Maria Jastrzębska

Small Odysseys (2022)



Maria Jastrzębska is a key Anglo-Polish and European poet and no stranger to exploring heritage and archetypal figures of family. In this new work she widens her gaze. Unable – or unwilling – to settle, her speakers are nomadic. The personal is always political, the political – unmistakably human. Whether crossing borders, both literal and intangible, queering or reimagining histories, these poems urgently question the present, startle and illuminate. She is equally fluent in prose poem or lyric as well as the extraordinary and quizzical language of Ponglish.

ISBN: 978-1-915241-05-4 Category: Tags: ,

Praise and Poems

On the 70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising

Ola says: Oh politicians, they love a dead hero.
All my life I’d wanted to build a shelter.
See, birch bark and mud plaited through
boughs of pine keep out the wind. I’d lean
my shelter of debris against a dry base
of spruce, save the lower twigs for tinder.
Those whose bodies lie under open sky,
I’d hide them. Wounded, dead, with no one
beside them, in war, in peacetime. But if I ask
Jula and Ola what poems should be about
they say: write about this day and the next,
about quarrelling then running for the bus,
about dropping your ticket, write about birches
if you must, but mostly write about kissing.


Maria Jastrzębska’s Small Odysseys is the odyssey of a lifetime. Dark fables begin in a childhood wardrobe hideout haunted by Eastern European forests and its images of sensuous fur and petrol bombs act a coda for vital living poems which explore history, migration, identity and mental illness, perfectly poised on the border between a transcendent surrealism and hard realism. Martina Evans

In Small Odysseys, Maria Jastrzębska summons a past where both personal and social traumas are reshaped by imagination. A father is born in a matchbox, an upturned table is a beetle on its back and hands smelling of herring are judged to be ‘at their most Polish.’ Against a backdrop of war, uprisings, homophobia and shifting cultural identities, these poems inhabit experiences of vulnerability created as often by the absence of a brother as by nationalist forces. Intimate and disturbing, playful and strange, they confront the dark with trained eyes and a questing heart. John McCullough

Small Odysseys is an unusual and beautiful book, a multidimensional journey through time and space. I call Maria Jastrzębska’s poems ‘acts of rediscovery’, which draw in abundant fistfuls from the world and her experiences. The narrator calls up what she finds precious, what provokes her reflection, stirs joy, sorrow or dread. One moment it is a clump of cornflowers in a wheatfield seen out the of corner of one eye, where a red butterfly has setled. Another time a dream, family stories overheard, a sudden memory of childhood, of travel, the Adriatic wind, a hawk tearing the sky, a scorpion in a doorframe, a pigeon landing at her feet on the pavement. Wioleta Greg

Cover image: ‘Ithaca’ tapestry weaving by Wol

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