Mort, Valzhyna 1981- (Valzhyna Martynava)
Mort, Valzhyna 1981- (Valzhyna Martynava)
Born January 1, 1981, in Minsk, Belarus.
Writer, 2007—. Poet-in-residence, Literarisches Colloquium, Berlin, Germany, 2006.
Crystal of Velenica Award, Slovenia, 2004; Gaude Polonia stipend, 2005.
(And translator, with Franz Wright) Factory of Tears, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2008.
Also author of collection I'm as Thin as Your Eyelashes. Contributor of poetry to anthologies, including an anthology of Belarusian poetry, and to Poetry magazine.
Belarusian-born poet Valzhyna Mort has won a reputation as a major new talent in international poetry, in poetry readings and in published work. "Valzhyna is famed throughout Europe for her remarkable reading performances," noted a writer for the Borders Open Door Poetry Web site, "which display a talent not normally associated with one so young." "Valzhyna Mort's deep and soulful Belarusian accent draws you in," wrote a reviewer for the Circle Web site. "Even in a language unintelligible to me, her poetry has rhythm and beauty. Her first poem of the evening is in Belarusian and the audience is captivated." "I'd seldom witnessed a performance of such charismatic authenticity and power," stated Franz Wright, the cotranslator of her first poetry collection in English, Factory of Tears. "Anyone who has had the good fortune to hear Valzhyna will know what I mean."
Many critics saw Mort's work in Factory of Tears as reflecting her commitment to her Slavic heritage. Her debut collection, wrote an Internet Bookwatch reviewer, "touches upon the re-emergence of cultural heritage and national identity" in her native country. She "strives to be an envoy for her native country," declared a New Yorker contributor, attempting to construct an international Belarusian identity for a country that for centuries has been overshadowed by its giant Russian neighbor. Belarus has never had a political identity of its own; the cities of the region (some of them dating back to the eighth or ninth centuries) led an independent existence as part of the Kievan Rus network until the 1400s. When Mongols sacked the Russian capital of Kiev in 1240, local power collapsed altogether, and the Belarusian cities were taken over (some by marriage and some by conquest) by the kings of Lithuania. Although Belarusian culture had a kind of Renaissance in the sixteenth century, the area was torn apart by religious warfare and by systematic raids from the Tatar state that dominated the Crimean peninsula to the south. From the end of the eighteenth century, Mort's native land was dominated by speakers of foreign languages.
The poems in Factory of Tears appear in both English and Belarusian—a characteristic that demonstrates her political commitment to her native language. "Valzhyna writes in Belarusian at a time when efforts are being made to reestablish the traditional language, after governmental attempts to absorb it into the Russian language have been relinquished," declared a contributor to the Blue Flower Arts Web site. "She reads her poems aloud in both Belarusian and English." Belarusian was used as a literary and legal language in the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, but from that point on it was dominated by first Polish and then Russian (after the partition of Poland in 1795). Since then, Belarusian has been largely suppressed and its native speakers left largely in poverty and ignorance. "Mort says of her compatriots in ‘Belarusian I,’" stated a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "‘we gorged on dirt thinking it was bread.’" "Personal, political, and passionate," concluded Miriam Tuliao, reviewing Factory of Tears for Library Journal, "Mort's poetry will surely sustain many reading audiences."
Some critics indicated that Mort's work, whether expressed in Belarusian or in English, works better in a spoken format rather than a written one. "Without question, her work fares better aloud than on the page, but the printed versions are hardly flat, or even uninteresting," stated Justin Taylor on the Cold Front Magazine Web site. "It's just that without the rhythms and intonations of speech, and the intimacy of live delivery, an irreplaceable source of their energy is lost." "It's an inherent and irresolvable problem," Taylor concluded, "which accompanies all attempts to translate oral traditions into print media."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Internet Bookwatch, April 1, 2008, review of Factory of Tears.
Library Journal, April 1, 2008, Miriam Tuliao, review of Factory of Tears, p. 86.
New Yorker, May 19, 2008, review of Factory of Tears, p. 81.
Poets & Writers Magazine, May 1, 2008, "You Cannot Tell This to Anybody."
Publishers Weekly, February 25, 2008, review of Factory of Tears, p. 53.
Blue Flower Arts,http://www.blueflowerarts.com/ (August 24, 2008), "Valzhyna Mort, Poet."
Bridgewater College Web site,http://www.bridgewater.edu/ (August 24, 2008), "Valzhyna Mort, Belarus."
Circle,http://media.www.maristcircle.com/ (August 24, 2008), Justine Mann and Cassandra Bolger, "Belarusian Poet Valzhyna Mort Shares Beauty and Passion with Marist Community."
Cold Front Magazine,http://reviews.coldfrontmag.com/ (August 24, 2008), Justin Taylor, review of Factory of Tears.
Poetry Bus Tour,http://www.poetrybus.com/ (August 24, 2008), author profile.
Poetry Magazine Online,http://www.poetrymagazine.org/ (August 24, 2008), author profile.