19 May 2013 Poetry shall survive until the end of the world

‘Thank you for coming to the house of good words,’ said Prof. Tadeusz Sławek, welcoming the poetry night’s audience. Apart from the reading at the Tempel Synagogue on Saturday, the 3rd Miłosz Festival was full of meetings with authors, it included a debate on the nature of evil and a concert of our guests from Iceland.

Smekkleysa translated literally is… bad taste. But… is it? Fans of the Sugarcubes, Bjork, Sigur Rós, múm, Mínus and other artists know perfectly well that music of this distant island is a challenge to the market dominated by productions in English. And so it is. Acting on the border of art and business, Smekkleysa was created in 1986 in Reykjavík as an alternative stage for poets, musicians and artists. Its roots reach as far as surrealist poetry and surrealist artistic projects. Yesterday, they were in Krakow – along the entire history, works and magic, which enchanted the audience of evening performances until late at night.

The literature a few hours back evoked quite different emotions. The introduction to the discussion of the nature of evil by Stefan Chwin was clearly provocative. The writer and literature scholar was interested this time not in the evil in literature as a recognised and classified theme, but the social and cultural nature of evil; the moment, in which it ceases to be tamed and becomes a problem for a human being calmed by faith in the ideas of justice, order and goodness. When does evil show its most hideous face? According to Chwin, it happens when we start talking about specified subjects. The writer said it is easier to ask if war is evil – it is much harder to discover the function of wars in the biological history of our species. Or: it is easier to ponder if terrorism is evil, but it is quite harder to answer the question how a weak nation should fight a strong opponent. There are plenty of such questions, said Chwin, still asking new ones.

Mark Danner, who has been writing about war and massacres of belligerents for 30 years, recalled a situation, in which he was telling Czesław Miłosz about the war in the Balkans. ‘I told him about the interviews I had with people on the market square in Sarajevo. I believe it was February 1994. As soon as I left the square, there was an explosion,’ Danner reminisced. The reporter’s tale was supposed to make a great impression on the poet, especially since Miłosz perceived Sarajevo as the sister city of Vilnius as he remembered it – the multinational melting pot of various cultures.

Juan Gelman’s view of evil on the surface was completely pessimistic, even in its language. Referring to the works of Primo Levi and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – the ones who experienced evil and can testify to it – Gelman doubted if it is really possible to completely express what is the most important by means of words. It is not the proof of weakness, but more of a pretext to view poetry in silence and concentration. ‘Poetry shall not fall silent. It comes from the deep of ages past and it shall survive until the end of the world,’ Gelman said in strong voice.

Michael Krüger presented the images of evil which time after time haunt the Germans. ‘When once more I read in one of the serious European newspapers that the Germans are getting closer to fascism, I realise that we all are a part of life not only individual, but also life, in which ideas about our own life also matter,’ said Krüger.

Adam Zagajewski also convinced that the problem of evil is extremely difficult to analyse. He recalled the person of Simone Weil, who once said that evil when imagined is romantic and interesting, and the real evil – barren. In turn, good imagined is boring, while real good – overwhelming.

The experiences of good and evil, as seen from many perspectives, was to an extent also the subject of meeting with Richard Lourie. The writer, translator, critic and screenplay writer revealed further secrets during the meeting conducted by Adam Szostkiewicz. He talked about his first contact with Czesław Miłosz and about the resulting forty-year friendship; about gangsters, with whom he lived, and about Hillary Clinton, whom he advised (these two worlds are not that different), finally, he talked about his work for Mikhail Gorbachev, whose works he translated into English (‘Gorbachev’s writing was terrible, but he was interesting as a man. To be clear: New Your Times paid me for my texts’).

And after dark the poetry night began, this time in Tempel Synagogue in Kazimierz District. ‘Thank you for coming to the house of good words. Poetry is the product of thought, which is lacking in public life’ – with these words Prof. Tadeusz Sławek welcomed the audience.

The first to echo within the synagogue’s walls was the deep voice of Spanish poet, Juan Gelman. Philip Levine, poet coming from the heart of industrial America, read his poems imbued with the metaphysics of commonness. Lew Rubinstein, in turns with translator Adam Pomorski, introduced some serenity and good humour into the meeting. However, nostalgia and everyday life came back at the end. They were brought back in poetry read by Janusz Szuber.

Today at the Festival: At 10a.m. – Poetic Inspects concerning the poem Rzecz o tym jak paw wpadł w staw, at 11 a.m. – special screening of the film Walc z Miłoszem preceded by discussion with the authors: Joanna Helander and Bo Persson, followed by two meetings with the first-time guests in Poland: Duo Duo (at 12 p.m.), and Gary Snyder (at 2 p.m.). In the meantime (at 1 p.m.) we would like to invite everyone to today’s second Poetic Inspects – this time concerning Bajki Misia Fisia (PLEASE NOTE: the meeting will be attended by the author, Wojciech Bonowicz). At 4 p.m. – a debate In the Shadow of the Empire conducted by Adam Szostkiewicz, attended by Norman Davies, Richard Lourie and Adam Pomorski, and at 6 p.m. – meeting from the cycle Around the book: Paul Celan – Psalm i inne wiersze, attended by Ryszard Krynicki. And at 8 p.m. – the Festival Finale and the concert of Kari Amirian, The Unseen. You are most welcome!

Lobster, Dragon or Fame: Smekkleysa in Kraków inaugurate the ORT: Poems from Iceland/Poems from Poland project carried out with funds from the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism for the years 2009–2014 as part of the Promotion of Diversity in Culture and Arts within European Cultural Heritage activity.

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