18 May 2013 Poetry is clarity rather than obscurity

‘While poets are alive, they write elegies for those who have departed,’ said Adam Zagajewski during the second poetry evening organised as a part of 3rd Miłosz Festival being held in Krakow. Yesterday’s evening consisted of meetings with authors and discussions on topics such as Poems by Joseph Brodsky.

Why was Brodsky such an important figure during of one of the festival meetings? It was because of Miłosz, of course. It was the author of A Poetical Treatise who invited the Russian poet to Poland. Miłosz was virtually worshipped by Brodsky, so when the latter asked during the telephone conversation: ‘Who will pay for my travel?’, and he heard Miłosz say with his characteristic resounding laughter: ‘Of course, you, Joseph’, he was certain that he would arrive and pay. This anecdote was recollected by Jerzy Illg, who hosted the discussion on Poems by Brodsky. Illg stressed that the Russian poet had had many close friends in Poland, including Andrzej Drawicz, Wiktor Woroszylski or Professor Zofia Ratajczakowa.

Bogdan Tosza, director of the play Marmur (Marble) based on Brodsky’s drama, shared his memory, too. Apart from Brodsky, Tosza’s story referred also to Miłosz and Venclova. He told the participants about a private meeting of poets devoid of any political overtones, which suddenly turned into something magical. The spark was ignited by Venclova, who found it necessary to say that the most outstanding poem of the 19th century is A Funeral Rhapsody in Memory of General Bem by Cyprian Kamil Norwid. Everybody else agreed, but – as Tosza said – Czesław Miłosz demanded that this poem be recited by Venclova. The latter seemed to expect this challenge, because he did so immediately and fluently in Lithuanian. And then, the same strophes were spoken in other languages. Brodsky recited Norwid in Russian, and Miłosz in Polish...

‘Brodsky can be an extremely modern but also traditional poet. And, which is important, he knows how to lead us out of the Land of Ulro’, said Marek Zagańczyk. On this occasion, he referred to Miłosz’s straightforward opinion that Brodsky should be regarded as a metaphysical poet. His view was supported by Bronisław Maj, who remarked that what is important, is contained in language. ‘It’s language where everything is embodied’, said Maj.

Language as poetic material became also one of the topics of the discussion among poets representing the generation of the 1970s. The participants of the meeting – Justyna Bargielska, Tadeusz Dąbrowski and Agnieszka Wolny-Hamkało – were rather sceptical about the idea of searching for a generational community. Everybody is different, everybody is unique, but everyone has his own audience? ‘The only community that is on my mind is the community of my readers,’ said Tadeusz Dąbrowski, adding that ‘it doesn’t really matter whether a poet is 9, 90 or 99 years’ old.’

The poet admitted that he regards Marcin Świetlicki as the most important poet from the generation of the 1960s – the circle of the so-called bruLion poets. ‘He had a tremendous impact on me, particularly at the time of writing his first two poetry books,’ said Dąbrowski. Agnieszka Wolny-Hamkało also referred to the authors born one decade earlier. She was hugely impressed with Jacek Podsiadło’s poetry. ‘The mystery of poetry is clarity rather than obscurity,’ said Dąbrowski. ‘I have respect for my readers. For this reason, the language I use in my poems is neither too refined nor too vulgar. Poetry is certainly not a kind of puzzle to me.’ This view was questioned by Wolny-Hamkało, who said that she wants to be naive whenever she sits to write a poem. ‘I’d like to have an empty head,’ said the poetess, admitting that language is important poetic material to her and that a poem is expressed in and through language.

Other meetings held yesterday also referred to searching for an individual history and place. On the one hand, through reading of his poems, Janusz Szuber created the atmosphere of longing and nostalgia. On the other hand, he manifested the need to acquire some kind of peace and harmony. In his dignified strophes, which were also permeated with family memories, he uncovered the order about which he talked straightforwardly: ‘It is necessary to adopt a certain order, no matter which justification you find in metaphysics.’ Philip Levine talked about his strong and rebellious experience determined by the rowdy environment in which he grew up. Here, the lesson of poetry intertwined with the lesson of life. Very difficult. And very inspiring.

Poems were often recited outside the walls of the Małopolska Garden of Arts, where the Festival Centre was located. The sunny weather was a good opportunity to read poetry in the open air.

The second poetry evening was held in the Church of St. Anne, where Michael Krüger, Tomaž Šalamun, Wiera Burłak and Adam Zagajewski read their poems.

‘I don’t remember when the names of Marx, Hegel or Nietzsche have been mentioned in this church for the last time,’ joked Andrzej Franaszek, the host of the evening, after we had heard Krüger’s poems. Known in Poland since the end of the 1970s, Šalamun’s poems were read not only by the author, but also in their Polish translation by Miłosz Biedrzycki. Wiera Burłak enraptured the audience with her vigorous, cheerful and witty recitation, which sometimes sounded almost like singing.

The last poet who read his poems was Adam Zagajewski; some of them were particularly moving, because they were dedicated to the poet's late father and the philosopher Krzysztof Michalski, who had also died recently. ‘While poets are alive, they write elegies for those who have departed,’ said Zagajewski.

Today at the Festival: at 10 a.m. there will be Poetic Cold Frames based on the text Mr Rouse Builds His House – a meeting hosted by Małgorzata Bojanowska, which will be followed by a meeting with Anna Piwkowska hosted by Bronisław Maj, and then by meetings with Michael Krüger, Wiera Burłak, Julia Hartwig and artists from the Smekkleysa circle. At 3 p.m. the debate Evil – experience and literature featuring Mark Danner, Juan Gelman, Michael Krüger, Adam Zagajewski and Stefan Chwin will take place, and at 4 p.m. there will be another meeting in the Generations cycle – this time Born in the 1980s, in which Konrad Góra, Kira Pietrek, Szczepan Kopyt and Łukasz Podgórni will participate. Later there will be a series of meetings with authors: Martín López-Vega at 5 p.m., Richard Lourie at 6 p.m., and Tomaž Šalamun at 6.30 p.m. At 7 p.m. we invite you to a screening of the film Waltz with Miłosz directed by Joanna Helander and Bo Persson, and at 8 p.m. there will be the third poetry evening, whose participants will be Tadeusz Sławek (host), Juan Gelman, Philip Levine, Lev Rubinstein, and Janusz Szuber. The final event of the 3rd day of the festival will be Lobster, Dragon or Fame: Smekkleysa in Krakow, which will start at 10 p.m.