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.
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.
For someone who has worked with, and in, words, Różewicz has always approached language with an uncompromising suspicion. I cannot think of another poet who distrusts words more consistently. After the war, when words seemed compromised, Różewicz made a utopian attempt to rebuild trust in words by returning to simplest phrases and basic truths.
What I must have read as the essential feature of his poetry was its relentless focus on evacuating the world sensorium, which turned the poem into a condensed meditation on the poverty of the human — a condition whose unmistakable topic is the nothingness of life. This was its signatory presence that I track down at each reading, which I search for in each phrase, its basic narrative, in the taste of the poem’s flesh.
Who was Różewicz for me? First, a figure from school — I discussed his poems and this was terribly boring. It was all understood, the War, the Holocaust, the partisans. Not for a fifteen-year-old to digest. His poems were boring. But his plays and prose were an entirely different matter. Oh! It was something. White Marriage (Białe Małzenstwo) and Card Index (Kartoteka) read wonderfully. Only now, in hindsight, I rediscover Różewicz the poet, but still, for me [he is] a playwright. Above all.