Trafika Europe Corner II.3 – New Latvian poet Jānis Tomašs by Andrew Singer

Jānis Tomašs (born 1984) began his love affair with poetry in the confines of a lonely childhood spent living with his grandmother in the Latgale region of Latvia. Further ideas were sparked by listening to early Latvian rap. His debut poetry collection in Latvian, whose title means Black Work Gloves (published by PETERGAILIS, 2016), has exhilarated the Latvian cultural scene and earned the young poet a number of prestigious awards, including the annual Latvian Literature Prize 2017 for Best Debut in Literature. Black Work Gloves became the first-ever poetry collection to receive the annual Latvian Television and Radio Award for Literature ‘A Kilogram of Culture’. The collection also received Dzintars Sodums’ Award for Innovation in Literature, and Latvia’s most viewed news portal Delfi Readers’ Award. This poetry collection has been nominated for the National Design Award.

In his day job, Jānis Tomašs works as an officer for the municipal police.

The following three poems, translated by Margita Gailitis, represent his debut in English language.


* * *

from a thin umbilical chord hangs a bulb

while on the table sleeps

an object like a human being

(don’t laugh don’t leer over your high collar fence as you swerve round the sharp corner of the house)

the Television hasn’t been turned off

all night waves toss back and forth in a bottle

and there’s no one here to hand me a life-preserving buoy

sometimes dreams don’t perish

if you leave a drowning bed in time

sometimes the world spins like Russian roulette

sometimes it doesn’t matter

on which of the shoulders you leave

your brainless bomb-like head



the beauty and the blue-collar worker

I work to the bone on subcutaneous digs

to put it bluntly I search for anger

my single most useful recovered fossil

through the bottle’s brown glass I see

how my brothers-in- sorrow ripen on July’s sizzling pan

as their brain hemispheres yet-undiscovered

orbit round a slim woman’s legs

(don’t be afraid of these red serial killer pages

or of the sadness that seeps into cheeks as stain)

I do the dirtiest of work

and I know I’ll wear out my skin

to parallel Salvation Army discarded rags

but she’ll cross over

the finish line of a clothing store

while passing by a long line of mannequins

as the guard’s low-bent head wilts

and blood courses in the small body stadium




I wake in the middle of the night

clock ticks dripping directly into my ear

like a hidden iceberg the sharp corner of the table jabs me

I’m a beast

who for years now secretly heads out to hunt

along one and the same track

in search of food in the refrigerator


I wake in strange places

I don’t recall but perhaps a wave of laughter

washed me up on the high shore of this comfort-zone room

but maybe these were only deceitful acquaintances

flashing lights will-o’- the-wisps

five-starred heavens

I really don’t know

but now all these objects circle

around the bent axis of my body


I can’t close my eyes

my heart pounds like a builder’s hammer

on my forehead a warm dew appear

but your light hair tendrils

with all their strength

drive their roots into me


By Andrew Singer

Trafika Europe – some of the best new literature from Europe • • Our latest issue Trafika Europe 11 – Swiss Delights is free online; our first book, Trafika Europe: Essential New European Literature, Vol. I, is out now from Penn State University Press

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