Marit MacArthur

Strange weathers: Piotr Florczyk in Kraków

On a December visit from Los Angeles to his native city of Kraków, writer and translator Piotr Florczyk longs for the snow of his childhood, and I think of how weather translates from physical to emotional, personal to communal, into landscapes current and remembered. 

They say there is no weather in Los Angeles, but for one who's lived here always, it's a different story. Only in deep winter, do all the camellias open to a riot of pink, the backyard orange tree alight with small suns.

The first time I saw snow in the real world, I was in a home other than my own, an Amsterdam pensione in the century before Airbnb.

(Polish) Poetry after 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. I am motivated by a conviction that Różewicz, and the poetry that follows the paths he marked out, should be far better known among American poets — and that as long as we are ignorant of him, we lose something needful for our contemporary poetry.

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

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.

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

Reticence: On Różewicz

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.

Three Poems by Jerzy Jarniewicz (b. 1958)

Rorschach

It’s only coffee, as you can see, 

spilt on the table. So ostentatious

in its attempt to imitate the classic test,

Różewicz the playwright

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.


Translated by Marit MacArthur

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