“My force–if I have any–is different, it lives more in nuances, in tranquility of my voice.” My never-before-published Q&A with Adam Zagajewski.


A portrait in clay: Adam Zagajewski, circa 1990. Sculpture by Jonathan Hirschfeld

I wrote about poet Adam Zagajewski, who died last weekend at 75, for the Poetry Foundation about a decade ago. The published article, “Risk, Try, Revise, Erase,” wasn’t a Q&A, but I sent him some questions anyway, for the fun of it. Some of his replies were included in my 2006 article, but my questions were more guided by my interests and curiosity than focused journalistic intent.

That’s why this interview was never published before. It didn’t seem polished enough or grand enough. But I can’t get my friend out of my mind today. So the Book Haven provides me an opportunity to share these outtakes with a very gifted poet who left us too soon. He was one of the reasons I wanted to go back to Kraków, and now it’s hard to imagine the city without him. It is said that he lived in the shadow of poetry giants, but he also became one, and on his own his quiet terms. (A week or ago I wrote about sculptor Jonathan Hirschfeld’s sculpture of Miłosz. I also share his portrait of Adam above, circa 1990, in the same spirit of the moment.)

It’s now up over at the Los Angeles Review of Books here. A few excerpts:

I recall your comments about the influence of Nietzsche:  Noting his minting of such terms as “superman,” “will to power,” “beyond good and evil” – and adding that “someone once rightly observed that beyond good and evil lies only evil” – you suggested that without these influences, “the spiritual atmosphere of our century might have been purer and perhaps even prouder.” 

Well, the disease of irony seems to be well identified. I adore irony as a part of our rich rhetorical and mental apparatus but not when it assumes the position of a spiritual guidance. How to cure it? I wish I knew. The danger is that we live in a world where there’s irony on one side and fundamentalism (religious, political) on the other. Between them the space is rather small but it’s my space.


You wrote: “We need to go on, paying the price, sometimes, of being not only imperfect but even, who knows, arrogant and ridiculous.”

My temperament is different. Sometimes I wish I were an arrogant prophet, an aggressive guy. But my force – if I have any – is different, it lives more in nuances, in tranquility of my voice. Somehow I hope that the rhetoric of tranquility is after all stronger and more long-term than the one of a furious attack.


What do you think?  What is the future for us who like to spend our days chewing the end of a pen and having long thoughts?

We’ll be living in small ghettos, far from where celebrities dwell, and yet in every generation there will be a new delivery of minds that will love long and slow thoughts and books and poetry and music, so that these rather pleasant ghettos will never perish–and one day may even stir more excitement than we’re used to now.

You wrote that Erbarme Dich is the heart of civilization. Comment?

Bach represents the center and the synthesis of the western music. To say, as I did, that this particular aria is the center of western music is a leap of faith, of course. I couldn’t prove it. I love this aria.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books here. And for Adam … the “Erbarme Dich.


2 Responses to ““My force–if I have any–is different, it lives more in nuances, in tranquility of my voice.” My never-before-published Q&A with Adam Zagajewski.”

  1. Jehane Markham Says:

    Thank you so much for putting up your Q and A and the incredible music.
    What a wonderful man and wonderful poet.

  2. N3 Says:

    You’re most welcome, Jehane!