Closure of Conference project. Post-Conference Plans

Many many thanks to everyone who participated in the conference, to all those who presented papers, read their poetry or translations, contributed to discussions or just came to listen.

This blog will remain open as a record of the conference proceedings and will continue to include the programme, the abstracts of the presentations and the short biographies of the participants.

We have removed the conference papers from this site because we intend to include revised versions in a post-conference book. This book will not be a representation of the conference proceedings as such, however, but a volume of articles roughly reflecting the structure of the conference. The book will be edited by Ursula Philips, supported by a team of advisers (Urszula Chowaniec, Knut Andreas Grimstad, Kris Van Heuckelom and Elwira Grossman). It is expected that the volume will appear in 2013.

Should anyone wish to contact the authors of papers or read the original papers, please contact the conference organizer.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Wioletta Grzegorzewska

Looking for real poetry with Czesław Miłosz

After 1989 the Polish poetry scene was dominated by three authors: Tadeusz Różewicz, Czesław Miłosz and Zbigniew Herbert. In 1996 (after receiving The Nobel Prize) Wisława Szymborska joined this poetic trinity. Most of my friends from the poetry background were looking for inspiration somewhere else: in the new issues of Brulion and Literatura na Świecie. At poetry meetings Czesław Miłosz was rarely mentioned. My literary contemporaries thought of him as an old school, inspirational sage who spoke in TV- interviews about his Daimonion.
I remember that straight after my debut in 1997, I bought an anthology: A Book of Luminous Things (Krakow, 1994) in a secondhand bookshop. It was a thematic anthology with over 300 poems written in different times and places, from ancient China to today’s Poland, all collected and translated mostly by Czesław Miłosz. In the introduction the poet writes that poetry – if it’s good poetry – should not show life with all its pain, threat, suffering and ecstasy in a single tone of monotony and complaint. Poetry is required to be on the side of existence and against emptiness. His words along with a quotation from Paul Cezanne, which was used by Miłosz in defense of poetry: This is the minute of the world, which is passing. Paint it as it is, become it, be a cliché - changed my ideas about my own writing.
A Book of Luminous Things become my poetic guide. Maybe even in some magical way it had an influence on my five poetic books. I trusted my experience and reconstructed my world of childhood and youth spent beside the river Warta, including the traditions, habits, folk rites and religious rituals of people from the Kraków-Częstochowa Uplands; the ritual blessing of the fields by the priest, the preparation of birds and animals (i.e. cleansing out their insides and stuffing them with cotton), hunting for muskrats, watching over the corpses of the dead, the peregrinations of the Black Madonna painting, and so on.
The Year of Czesław Miłosz is now at its peak and hundreds of poetry volumes and anthologies have been published (including recently in London, the Off_Press volume Free Over the Blood). I have noticed a continuous expansion of creativity, which spreads like a virus on literary websites, and whose main target is to play with words and weird games with the reader, who long ago said: pass. Czesław Miłosz was trying to prevent us from this state in the introduction to A Book of Luminous Things. Poetry has lost its meaning in society, it doesn’t describe or comment on current reality, it has become a hobby, a game, that’s why it has  only a few readers in Poland, and the sales of poetic volumes have definitely gone down; despite this the production of the pseudo-poetic is kept going by niche-publishers, poetry portals, festivals and competitions.

Wrapping up

We carry ripe poppy heads. So many violets bunched in hands.
Whispering hourglasses sift through us at the tail end of summer.

A trolley vanishes behind the mound. The battered road
hammers downhill. Dogs drag bones down back roads.

Sniff the tibiae of tree roots. Our baby-oak still clings
to the hillside. In stones burst the multi-celled hearts of berries.

Ants lick sunlight off the chalky earth. Rivers veer off underground
– Nothing for me here – you say  

An Easter verse

A cold April. Chicks coming to
in a cage under a giant light bulb.
I served them finely chopped feed:
boiled eggs, milfoil, water in a jar lid.
I admired these beings, fragranced with sand
and mucus, hatched in an alien darkness,
which was just like the all-night cuts in electricity.
I remember the rustling in the dark when the bulb went out,
spots of colour stiffening, flickers.

Spring, 1986
                       The night was heavy, but the air was alive
                       Mike Oldfield

At night, the Chernobyl cloud fell
on our pastures. Thyroids swelled.
The pond aglow with murmuring iodine.
Swallows kissing crooked mirrors.
‘Moonlight Shadow’ was playing on the radio.
A city girl scout took over a barn and opened
a virgins’ club. We smoked menthols,
took free lessons from Playboy in
“Preparing for life in a family set-up”.
No other end of the world was there to be,
and yet it kept repeating, like belly aches
and acne, until the time I found
spots of dark blood in my underwear.

I enter the printers with a basket of cherries.
The steel gate bearing sulphur etchings,
banners holding up the nation’s future.
The nation stumbles over woodchip tiling,
holds reams of paper, still warm,
which will only reach full maturity in office.                                                                                                                                                              
Night shifts crawl from intercity coaches,
stamp dates on time sheets.
Father smokes at the reception desk,
his hands shaking over the console
as he opens and shuts the gates by remote.
Ever since the day I discovered that we are mortal,                                                                                                                                                                             nothing has passed between us but time.

translations by Marek Kazmierski