Borucka-Foks, Agnieszka

Agnieszka Borucka-Foks was born in Warsaw in 1974 and studied graphic design in her city’s Academy of Fine Arts. Agnieszka and her husband, Mateusz Foks, currently live in Grodzisk Mazowiecki with their two sons, Teodor and Franek. The couple work together in the Studio Projektowe MATEO, a space dedicated to illustration, photography, and graphic design. Agnieszka created her project on Pali sie! in 1999 as a course assignment within the speciality of Book Design. Following indications from the professors Grazyna Lange and Maciej Buszewicz, all students developed their proposals based on poems by Brzechwa. In 2001, shortly after her graduation, Agnieszka attended the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, where we met. There, she showed us a sample of her work, and we were immediately possessed by the desire to publish it. Since then, we had been trying to find the best way to do it. It seems unbelievable, since more than ten years have passed, but even more unbelievable things have happened. (For example, that someone has swam across the Atlantic Ocean, or that someone has been able to memorise 40,000 decimals of the number pi.) I remember one night in Bologna when we met a diverse group of illustrators for dinner, including Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Japanese people. We sat down in a long table at a small restaurant and we must have eaten pasta or pizza, or that appetiser they serve with martinis, and which was our main meal during the busy fair days. Not everyone spoke English, so people communicated through gestures, signs, or drawings. At one point, we all found ourselves joining a conversation about animal’s voices. How do cats meow in Poland, Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Japan? What about dogs and pigs? The waiter surprised us by mimicking a donkey since he could not understand a word.

Initially, we wanted to keep the Polish text and the Polish cries of ‘Fire!’. For that purpose, for some time we consulted many friends and professionals in the children’s book business. To some and to others I asked: ‘If you saw this book in a bookshop or a library (this is when I showed them the manuscript), would you open it? Would you make an effort to try to read it?’. The responses were rather discouraging. Some admitted they would look through the book, but convinced they were not going to understand anything. I insisted: ‘When you hear music in a language you do not know, do you not dance?’. Apparently, yes, one can dance to music, but one cannot dance to typography. I thought it was unfair, because I am certain there are those who do dance to typography, but, for whatever reason, we gave up and for the first time we considered translating the poem. Sadly, no professional translator wished to join us in this adventure so we ended up contacting Herrín Hidalgo, a friend and a half-relative who has worked from the literal translation by Krystyna Magdalena Libura, a generous Polish and Mexican friend. In her house in Mexico City, Krystyna dictated to the daring Hidalgo what the verses said, and he quickly copied it onto a piece of paper (because he had to hurry to the airport), which he carefully kept folded in a Polish-Spanish dictionary for years. A few months ago, Hidalgo contacted Krystyna in her hometown, Sanok, and asked her some questions. After all this, we should mention that those who wish to fully enjoy the poem by Brzechwa should learn Polish, or at least hear it from a Polish-speaking person, because the poet always loved to play with words and their sound. The original poem sounds like a rap, and our version, being very indulgent, sounds like Charles Aznavour or Adamo singing in Spanish. And that would be something! In a moment of weakness we even thought about how much hassle we could have avoided if we had just transcribed the hymn Rubén Darío dedicated to the firefighters of Santiago de Chile in 1888.

     ¡Suena alarma, valiente bombero!
     Va la bomba una hoguera a vencer.
     Ponte el casco y camina ligero
     donde vibra el clarín del deber.
     —Vamos, vamos, con paso ligero,
     donde vibra el clarín del deber.
     ¡Fuerza, ardor y voluntad!

     Oro y sangre semeja la llama
     que voraz en el aire se eleva;
     sopla el viento que aviva y renueva
     del incendio el poder destructor.
     Al hogar amenaza la ruina
     y con eco de angustia infinito
     sobre el ruido fatal se oye un grito
     que demanda ¡socorro y favor!

     Voluntarios, ¡corred hacha en mano!
     Brilla el fuego furioso y devasta.
     La humareda y el rayo que aplasta
     venceréis con constancia y valor.
     Héroes bellos, rodeados de chispas
     y de llamas terribles, vibrantes:
     os saludan las bombas humeantes
     con su fuerte y soberbio clamor.

     ¡Gloria a aquel que sucumba en la lucha,
     valeroso, sublime, esforzado;
     gloria a aquel que al deber consagrado
     salva vidas, riquezas, hogar!
     Bronces hay que sus cuerpos encarnen;
     y el recuerdo del fiel compañero
     en el alma viril del bombero,
     ¡nunca, nunca se puede borrar!

We all know other compositions by the Nicaraguan poet in which he happily plays with the sounds of words, but on this occasion the tone is solemn and tragic, perhaps because the hymn genre asks for it. Although both poems tell the same story, they could not have been more different. The difference is in the humour, the real music, which in our opinion is what should be maintained in any translation of this poem by Brzechwa, along with its rampant rhythm. Regarding its form, the original poem (which we have also copied elsewhere in this book) is composed by verses of ten syllables with a caesura after the fifth. We have turned the poem into a type of romance, an appropriate genre for narrative poems and very common in the Spanish language. As for the content, it has been necessary to make some subtractions and modifications that I would like to comment on. In the original poem, the action (the fire itself) takes place in Lodz (pronounced as ‘woodge’) and the streets the firefighters have to go through to reach the fire are evidently streets of that city: Sienkiewicz Street, Kollataja Street, the First of May Avenue. Noticeably, in our version these street names have been changed. The patron saint of the firefighters, who the operators of the water pump entrust to come and aid them, is also different: in Lodz and in the rest of Poland, as in many other countries, the patron is Saint Florian, a saint of Austrian origins who they portray dressed as a Roman and pouring water over a burning house with the help of a bucket or a watering can (he was undoubtedly an expert fire-extinguisher). In Spain, however, the patron of firefighters is John of God, a saint of Portuguese origins who is portrayed offering shelter to the disabled. He built shelters for people in need, and when a devastating fire erupted in the Royal Hospital of Granada (3 July 1549), he was the first to respond to the cries for help. According to the legend, he saved the lives of all the patients by carrying them out of the burning building one by one, and then he entered again to save the beds. The trumpet in Brzechwa’s poem sounds like ‘tram-tra-ta-tam’, while in Spain it sounds more like ‘tararí’. Although, well, it does not really matter. What is truly important is that readers enjoy the adventures of the brave and hard-working firefighters, that they rejoice in their victory at the cry of ‘Fire!’, and that they know that a city, even an important one like the one in this story, can be saved by a tiny and unbothered fly.

Vicente Ferrer


Self-portrait of the author