Valzhyna Mort was born in 1981 in Minsk, Belarus. Her first book, I’m as Thin as Your Eyelashes, was published in 2005 and comprised of poetry, prose and selected translations from Polish and English. She received the Crystal of Vilenica award in Slovenia in 2004, and the Hubert Burda Poetry Prize for young writers in 2008.
In 2005 she lived in Warsaw, Poland, on a Gaude Polonia scholarship which led in 2007 to a publication of a Polish poet, Rafal Wojaczek, in Belarusian translation entitled Dead Season. Since 2006 Mort has lived in the USA, where she is a writer-in-residence at the University of Baltimore. She has also been a writer in residence at the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin and Sylt-Quelle in Germany and at the International Authors’ House in Graz, Austria.
Her second book of poetry, Factory of Tears, translated by Mort in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright, and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright, came out in 2008. It was the first bilingual Belarusian-English poetry book ever published in the USA, and was later also translated and published in Sweden and Germany. Set in a land haunted by the spectre of a post-Soviet Eastern Europe, and marked by the violence of the recent past, intense moments of joy lighten the darkness. “Grandmother” − as a person and an idea − is a recurring presence in poems, and startlingly fresh images − desire described 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 musical litanies of the poems’ phrases mesmerise the reader, but sudden moments of discord remind 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 the remarkable American debut of a rising international poetry star.
[Valzhyna Mort appeared at the Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam in June 2009. Her poet page was created for this occasion.]
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