life, and the magical, he hints at a sinister presence lurking behind these dreamlike tales — a trace of ruin or disintegration always present as the narrator repeatedly struggles to link some aspect of a past that has been annihilated with a present that is foreign and hostile.

Not having belonged to any definable literary school or circle, Ficowski occupies an unique place in Polish literature. His only identifiable precursors might be Boleslaw Lesmian (whose Russian verse he has translated to Polish) and of course Bruno Schulz.

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Zielony Balonik book club notes:

A difficult book to discuss. Robin hadn’t enjoyed it either, but was open to our interpretations. Jenny couldn’t come, but had said she didn’t much like it, as it was too ‘surreal’. Agata had chosen it, as she knows Soren Gauger, the translator. We talked about its unconnectedness or weirdness as a way of dealing with a past that’s been (violently) obliterated – recalling becomes uncertain, muddled, a mix of reality, dreams, imagination.

(It makes for an interesting contrast with Miłosz, who similarly reconstructs an absent past through language, but with much more confidence in the accuracy of the process, and in a much more celebratory manner. Apparently the two men didn’t get on – Miłosz didn’t anthologise his work, or even mention him in his History of Polish Literature. Herbert, on the other hand, wrote a foreword to A Collection of Ashes, a book of Ficowski’s poems in English translation published by the Menard Press in 1981.)

Krystyna said the grandfather in ‘Before the Wall Collapses’ reminded her of her uncle in Lublin, for whom working was a form of collaboration with the Communists, so he retreated into vodka, and tirades at the television. We contrasted ‘The Settlement’, in which the narrator controls the village seen from a distance, with most of the other stories, where he’s controlled by external forces he doesn’t understand.

(KC)

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