Valzhyna Mort

Acclaimed Belarusian Poet

 

"Mort is a fireball....Personal, political, and passionate...." —Library Journal

 

"Mort's style—tough and terse almost to the point of aphorism—recalls the great Polish poets Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska." —LA Times

 

"Through her tightly constructed and original language, and her inspired recreation of familiar mythology, Mort attempts to resist the scourge of forgetting and to achieve immortality for her characters as well as for herself." —The California Journal of Poetics



Valzhyna Mort, born in Minsk, Belarus, made her American debut in 2008 with the poetry collection Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press), co-translated by the husband-and-wife team of Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright. Her second book is Collected Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2012).

Collected Body reviewed by the California Journal of Poetics

Mort received the Crystal of Vilenica Award in Slovenia in 2005 and the Burda Poetry Prize in Germany in 2008. In 2010, she received the Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship and the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine. She has been a resident poet at Literarisches Colloquium in Berlin, Germany, and Internationales Haus der Autoren Graz, Austria. Her English translations of Eastern European poets have appeared in New European Poets (Graywolf Press, 2008).

There is an urgency and vitality to Mort's poems; the narrative moves within universal themes—lust, loneliness, the strangeness of god and familial love—while many poems question what language is and challenge the authority that delegates who has the right to speak and how. The New Yorker writes, "Mort strives to be an envoy for her native country, writing with almost alarming vociferousness about the struggle to establish a clear identity for Belarus and its language." Library Journal described Mort's vision as "visceral, wistful, bittersweet, and dark."

Mort writes in Belarusian at a time when efforts are being made to re-establish the traditional language, after governmental attempts to absorb it into the Russian language have been relinquished. She reads her poems aloud in both Belarusian and English. She has the distinction of being the youngest person ever to be on the cover of Poets & Writers magazine.

About COLLECTED BODY (2012)
Collected Body's voyages begin in the rural landscapes of childhood and move through grim fairy tales toward idiosyncratic images of the sea, "this polonaise in gray-flat minor." In her first collection of poems composed entirely in English, Valzhyna Mort writes as effortlessly about the Caribbean or the United States as she does about her native Belarus. Whether writing about sex, relatives, violence, or fish markets as opera, Mort insists on vibrant, dark truths. "Death hands you every new day like a golden coin," she writes, then warns that as the bribe grows "it gets harder to turn down."

About FACTORY OF TEARS (2008) 
Factory of Tears isthe American debut of Valzhyna Mort—and the first bilingual Belarusian-English poetry book ever published in the US. Set in a land haunted by the specter of a post-Soviet Eastern Europe, and marked by the violence of the recent past, intense moments of joy leaven the darkness. “Grandmother”—as person and idea—is a recurring presence in poems, and startlingly fresh images—desire as the approaching bus that immediately pulls away or pain as the embrace of a very strong god “with an unshaven cheek that scratches when he kisses you”—occupy and haunt the mind. The music of lines and litanies of phrases mesmerize the reader; then sudden discord reminds us that Mort's world is not entirely harmonious. “I'm a recipient of workers' comp from the heroic Factory of Tears,” she writes in the final stanza.  “I have calluses on my eyes...And I'm Happy with what I have.” Engaged, voracious, and memorable, Factory of Tears is a remarkable American debut of a rising international poetry star. The translation was in collaboration between Mort, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright, and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright.

 

"maybe you too sometimes fantasize," Words Without Borders