Valzhyna Mort

Acclaimed Belarusian Poet

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • The Art of Translation
  • Poetry of Revolution
  • Eastern European Poetry

“Mort is a fireball….Personal, political, and passionate….” -Library Journal

“Mort’s style-tough and terse almost to the point of aphorism-recalls the great Polish poets Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska.” -LA Times

“Through her tightly constructed and original language, and her inspired recreation of familiar mythology, Mort attempts to resist the scourge of forgetting and to achieve immortality for her characters as well as for herself.” -The California Journal of Poetics

Valzhyna Mort, born in Minsk, Belarus, made her American debut in 2008 with the poetry collection Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press), co-translated by the husband-and-wife team of Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright. Her second book is Collected Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2012).

Mort received the Crystal of Vilenica Award in Slovenia in 2005 and the Burda Poetry Prize in Germany in 2008. In 2010, she received the Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship and the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine. She has been a resident poet at Literarisches Colloquium in Berlin, Germany, and Internationales Haus der Autoren Graz, Austria. Her English translations of Eastern European poets have appeared in New European Poets (Graywolf Press, 2008).

There is an urgency and vitality to Mort’s poems; the narrative moves within universal themes-lust, loneliness, the strangeness of god and familial love-while many poems question what language is and challenge the authority that delegates who has the right to speak and how. The New Yorker writes, “Mort strives to be an envoy for her native country, writing with almost alarming vociferousness about the struggle to establish a clear identity for Belarus and its language.” Library Journal described Mort’s vision as “visceral, wistful, bittersweet, and dark.”

Mort writes in Belarusian at a time when efforts are being made to re-establish the traditional language, after governmental attempts to absorb it into the Russian language have been relinquished. She reads her poems aloud in both Belarusian and English. She has the distinction of being the youngest person ever to be on the cover of Poets & Writers magazine.

Valzhyna Mort is the author of Collected Body and Factory of Tears. In 2010, she received the Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship and the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine. She has been a resident poet at Literarisches Colloquium in Berlin, Germany, and Internationales Haus der Autoren Graz, Austria, and her English translations of Eastern European poets have appeared in the New European Poets anthology. 

COLLECTED BODY (Poetry, 2012)
Collected Body‘s voyages begin in the rural landscapes of childhood and move through grim fairy tales toward idiosyncratic images of the sea, “this polonaise in gray-flat minor.” In her first collection of poems composed entirely in English, Valzhyna Mort writes as effortlessly about the Caribbean or the United States as she does about her native Belarus. Whether writing about sex, relatives, violence, or fish markets as opera, Mort insists on vibrant, dark truths. “Death hands you every new day like a golden coin,” she writes, then warns that as the bribe grows “it gets harder to turn down.”

FACTORY OF TEARS (Poetry, 2008) 
Factory of Tears isthe American debut of Valzhyna Mort-and the first bilingual Belarusian-English poetry book ever published in the US. Set in a land haunted by the specter of a post-Soviet Eastern Europe, and marked by the violence of the recent past, intense moments of joy leaven the darkness. “Grandmother”-as person and idea-is a recurring presence in poems, and startlingly fresh images-desire 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 music of lines and litanies of phrases mesmerize the reader; then sudden discord reminds 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 a remarkable American debut of a rising international poetry star. The translation was in collaboration between Mort, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright, and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright.


on a bare tree-
a red beast,
so still, it has become the tree.
now it’s the tree that prowls over the beast,
a cautious beast itself.

a stone thrown at its breast

is so fast-the stone has become the beast.
now it’s the beast that throws itself like a stone,
blood like a dog-rose tree on a windy day,
and the moon is trying on your face
for the annual masquerade of the dead.

death decides to wait to hear more.
so death mews:
first-your story, then-me.

-from Collected Body


even our mothers have no idea how we were born
how we parted their legs and crawled out into the world
the way you crawl from the ruins after a bombing
we couldn’t tell which of us was a girl or a boy
we gorged on dirt thinking it was bread
and our future
a gymnast on a thin thread of the horizon
was performing there
at the highest pitch

we grew up in a country where
first your door is stroked with chalk
then at dark a chariot arrives
and no one sees you any more
but riding in those cars were neither
armed men nor
a wanderer with a scythe
this is how love loved to visit us
and snatch us veiled

completely free only in public toilets
where for a little change nobody cared what we were doing
we fought the summer heat the winter snow
when we discovered we ourselves were thelanguage
and our tongues were removed we started talking with
our eyes
when our eyes were poked out we talked with our hands
when our hands were cut off we conversed with our toes
when we were shot in the legs we nodded our head for yes
and shook our heads for no and when they ate our heads
we crawled back into the bellies of our sleeping mothers
as if into bomb shelters
to be born again

and there on the horizon the gymnast of ourfuture
was leaping through the fiery hoop
of the sun

-from Factory of Tears, translated by the author with Franz Wright and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright

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