17 May 2013 Sacred time of Poetry

Poetry takes us to a completely different world, it is like a holiday,’ said Jerzy Illg, Programme Director of Miłosz Festival, while opening the third edition of the festival. Thursday was rich in unique meetings: a discussion on The Land of Urlo, a premiere screening of Widok Krakowa directed by Magdalena Piekorz, and the first of a cycle of poetry evenings.

During a press conference held in the morning which inaugurated the Festival, Magdalena Sroka, Deputy Mayor for Cultural Affairs and Promotion of the City, said that previous editions of the Miłosz Festival probably had the largest impact on us realizing what literature really is for the capital of Malopolska. It is no coincidence that Czesław Miłosz decided to spend his final years here. Grzegorz Gauden, Director of Book Institute, noticed that the poet’s choice of Krakow as his home was completely natural. It seems equally natural now to create some space here for authors to meet.

Because Miłosz Festival is about, first and foremost, poets. ‘This is a holiday, such a time, that should be missed,’ Mr Illg emphasized. He also reminded us that a different work of the poet is chosen each time as the theme for the festival. The first one was Zniewolony umysł [The Captive Mind], followed by Rodzinna Europa [Native Realm], while this year, it is Ziemia Ulro [The Land of Ulro]. This very book, first published in 1977, was the subject of one of the first festival meetings. Adam Zagajewski introduced the audience to the subject of this essayist work. He reminded us that it is a strictly literary one, a very dense book. ‘The Land of Ulro has two layers: one philosophical, strictly intellectual, and the other – existential, referring to the poet’s loneliness in California,’ said Zagajewski and added ‘Miłosz was really lonely and really misunderstood.’ The image of Miłosz’s loneliness was in a slight contradiction to what Mark Danner saw when he came to Krakow in 2002 to visit Miłosz and his wife, Carol. ‘In a beautiful city, I saw a traveller who strolled across Market Square and was recognised by his readers,’ Danner said. In the US such view would be difficult to spot.’ That was the situation at the beginning of the 21st century. Several decades earlier, such an image of Miłosz in Market Square would have been impossible. Renata Gorczyńska reminded that until the 1970s, the poet’s work was fully restrained in Poland. While, for the writer, the 1970s were an extremely traumatic period, mostly because of the illnesses of his family members. Gorczyńska tried to trace these dark times in Miłosz’s particular poems. She also claimed that work on The Land of Ulro might have been some sort of therapy for him.

Richard Lourie, in addition to the reflections on The Land of Ulro, mentioned his own personal experience. Almost half a century ago, when he was working in a restaurant in Idaho, he used to climb a hill, lay on his back and watch the sky. During one such excursion, he noticed the universe spreading in front of his eyes, he ran home and locked himself in. I felt something similar to what Miłosz described in Widzenia nad Zatoką San Francisco [Visions from San Francisco Bay]. This universe was simply too large,’ the poet’s close friend said of his fear.

So, how are we supposed to read The Land of Ulro now? Anthony Miłosz, the Nobel Prize winner’s son, compared this essay to another work, often discussed and criticised, The Captive Mind. ‘Both texts are basically about the same thing: reflecting upon things that surround us,’ he stated.

Attention to the fact that it is sometimes worth to look at our everyday reality from a distance was drawn by the film Widok Krakowa, at least to the residents of Malopolska's capital. The film constitutes the first part of the international City(W)rites project, in which outstanding writers and directors guide the viewers through European cities of literature. Krakow, the literary capital of Poland, is presented in Magdalena Piekorz’s film, in which Adam Zagajewski plays the role of a guide. The city on the screen is saturated with history and enveloped in a nostalgic mist. Every now and then, sometimes on the tops of historical houses in the Old Town, sometimes in the cellars of a cabaret club, sometimes on the deck of a boat sailing down Vistula river, we can hear voices of poets, writers, artists and scientists. All this shapes Krakow’s unique atmosphere.

The Festival's first day also means two important poetry meetings. During the first one, devoted to poets born in 1960s, we could hear the works of: Marcin Sendecki, Jacek Podsiadło, Mariusz Grzebalski and Miłosz Biedrzycki. Later that night, at the first poetry evening, a Chinese poet Duo Duo presented his poems, among others: Mam sen [I Have a Dream], Pomyśl o tym słowie [Think About This Word] and Wewnątrz tego [Inside This]. Julia Hartwig read three of her pieces: Koleżanki, Blues and Tłumacząc wiersze poetów amerykańskich. The last of these poems was also a link to the evening's third guest – Gary Snyder, a poet, translator and ecologist. The audience could hear original versions and translations, by Julia Hartwig, among others, Siano dla koni [Hay for the Horses] and Dwa jelonki nie zobaczą ranka tej wiosny [Two Fawns That Didn't See the Light This Spring].

Today at the Festival: at 11 a.m. – Inspekty poetyckie, workshops devoted to the works of Rafał Wojaczek (Wojewódzka Biblioteka Publiczna w Krakowie) and from 1.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. four meetings with authors: Martín López-Vega, Philip Levine, Janusz Szuber and Juan Gelman. At 5 p.m., a discussion entitled Wokół książki [Around the Book] is planned. Participants will include: Jerzy Illg, Bronisław Maj, Bogdan Tosza and Marek Zagańczyk, while an hour later, Pokolenia: Roczniki 70 [Generations: 1970s] participated by Justyna Bargielska, Tadeusz Dąbrowski, Agnieszka Wolny-Hamkało will take place. At 9 p.m., the second poetry evening run by Andrzej Franaszek will begin at St. Anna’s collegiate church. Participants will include: Wiera Burłak, Michael Krüger, Tomaž Šalamun and Adam Zagajewski. Finally, at 10.30 p.m., Biała Noc [White Night] will begin: a meeting with Lew Rubinstein, a presentation of Antologia współczesnej poezji rosyjskiej by Jerzy Czech and a meeting devoted to the book Oczami radzieckiej zabawki. Antologia radzieckiego i rosyjskiego undergroundu by Konstanty Usenko and a performance of the band N.O.M.