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Can the subaltern Roma speak? Restoring agency of the Polish-Romani poet, Bronisława Wajs (Papusza)

Emilia Kledzik (Poznan)

Thursday, 23 November 2023 14:15

On 23 November 2023 we will welcome Emilia Kledzik to our Regensburg Panel. She will give a lecture on "Can the subaltern Roma speak? Restoring agency of the Polish-Romani poet, Bronisława Wajs (Papusza)". 


In 2020 the researchers of Romani history and culture witnessed a remarkable discovery - a collection of original manuscripts by the Romani poet, Bronislawa Wajs (Papusza), entered the public domain. Papusza (1908-1986) was a member of the Polska Roma community. During World War II she witnessed the so-called Volhynian massacre. After the war, she got involved in the state-sponsored sedentarisation campaign in Poland. Her poems initially had an agitative function, and – at the time time - became the embodiment of the ‘Gypsy culture.’

After the poet’s manuscripts were made public, it became apparent that the previously known texts by the ‘mother of Romani literature,’ as Papusza is sometimes called, were modified by her translator into Polish, Jerzy Ficowski. The changes occurred at many levels: from minor orthographic and stylistic corrections to stylistic figures, division of the text into verses and extensive shortenings. Ficowski adapted Papusza’s works to his vision of the ‘Gypsy’ culture that he had researched and admired.

How to restore Papusza’s agency? What role should the translator play? The reflections of postcolonial writers can provide help here. In this lecture, I will refer to Derek Walcott’s essay What the Twilight Says that addresses the problem of how once-colonized communities find themselves in colonial language and history. The participants will see excerpts from Papusza’s manuscripts in Romani and their translations by Ficowski, subsequently translated into English and German. There will be also a room for reflection on the construction of ‘gypsyness’ for the needs of the majority society.

Emilia Kledzik:

She is Assistant Professor at the Department for Polish and Classic Philology at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. 


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