Thursday, 23 April 2015

POET OF THE MONTH #27: Adam Zagajewski

c 2014


Night is a cistern.  Owls sing.  Refugees tread meadow roads
with the loud rustling of endless grief.
Who are you, walking in this worried crowd.
And who will you become, who will you be
when day returns, and ordinary things circle round.

Night is a cistern.  The last pairs dance at a country ball.
High waves cry from the sea, the wind rocks pines.
An unknown hand draws the dawn's first stroke.
Lamps fade, a motor chokes.
Before us, life's path, and instants of astronomy.


Translated by CLARE CAVANAGH

The Poet:  Adam Zagajewski was born in what was then the eastern Polish city of Lwów (known as 'Lviv' in Ukrainian) on 21 June 1945.  He spent very little time here, however, as the conquering Soviets soon annexed the region to the USSR and deported its Polish-speaking inhabitants to cities in what became the newly established Soviet-bloc country of Poland.  Zagajewski spent his childhood in the Silesian town of Gliwice and attended Jagiellonian University in Kraków, where he obtained degrees in psychology and philosophy before working briefly at the same institution as a teaching assistant.  It was during his time at university that his first poems were published in the student literary magazines he helped to found and edit.

Zagajewski first rose to prominence as a member of the Kraków Nowa Fala [New Wave], a pioneering group of young Polish poets otherwise known as 'the '68 Generation' whose work dealt with the everyday realities of living in a Communist regime and directly engaged with the numerous political, economic and social upheavals of their time.  His first collection of poems, Komunikat [Communiqué], was published in Kraków in 1972 and was followed by the collections Sklepy mięsne [Meat Shops, 1975] and Wiersze [Work, 1976].  During this period he also published his first novel, Ciepło, zimno [Warm and Cold, 1975], a coming of age tale about a young intellectual torn between political activism and conformity as he struggles to meet the challenges of ordinary adult life.  These works and Zagajewski's outspoken support for new protest movements like Solidarity brought him into conflict with the Polish authorities and in the early 1980s he relocated to Berlin, ultimately going on to settle in Paris in 1982.  

His decision to leave Poland made it impossible for him to have his work published in that country, obliging him to distribute it secretly in samizdat form –– small runs of mimeographed or photocopied booklets that were passed from hand to hand so as not to alert the authorities to their existence.  Zagajewski's work did not 'officially' reappear in Poland until 2002, when the publication of Płótno [Canvas] marked his return to his native land following two decades of self-imposed political and artistic exile.

Since returning to Kraków Zagajewski has divided his time between writing and teaching, spending part of each year in the United States at the University of Chicago and then as a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Houston.  In addition to being nominated for the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, he's also been the recipient of numerous other honours and awards including the Berliner Kunstlerprogramm, the Kurt Tucholsky Prize, a Prix de la Liberté and a Guggenheim Fellowship.  In addition to writing and teaching, he currently co-edits the Polish literary magazine Zeszyty literackie (Literary Review).

Click HERE to read more poetry by ADAM ZAGAJEWSKI at The Poetry Foundation website.

You might also enjoy:
POET OF THE MONTH #3: Wislawa Szymborska
POET OF THE MONTH #9: Julian Tuwim
POET OF THE MONTH #20: Anna Swirszczynska 

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