Poem: ‘From “The Library beneath the Harp”’

David Morley

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This is the opening section of a longer poem telling the story of the Polish-Roma poet Bronislawa Wajs (1908-87), known by her Romani name, Papusza, which means ‘doll’. She was married at 15 to a revered harpist, Dionízy Wajs. In 1949 Papusza was heard by the Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski, who recognised her talent and published her work. Papusza’s poems were used by the authorities to make a case against nomadism, which led to the forced settlement of the Roma all over Poland. The Roma community began to regard Papusza as a traitor and expelled her. Her tribe laid a curse on Papusza’s poems and on anybody using or performing her work. The Romany word àshariba means ‘wrestling match’; kumpania is a band of families travelling with horses and in caravans.