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

Category: Trafika Europe Corner


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