Tomasz Różycki’s Twelve Stations became an instant literary sensation when it was published in Poland in 2004. Everyone read it and talked about it; it won the prestigious Kościelski Prize. Within only a couple of years, the book found its way onto school reading lists; stage versions were created in various theaters around the country, as well as an acclaimed radio adaptation. Critical and popular reception were equally enthusiastic.
In terms of genre, Twelve Stations manages to be all things to all people. It has the look of an epic—its scope, its exalted language, its central quest, and its larger-than-lifeness. Even its long, measured lines recall the Homeric hexameter. At the same time the book has elements of that other large-scale genre, the romance—its story seems perpetually unresolved, and propels its questing hero to ever more extraordinary adventures. Yet in contrast to the exotic settings of many epics and romances, Twelve Stations takes place in a Poland that is entirely recognizable, and its exoticism draws on hidden regional peculiarities rather than the lure of the distant. In other words, if it is an epic, it is an intimate, local one, in the spirit of that other Polish pseudo-epic Pan Tadeusz.
Like all epic poetry since Homer, Twelve Stations has one foot in the oral tradition and is meant to be read aloud, and listened to, as much as to be read quietly to oneself (hence the proliferation of theatrical and radio renderings). Różycki’s long lines, with their sentence breaks carefully counterpointed with the line endings, sweep the reader along. Though the form doesn’t draw attention to itself quite the way that, for example, rhymed verse does, a large part of the poem’s pleasure resides in its irrepressible torrent of words. Its comedy inheres as much in the exaggerations, excesses, and playful absurdities of the language itself as in those of the story and the characters.
—from the Translator’s Introduction by Bill Johnston
Tomasz Różycki (b. 1970) is a poet, critic, and translator who lives in the Silesian city of Opole, in southwestern Poland. He has published nine books since the mid-1990s, including the Koscielski Prize-winning epic poem Dwanascie Stacji (Twelve Stations, 2004) and the sonnet cycle Kolonie (Colonies, Zephyr Press, 2006), both of which were nominated for Poland's most prestigious literary award, the NIKE. His many other awards include the Josif Brodski Prize, the Kamień Prize (Czechowicz Poetry Prize), the Rainer Maria Rilke Prize, and the 3 Quarks Daily 2010 Prize in Arts and Literature (USA). His work has been translated into English, French, German, Italian, Serbian, and Slovak. The Forgotten Keys, a selection from his first five books translated into English by Mira Rosenthal, was published by Zephyr Press in 2007. He lives in his native city Opole with his wife and two children. He is a member of jury Koscielski Prize (Lausanne) and Prix du Jeune Écrivain en France.
Bill Johnston’s translations include Wiesław Myśliwski’s Stone Upon Stone (Archipelago Books, 2010), winner of the PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award; Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki’s Peregrinary (Zephyr Press, 2008), shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award-Poetry; and translations of the work of Magdalena Tulli, Andrzej Stasiuk, Jerzy Pilch, Witold Gombrowicz, Tadeusz Różewicz, and numerous other authors. He has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is currently working on a new translation of Adam Mickiewicz’s 1834 epic poem Pan Tadeusz, for which he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches literary translation at Indiana University.
Twelve Stations, by Tomasz Różycki
from Polish by Bill Johnston
ISBN 978-0-9832970-4-8 (paper)
7 x 9
264 pages [Bilingual Polish/English]
“Rózycki’s humour—which Johnston brings across with great verve…— takes aim at the manifold foibles and contradictions of Polish society, but the poet never stoops to derision.” — Boris Dralyuk, Times Literary Supplement, June 26, 2015
"[In] the dazzling, digressive mock-epic Twelve Stations… in Bill Johnston’s inspired translation…, Tomasz Rózycki’s idiosyncratic rapprochement with tradition is an attempt to make peace with his losses, even as they mount." — Agnieszka Jezyk, Slavic and East European Journal, February 2017