Polish poetry

Strange orchestrations: Mira Rosenthal & the translation of silence

The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Man Ray, "Le Violon d'Ingres,"1924.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Man Ray, "Le Violon d'Ingres,"1924.

 It was a place I might have dreamed if it hadn’t been real, this building slated for demolition located in a country far from home. The former site of an art college, the structure itself no longer stands, but one June evening in the early years of the twenty-first century, it hosted a party for the ages.

 

Each classroom transformed into an all-night gallery, filled with art by generations of students who had learned there how to see, how to listen, how to make. Studio after studio of imagination translated into reality. Outside, on the lawn: wine, feasting, revelry. The sharing of decades of memory. If you look closely, you can see gargoyles keeping watch over the festivities.

Stanisław Dróżdż

From Conceptual poem to concept-shape

In 1977 at the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw, the artist and poet Stanisław Dróżdż (1939–2009) exhibited an installation piece titled między (“between”). It consisted of a rectangular white box, roughly eleven feet tall, seventeen feet wide, and twenty-three feet long. Inside and out, this box was covered with the letters m, i, ę, d, z, and y, carefully distributed and arranged so that at no point could a viewer spell out the word między horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

(Polish) Poetry after Różewicz

Tadeusz Różewicz.

I proselytize for Tadeusz Różewicz (1921–2014) and his poetic legacy as a new convert, not with unique insight into his importance or his poetics. That I leave to the eleven Polish poets sampled here (and several translators), who can testify better than I can.

On Różewicz and contemporary Polish poetry

The way the poetry of Tadeusz Różewicz (1921–2014) is used by the school system in Poland shows how we disfigure some poets to make them palatable. The educational package has it that his was an attempt to rebuild the basic powers of language after the catastrophe of human slaughter in this part of the world during WWII.

Nine poems by Kacper Bartczak (b. 1972)

Beyond the Helplessness Principle

Something will occur and at once it will be found

among other occurrences I know

that the heaviest dreams are only an illusion

I know it from experience I see my own

experience now that it is over

Of course it is still alive statistical

and divine

On Różewicz and Wojciech Bonowicz

On Różewicz and Wojciech Bonowicz

Like many a poet of his generation, Bonowicz has read Tadeusz Różewicz as both an apprentice and an interlocutor. After all it was the old master who, having cleansed his verse of what he deemed superfluous ornamentation, demonstrated that it was possible to write poetry after Auschwitz. In doing so, Różewicz aimed to make sense of our postapocalyptic existence by questioning the basic principles of human nature and language’s role as our would-be ally in the process of acquiring meaning.

Sixteen Poems by Wojciech Bonowicz (b. 1967)

Absolution

Who’s ashamed for having written about God?

God no longer has that letter: he tears up our requests.

Penetrates our diaries and kindly erases

confessions dictated by youth and naïve faith.

He could be more tenacious — L. says about God.

Let him be rather more like us — what a foolish human dream.

Różewicz, close to reality

Różewicz is one of the “primary care” poets in Poland. I got to know him years back, in primary school. When I started writing at the age of eighteen, I shamelessly imitated his poems, because he seemed easy to imitate. Numerous budding Polish poets still fall victim to his poetry’s illusory simplicity. I soon became aware that I was not able to imitate Różewicz well. Luckily, I did not get offended and I kept reading him. I still do. He remains among the most important poets in our literature, and one of those who stay closest to our reality. You just believe him.

Five Poems by Darek Foks (b. 1966)

The Deer Hunters

Come, dear friend, we shall save something

for posterity. What is your opinion

of this gentleman urinating in the alley

that we have so many memories of?

I shall tell him that it is not nice

and you at the same time shall catch him

good. Just like that! Hold

Różewicz and the organic

Różewicz and the organic

Among many other things, poetry is a drama of the poet’s hand. The writing hand, the hand of the writer, may be treated as both metaphor and metonymy, and it is in-between these two figures of speech that a distinct narrative of Różewicz’s work unravels. In several of his poems, the hand is a metaphor of writing, and it is very often accompanied with images of exhaustion and emptying. At the same time, it is a metonymy of the poet’s body, which is revolting and not at all committed to what the mind intends to say.

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