Posts Tagged ‘Adonis’

TLS: Czeslaw Milosz around the world

Thursday, November 24th, 2011
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Rock star treatment

What a nice way to celebrate Thanksgiving!  My article in the Times Literary Supplement is online today, and not behind a paywall.  It begins:

In May this year, the streets of old Cracow were dominated by two names, two events. Czeslaw Milosz’s centenary jostled with Pope John Paul II’s beatification in windows, on banners and billboards, on bookstore shelves, in fliers and leaflets – the pope, perhaps, having the edge over the Nobel laureate, except on the kiosks where Milosz Festival posters prevailed. “It seems to me every poet after death goes through a Purgatory”, Milosz told me over a decade ago. “So he must go through that moment of revision after death.” The “revision”, at this point, is a triumph of twenty-first-century branding and marketing, featuring commemorative books, pens, postcards, blank books, and T-shirts; Milosz’s scrawled signature appears on napkins and even on the wrappers of tiny biscotti.

The Works

Few poets have been feted with such rock star exuberance. The “Milosz Pavilion” on Szczepanski Square hosted literary luminaries such as Adam Zagajewski, Bei Dao, Tomas Venclova, Adonis, and Natalya Gorbanevskaya. (Even the reclusive Wislawa Szymborska made a rare public appearance with her colleague Julia Hartwig at the medieval St Catherine’s Church.) Meanwhile, the Jagiellonian University’s Collegium Novum sponsored a week-long scholarly conference with seventy participants from around the world, including the eminent critics Helen Vendler and Clare Cavanagh, and some leading Polish scholars. The Jagiellonian Library, farther from the centre of town, exhibited manuscripts, photographs and first editions. The events were attended by thousands. All this year, books have poured from Polish publishers. Most notably, Milosz’s own publisher, Znak, issued two hefty volumes: Andrzej Franaszek’s 1,000-page biography – a bestseller – and a new 1,500-page Collected Poems. A few of the literati complained to me that Milosz was not receiving his due among the younger generation – an honoured marble bust to be dusted off seasonally, but not read or remembered – but I saw plenty of evidence to the contrary.

The rest is here.

Nobel prizewinner … Bob Dylan? What on earth is going on?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011
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In Spain, 2010 (Photo: Vitoria Gasteiz)

Can you believe that Bob Dylan, who had fallen off the charts a few days ago, has now risen to #1 for this year’s Nobel Literature Prize?

He’s been given 5:1 odds, putting him ahead of Syrian poet Adonis, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, and the Hungarian writer Peter Nadas.

What is going on?  “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…”

The eminently worthy Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer has fallen to #6.  Down Under poet Les Murray has climbed to #8.  Cormac McCarthy, last summer’s #1 heartthrob, has dropped to #12.  You can check out some of the other punters at Ladbrokes here.

Dylan has regularly figured at the bottom of the lists for years – like Communist Party candidate Gus Hall used to in the presidential elections.  But for no reason anyone knows, the songwriter shot to the top of the list overnight on Tuesday.  According to a Washington Post blog:

…overnight on Tuesday, Dylan’s odds jumped from 100/1 to 10/1. Wednesday, the site had his odds for winning at 5/1, beating out all other contenders. Ladbrookes reported that 80 percent of all bets in a 12-hour period went to Dylan.

Earlier this summer, the singer was nominated for the $50,000 Neustadt international prize for literature, often considered a precursor to the Nobel, losing to Indian-Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry. He won a “special citation” Pulitzer in 2008.  Is he headed for better things?

Ladbrokes hopes not.  It said it would have “a significant five-figure payout” on its hands if Dylan wins the Nobel on Thursday, according to the Guardian:

“We’ve seen enough activity from the right people to suggest Dylan now has a huge chance this year. If he doesn’t make the shortlist at least there will be some seriously burnt fingers,” said spokesman Alex Donohue. “As Dylan said, money doesn’t talk, it swears. If he does the business there might be a few expletives from us as well.”

The Washington Post cited the lyrics of another song:

… could be the bettors are taking gambling advice from Dylan’s own songs: “Make your money while you can, before you have to stop, / For when you pull that dead man’s hand, your gamblin’ days are up.”

Postscript:  The new #2  is Algerian novelist and filmmaker Assia Djebar.  Ever hear of her?  Someone is fooling with us …

And Vaclev Havel made it to #38 today, on his 75th birthday.

“As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it.” – V.H.

Let the Nobel Follies begin!

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011
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Not obscure enough for the prize

Welcome to this year’s Nobel Literature Prize.  Pretty much like last year’s Nobel Literature Prize.

It’s hard to beat the Literary Saloon to the draw:  They led the guessing with a July 1 column, “Nobel Prize speculation (already?!?).”  The site admitted: “Not surprisingly, most of the odds resemble the closing odds for the 2010 prize, but there are big differences, so punters are advised to compare odds before placing their bets.”  Cormac McCarthy (9/2) was just ahead of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (11/2) at Ladbrokes.  Huffington Post picked up the cry here.

We can recycle last year’s reasons why McCarthy won’t get the prize.  Blogger John Matthew Fox thinks he won’t get it because he’s too popular: “The trend over the last few years from the academy is to choose authors that leave a great deal of the world scratching their head and saying “who?” Le Clézio? Please.”

Number Two

Apparently, The Guardian agrees: It has declared Adonis the frontrunner – wasn’t he the frontrunner for awhile last year?

Ladbrokes has made the 81-year-old – who has been described as “the most important Arab poet of our time” – its 4/1 favorite. “Adonis has been a permanent fixture on the shortlist in the past and the odds suggest this could be his year,” said spokesman Alex Donohue.

He’s just ahead of Tomas Tranströmer. “After hitting the woodwork last year we think Tranströmer has a superb chance of atoning for defeat,” said Donohue.  That would certainly be nice. But the Swedish judges seem reluctant to award one of their own.

Tomas Venclova anyone?  He hasn’t surfaced on Ladbrokes long list yet.

Yesterday’s post at the Literary Saloon has all the sites to check as the countdown begins here.  Ladbrokes’ betting is here.

 

 

From Kraków – a great queen, a green queen, and 2 heavy books

Thursday, May 12th, 2011
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The hotseat

The big day:  I spoke at the Collegium Novum of Jagiellonian University yesterday at the Czesław Miłosz Centenary Festival.

If you have to say anything at all, this is about the most intimidating setting that can be imagined to say it in.  Queen (and Saint) Jadwiga looked down on me from above, Pope John Paul II (an alum) gazed at me compassionately from a large portrait to my right, and farther down the hall, a young Copernicus (another alum) gazed up in astonishment at the night sky in a huge painting.  And then there was Humble Moi, in the prorector’s chair.

Nothing to do except take a deep breath, stand up, and imagine that everyone’s head is a cabbage.  Just me and Copernicus.

It’s humbling in other ways.  You roll your eyes at how boring some of the talks were – and then you get the opportunity to bore people yourself.  At least I kept mine beneath the requested 20 minutes.

Queen Jadwiga...not amused

It was nevertheless an honor to speak here.  A picture of the intimidating prorector’s chair I occupied is at right – the very first Book Haven photo from my brand new Droid.

Two years ago I fell in love with the university, one of the oldest in Europe, and Kraków as well, after a moonlight introduction to the city after a glass of wine with Adam Zagajewski. The city is charming at night, alive with lights and people and cafes against the dark backdrop of the trees in the Planty.  That impromptu tour, which included the famous, shadowlit arches of the Collegium Maius, helped me persevere in what sometimes seemed like a daunting,  Rupelstiltskin-type research task during my Milena Jesenská Fellowship with the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen.

I told many stories from the podium at Jagiellonian, but one of my favorites is another kind of Rumpelstiltskin-type odyssey explained by Clare Cavanagh, Miłosz’s American biographer, as she describes her relationship with the curmudgeonly Miłosz:

Green Queen

“Sometimes the doubts ran deeper—his life, his poetry, his soul. And sometimes the doubts were about me: ‘You will produce not my life, but only some facsimile,’ he said with a scowl in the summer of 2003. He spent several weeks that summer putting me through the biographer’s equivalent of boot camp. … every day he gave the same response: ‘Takie oszywiste pytania,’ ‘(Such obvious questions).’ Then he’d would invite me for another session the next day, when yet another set of questions would be dismissed and after an excruciating hour or two, I’d would be sent home to think up some ‘questions no one’s asked me yet.’ …

Finally, after a sleepless night spent reading and rereading the then-untranslated Second Space, I went in and asked about the poems, and about religion. Those were the questions he wanted. And that was what I’d wanted to talk about, too, but I’d thought biographers were supposed to do something different. We talked about ‘Father Seweryn’ and ‘The Treatise on Theology’—I said I’d been surprised by the Virgin at the end, and he laughed and said, ‘I was, too.’

Clare, of course, is here in Kraków, too.  And still wearing her green jacket, her green glasses, and (I’ve learned in Kraków) she has a green backpack to match.  Daughter of Eire.

***

Today I got more swag.  After a seminar on translation with Agnieszka Kosińska, another of my contributors (the session was in Polish, but I went just for Agnieszka), we made a trek to the Book Institute off Kraków’s main square. The Book Institute is a wonderful organization in Kraków – funded by the Ministry of Culture, I think – that promotes Polish literature.

The books they gave me will tip the scales at the next airport.  Andrzej Franaszek‘s new 1,000-page biography of Miłosz, and a 1,400-page collected poems – both published by Znak. Clare told me that about a third of Miłosz’s poems have not been translated yet, to my best recollection of the size of the English-language Collected, that sounds about right.

During a visit with octogenarian poet and author Marek Skwarnicki (another contributor) way on the outskirts of Kraków this afternoon, he said the biography is a bit of a wonder in Kraków.  Andrew has spent 10 years working on the book, and is now only about 40.  Such a thick book from such a young man is not commonplace in Poland, Marek said.

Now.  All I have to be able to do is get on the airplane with all this.

Oh, oh, oh … I haven’t told you about the Miłosz pavilion yet.  And the reading with Adonis and Ryszard Krynicki and Ed Hirsch and Jane Hirshfield tonight. There’s more to come.

The Poles throw a party: postcard from Kraków

Monday, May 9th, 2011
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Jagiellonian University's Collegium Novum

When the Poles throw a party – they don’t settle for half-measures.  And what better occasion than the Czesław Miłosz centenary?  This is easily the most lavish, labor-intensive, high-class shindig of its kind I’ve ever attended.

We’re not just talking about the obvious:  swag bags with books and DVDs; Miłosz pencils, pens, and t-shirts; Miłosz’s signature on the dinner napkins, and just about everywhere else.  It’s not only the stunning setting at Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in Europe.

Collegium Novum's Assembly Room

Everyone is here:  Derek Walcott, Bei Dao, Thomas Venclova, Adonis, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, and Adam Michnik are among the luminaries – but only among. There are many more.

Queen Jadwiga's portrait watches over us

Though the Book Haven has been relatively silent lately, obviously I have not been idly eating bonbons.  Or at least, not only. This conference at the university’s Collegium Novum and the “Miłosz Pavilion” has pretty much been running me ragged – and the Milosz365 festival continues into the weekend and next week.

And organizers Jerzy Illg, publisher of Znak, and Aleksander Fiut, Miłosz scholar, have bags under their eyes …  Well, they’re not the only ones.

Consider this a down payment.  More later.

Postscript on 5/14:  Walcott’s a no-show, nobody knows why, though a pleasant, vague letter was read by Jerzy Illg at one of the events.  I understand this is not the first time Walcott has bailed.