Vahni Capildeo


Nine Variations on Krystyna Miłobędzka


our now spelt with a capital letter
quest for the furthest into the rift of summer
a piece of sun on a leaf caught against our will
those random words, any will do, ‘free golden’
our am on the verge of the lawn
vibrating touch of the hand ‘so deep’
you think a well and your tongue gives it a lustre

you close your eyes
it will look

Krystyna Miłobędzka, translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

This poem was first published in Nothing More by Krystyna Miłobędzka, translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, introduced by Robert Minhinnick (Arc, 2013)


Nine Variations


a   le   f

au         ai

o  h              and
           ll       l

the                             the          rift
you                                               yes

      into                  summer
sun       against
random                                 golden

our will
those ran
I                     ing                        s
ink a  stre
a                            capital
your                     tongue
our now
our am
spel                     le
         the verge





Word arrived that Sasha Dugdale, the poet Julith Jedamus, Magda Raczynska at the Polish Cultural Institute, the translator Antonia Lloyd Jones, and Modern Poetry in Translation, were planning an event and commissioning work which would evidence the existing ties between British and Polish poetic cultures, and their importance to each other.

An invitation regarding a poetic response to ‘a Polish poem that has meant a lot’ to me, as one of an ‘accumulation’ of ‘small gestures’ against the hate crimes which some of my fellow British citizens have been committing against our still-fellow EU citizens here in the UK, in which they especially have targeted (those considered to be) Poles, I accepted without question; with troubled gratitude.


Modern Poetry in Translation features excellent Polish/English poems and reworkings; notes, recordings and collaborations, with plain layout and good clickable links. I began there. Just as when once commissioned, impossibly, to write a piece about anything in any of the Tate galleries, I spent much time walking around two and found, to my surprise, that very few holdings stirred an independent voice that I could channel (my personal criterion), as distinct from presenting an object that I could describe (ekphrasis lite) – so the sparse poems which called to me with a peculiar intensity, as if in some other life I had read them and been living in their sway, were by Krystyna Miłobędzka.

The more I read of and about Miłobędzka, the stronger the pull. There were her ideas of vanishing in or as being; her notion of poetry as jottings; the reluctance to write; the use of colour; the deep appreciation of every word; hesitations and continuities in verb tense, and shifts of word class. There was a poem with clouds; the word-thing on the page dissolved into nothing but clouds billowing between parentheses. There was a startlingly beautiful poem of transparency, rendered in English equally by language and by the transition from dark blue to see-through text. This was a poetry of the tentatives, sometimes ferocious, sometimes unworded, that make up everyday life and our sense of living, by trickles and gaps and all in a flash. Having no Polish, I listened to recordings of her reading, noting the melting and jarring sounds, the fearlessness with silence, and the hopeful articulation of disjunctures. It reminded me of Denise Riley.


Miłobędzka’s poetry resonated indeed with so many works from so many genres and provenances, English-language and other, ribboning up through my reading. I recalled the incantatory stutter of ‘it’ that initiates Kamau Brathwaite’s ‘Negus’, and the Taoist emptying into brightness of Ursula Le Guin.

[…] Co-green, co-tree. I co-exist. You do

not know yet what it means. Gifted with diffusion. I vanish I am.

If there is something like a poetic collective unconscious, here is a duet of murmuration with Francis Ponge’s tree that, being static, expresses itself by gestures and proliferation; tree from which the only exit is treedom.

The poem that eventually seemed to require me to dwell with it, ‘our now spelt with a capital letter’, was a miniature block with several implied speakers or presences; the sun, a leaf; white space which behaved like a passage of much longer time or unspeakable emotion; a fragment at the end. I read it aloud in linear time but the words danced about in my head; stellar, however much I fixed one point of voice. I wrote it out by hand; it rearranged itself under my eye into patterns on the page. I began to erase it in a series of variations, creating and uncovering dramas, between an I and a You, vegetable and mineral, alef to oo, an origin looped back to a cry. These wanted colour, too. Black and white was not enough.