Sunday, March 8, 2009
My Poland Post
I have no idea what I should be telling you guys about Poland. Or, I have some ideas, but their scope is so opus-scale that I'm a little bit paralyzed. I feel that there are roughly five hundred names, dates, and places that you must know in order to have even the beginnings of an understanding of Polish poetry. But, even if I imparted 500 plus Facts About Poland into your brains, I still worry that there's something fundamentally Polish about Polish poetry that makes the gap un-closeable.
My national pride makes me want to believe that this complicated-ness is a condition unique to Polish people (we are beautifully and terminally unique...). But, my (kind of failed) attempts at writing up blog posts to explain a (for me) non-foreign country has made me question our class' habit of reading these poems in the context of their country of origin's Wikipedia page. Think of it this way - How much light does this shed on this?
That said, I can't think of any other way to go about reading these poets. Ideally, everyone would learn Polish, move to Poland, spend the next ten years translating Polish poetry into English (and vice versa), and then come back to Tuscaloosa prepared to have a "real" conversation about Polish poetry. However, most of you seemed resistant to this plan when I brought it up the other night. So, here are some precursors to the poets in the Polish section of New European Poets:
Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855)
Polish literature was invented by Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855). Mickiewicz was born in Nowogródek. Nowogródek used to be part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; at the time of Mickiewicz's birth, the town was ruled by Russia. Nowogródek is currently part of Belarus.
Mickiewicz is most famous for his epic poem, Pan Tadeusz, czyli Ostatni zajazd na Litwie. Historia szlachecka z roku 1811 i 1812 we dwunastu księgach wierszem (English: Mister Thaddeus, or the Last Foray in Lithuania: a History of the Nobility in the Years 1811 and 1812 in Twelve Books of Verse). All Polish people are required by law to love this poem. Here is an average-to-good English translation.
Some people claim that Mickiewicz is Lithuanian because he spent the majority of his early life in what is now Lithuania proper. However, Mickiewicz considered himself a Polish nationalist, wrote all of his poems in the Polish language, and is buried in Wawel Cathedral (So, suck it, Lithuania.).
Juliusz Słowacki (1809-1849)
Słowacki's popularity really picked up after his death. He is regarded as a national prophet, especially in light of his poem "The Slavic Pope" (written in 1848). Go here for more information and sample poems. Here is a longer biography.
Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004)
Won the Nobel Prize in 1980. By far the most famous Polish poet (in America). Most of you seem to already be pretty familiar with his work. Miłosz's legacy in Poland is complicated by his having cooperated with the Russian government and by his defection to America.
A Poet Worthy of Protest
The Doubter and the Saint
Tadeusz Różewicz (1921 - )
My personal favorite. Miłosz summed him up thusly: "Różewicz is a poet of chaos with a nostalgia for order."
Profile by Adam Mickiewicz Institute
David Orr's Review of New Poems
University of Buffalo's Links to Poems in English
Wisława Szymborska (1923- )
Token female Polish poet. Won the Nobel Prize in 1996. I wish I could talk about her work outside of the context of Sexism in Poland. I bet she wishes that too. My affection for her is tempered by her early sympathy for communism.
Szymborska's "How to (and how not to) write poetry
some links to English translations
Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998)
The Solidarity Poet. My Dad forced me to read a lot of Herbert while I was growing up; I haven't decided if I'm grateful for it or not. Alissa Valles (the editor of the Polish section) translated and edited Herbert's Collected Poems 1956-1998.
Profile by Adam Mickiewicz Institute
Poetry Foundation's Herbert Page
Here is Michael Braziller and Edward Hirch's informative (but kind of toothless) lecture about Post-War Polish Poets.
Altered State: The New Polish Poetry
Ambers Aglow: An Anthology of Contemporary Polish Women's Poetry
Carnivorous Boy, Carnivorous Bird (anthology that includes a lot of the poets in New European Poets)
Chicago Review's New Polish Writing (some online content)
Jacket Magazine's Poland section (scroll down)
Polish Poets on Writing - edited by Adam Zagajewski
Postwar Polish Poetry
Twisted Spoon Press - a Czech press that publishes a lot of newer work by Polish poets