Baiba Bičole belongs to the postwar generation of Latvian poets living in exile who reached artistic maturity outside their native country and broke with the older exile generation’s traditional, nationalistic poetry. In To Taste the River, Bičole’s poems are lyrical and personal, often with intense emotion and startling imagery. Shown through different prisms, like variations on a theme, her subjects include separation, loss, and time; the power of language and song; and love. Central to her vision is nature, both as subject and metaphor. Appearing most frequently are waters (rain, mist, ice, rivers), birds, sun, and sky. Her unique voice renders a continuing motif of thirst, along with the need for freedom and movement, usually expressed through transformation. Nature in her poetry is distinct in that it is rooted in the world of the traditional Latvian folk songs, the dainas, where nature is animistic and personified, and the human and natural worlds are deeply interrelated. This is Bičole’s first collection of poems in English translation.
“Far from platitudes about exile, Latvian poet Baiba Bičole defies our expectations, transforming nature into a forceful metaphor for distance, loss, and sorrow. Still, nature also brings hope:
—The need to learn anew
how to turn into a songbird, give birth
to song that will journey far,
not losing the way.
I can’t think of a better way to describe the resilient power of poetry. Bitite Vinklers’s compelling translation into English replicates it and its musicality. What a gift it is to discover their work.”
— Katherine M. Hedeen translator of from a red barn
“Baiba Bičole is one of the brightest stars among Latvian exile poets. Her images are powerful, her closeness to the rhythms of nature deeply felt and vividly expressed.”
— Kārlis Vērdiņš author of Come to Me, translated by Ieva Lešinska
“Bičole’s poetry absolutely refuses to be sentimental or superficially lyrical. And it expects from the reader the same uncompromising openness and surrender, the same fearlessness that the poet has put into it. Her poetry is movement, process, sometimes from season to season, sometimes from sky to earth, also toward the underworld or hell. It is often extreme, the kind that dares, full of surrealistic moments, even on a cosmic scale.”
— Inta Miške Ezergailis author of Nostalgia: Eleven Latvian Women Writers
“Baiba Bičole’s poems are a breath of fresh air!”
— Ellen Doré Watson author of pray me stay eager
Baiba Bičole, born in Latvia in 1931, left as a refugee during World War II, and since 1950 has lived in the United States. Though she has been a major Latvian poet since the 1970s, until Latvia regained its independence in 1991, she was known primarily in the West, as an exile poet, her work banned in Soviet-occupied Latvia. She is the author of six collections of poetry, and has received important Latvian literary awards, from the Zinaīda Lazda Foundation, the Raisters Foundation, and the World Federation of Free Latvians (PBLA). For many years she taught Latvian literature in Latvian American schools and was the editor of the Latvian newspaper Laiks.
Bitite Vinklers is a translator of Latvian folklore and contemporary literature. Her translations have been published in numerous anthologies and journals, including The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Two Lines. Recent translation collections include Imants Ziedonis, Each Day Catches Fire: Poems (Red Dragonfly Press, 2015); Knuts Skujenieks, Seed in Snow: Poems (BOA Editions, 2016); and Aleksandrs Čaks, Poems (Riga, Latvia: Jumava Press, 2018). She lives and works as an editor in New York.