Posts Tagged ‘Anna Frajlich’

Poet Anna Frajlich’s long journey from Warsaw to New York

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016
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Anna, photographed by Krzysztof Dubiel.

Poet Anna Frajlich-Zajac (she uses Frajlich as her pen name) is retiring from Columbia University, where she taught Polish language and literature for decades. The Harriman Institute’s Ronald Meyer has written a tribute to the Polish poet. Here’s how she came to New York City, in a wave of Jewish emigration too little known in the West:

Anna and her family were part of the mass emigration of some 13,000 Poles of Jewish descent who had fallen victim to a virulent anti-Semitic campaign and political crisis known as March 1968. Emigration required renunciation of one’s Polish citizenship, which Anna had to perform on behalf of her two-year-old son. Like her fellow émigrés, Anna believed that she would never see her native land again. Officially they were bound for Israel, but her husband argued that if they were to leave Poland, they should go as far as possible from Europe; thus they informed the authorities in Vienna that they wished to make the United States their home. They traveled to Rome under the care of the gendarmerie due to their statelessness. As they awaited travel documents for the United States, they were charged only with refraining from any demonstrations, which left them free to explore the Eternal City and begin adapting to life in the West. Many years later Anna’s Roman ramblings would provide the background for her dissertation and monograph, The Legacy of Ancient Rome in the Russian Silver Age.

I couldn’t agree more with Anna’s assertion that “language is a key to literature, to history, to understanding progress of any sort.” I had the good fortune to meet Anna in connection with An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz:

Anna worked as a freelance cultural correspondent with Radio Free Europe (RFE) as a writer and interviewer, which culminated in her interview with Czesław Miłosz upon his receiving the Nobel Prize. She first met Miłosz at a lecture at the Guggenheim on October 17, 1978; he inscribed the date in his book about Stanisław Brzozowski, which Anna had purchased in a local Polish bookstore and brought for him to autograph. When writing her thesis on “one of the most original Polish thinkers of the twentieth century,” to cite Miłosz’s formulation, Anna had to travel across Warsaw to read this same book in the restricted section of the library, after producing a document from her thesis adviser. Now she had her own copy, with the author’s inscription. They continued to meet sporadically at readings and conferences.

invisibleThe Nobel interview, which has been published in English translation [that would be in An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz], almost did not come about. Miłosz had not been treated well by RFE in the early days of his emigration, and he did not feel obliged in the least to give them an interview. But he had been persuaded that since he had given an interview to Trybuna Ludu, the Polish Communist daily, he should give one to RFE. He agreed, but insisted that Anna conduct the interview. The interview took place at Miłosz’s home in Berkeley. The piece, which very much represents a poet interviewing a poet, was a resounding success; it was broadcast four times and published. In 1993, Anna was conducting interviews for the column “What Other People Read,” which was appearing in the cultural supplement to the Polish Daily News. She conducted a telephone interview with Miłosz for the column, realizing only after hanging up that she had forgotten to hit the record button. She immediately called him back and explained the situation. He “graciously” suggested that they conduct the interview again the next morning. You can read about Anna’s relationship with Miłosz, including how he introduced her to Scotch after they concluded the Nobel interview and that she taught his granddaughter Polish at Columbia, in her essay, “He Also Knew How to Be Gracious.”

Anna earned her master’s degree in Polish philology at Warsaw University, writing her dissertation on the philosopher and critic Stanisław Brzozowski and the Polish positivists. She began her graduate studies under the guidance of Zoya Yurieff, a professor of Slavic literatures and cultures at New York University who was an early inspiration and encouraged her graduate education in the first place. Yurieff also suggested the topic of ancient Rome in the poetry of the Russian symbolists.

What future for Anna? She plans to write a memoir called Women in My Life, which will include portraits of her mother and a Warsaw University professor, among others, and, of course, Zoya Yurieff.

Read the whole retrospective here. Meanwhile, a poem dedicated to her wonderful husband, reprinted with her permission:

Manhattan Panorama

to Władek 

The bridges overhang the city
like diamonds in a diadem
reflected lights are burning
in the Hudson and the Harlem Rivers
in the East River in the bay
and in puddles on the road
the bridges overhang the city
that shone in flight
between a setting star
and the rising moon
walls pinned into heaven
pressed by granite to the ground
wind in its stone sails
out to sea
it moves at dawn

(Translated by Ross Ufberg)

New York City in 62 hours: revisiting old memories, making new ones

Monday, May 6th, 2013
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I spent a whirlwind 62 hours in New York City, but they were “cherce.”  Fortunately, photographer (and friend) Zygmunt Malinowski was on hand to document some of the highlights, and has kindly allowed the Book Haven to feature them.

First, I spoke at a commemorative event for Krzysztof Michalski, the founder of Vienna’s Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, where I was Milena Jesenská Fellow a few years ago.  “Democracy is Controversy Plus Solidarity: In the Absence of Krzysztof Michalski” was sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Forum and the Polish Cultural Institute, in conjunction with the P.E.N. Festival in New York City.

The panel left to right:  Alfred Gusenbauer, former prime minister of Austria;  literary historian and author Irena Grudzinska Gross of Princeton;  Andreas Stadler, director of the Austrian Cultural Forum; Marci Shore of Yale author of The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe, and Humble Moi…

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Whoops!  There’s someone missing from this line-up.  Same cast of characters, but below you can also see Yale’s Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands (and Marci Shore’s husband) at far right.

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Next, some of us who met for the Czesław Miłosz centenary in New York City two years ago decided to celebrate a reunion.  What better place than the famous Russian Samovar, a longstanding mecca for the Russian literati (and other Slavs … and non-Slavs)? The place was a familiar haunt for Joseph Brodsky, a friend of Miłosz’s.

The Russian Samovar’s legendary proprietor Roman Kaplan appeared toward the evening – he’d founded the hang-out with Mikhail Baryshnikov and he’d also been an especially close friend of Brodsky’s.  No sooner did he find out about my association with the Nobel poet than he pulled me into the corner seat, where Joseph Brodsky had usually held court, and a photo with the (by then) glassy-eyed Moi was snapped.  Glassy-eyed, but nevertheless … stepping into a page of New York cultural history.

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Finally, here’s the whole reunion crew.  This is the only photograph in the group that is not by Zygmunt, because that’s him at far left, looking gravely into the camera (in the mirror you can see the mystery guest photographer’s arms).  The poet Anna Frajlich is next to Zygmunt, then Alla Roylance, Moi, Izabella Barry, and Władek Zając.  Couldn’t find a better group of people.  And you’d hard-pressed to find a better dinner, beginning with vodka infused with horseradish, cranberries, and lemon (you can read about them at the Paris Review here) continuing with Georgian and traditional Russian dishes, and finishing with samovar tea with jam.  Dostoevsky would have approved entirely.

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After the panel discussion, we ended at the residence of U.N. Ambassador Martin Sajdik.  Risotto with white spargel, a perfectly chilled white wine from the Kamp River region, quince schnapps, and plenty of Mozartkugeln.  Can’t top that … but ohhhhh, I wish I could find that brilliant Austrian wine here, but the ambassador, rightly known as a connoisseur, told me the American market likes its wines a little more fruity, a little less delightfully sharp – you have to go to Vienna to get these.  As good an incitement as any, should you need one.

Here’s Roman Kaplan reading Joseph Brodsky’s poems in the commemorative corner:

 

Virtual ink for An Invisible Rope at Words Without Borders

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011
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Words Without Borders has included a nice summary of the Czesław Miłosz centenary events by Iza Wojciechowska – just when we thought we were the only ones keeping track of the celebrations (with articles here and  here and here and here).  But nicest of all, WWB gave price of pride to An Invisible Rope, and particularly to the Columbia University launch for the book.

The piece concludes:

The title of the book, An Invisible Rope, comes also from “A Magic Mountain,” a refutation of defeat, perhaps apt for a poet who dealt with political tensions, who was banned in his own country, and yet who became Poland’s best-known poet:

Until it passed. What passed? Life.
Now I am not ashamed of my defeat.
One murky island with its barking seals
Or a parched desert is enough
To make us say: yes, oui, si.
“Even asleep we partake in the becoming of the world.”
Endurance comes only from enduring.
With a flick of the wrist I fashioned an invisible rope,
And climbed it and it held me.

Anna Frajlich, one of the contributors to An Invisible Rope and a panelist, recalled running after Miłosz the first time she met him with a copy of his Man Among Scorpions to tell him, “I want to thank you for writing this book.” In a way, An Invisible Rope—and the entire year-long celebration of the poet’s life—is a means for both the people who knew Miłosz and for those who simply admire him, to thank him for writing his books, which contributed much to the canon of Polish and worldwide literature.

Read more here. Hat tip to Tess Lewis for the tip. And now, as the clock strokes twelve, bed.
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Youtube immortality — Adam Zagajewski, Anna Frajlich, and me in Brooklyn

Monday, April 11th, 2011
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Everyone asks about the Brooklyn Central Library launch for An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz. How did it go?

You can see for yourself here and here — or click on the links below to hear poets Anna Frajlich (at top) and Adam Zagajewski (at bottom) share their memories of Miłosz for a few minutes. (By the by, the woman to Adam’s left is art historian Elisabeth Kridl Valkenier, who knew  Miłosz in the 1930s. And the man to Elisabeth’s left is photographer Zygmunt Malinowski, who kindly provided photos, including the cover art, for An Invisible Rope.

Thanks to Grzegorz Worwa for providing the clips.

Columbia University honors Czesław Miłosz — and launches An Invisible Rope

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
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Last night Columbia University honored Czesław Miłosz — and launched An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz — with a panel discussion.  Left to right:  poet Anna Frajlich; scholar and translator Bogdana Carpenter; James Marcus, deputy editor of Harper’s Magazine; Alan Timberlake, chair of Slavic Languages at Columbia; humble moi; and scholar Elisabeth Kridl Valkenier.  The photo is courtesy Zygmunt Malinowski, whose photograph of Miłosz graces the cover of An Invisible Rope.

The evening held some surprises — I’ll write more in a few hours.  After nine days in chilly, rainy, New York, I’ve just arrived back in beautiful California, where the temperature is warm, the sun is out, and the flowers are everywhere.  Hard to believe Miłosz sometimes considered it the landscape of the damned — or, as Clare Cavanagh said, “the landscape of the damned — with good weather.”

Meet you in Manhattan!

Sunday, March 20th, 2011
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I’m off!  Or at least I will be in a few hours.

I’m on my way to a week of gigs honoring the Czesław Miłosz centenary in New York City — with a side order for Zbigniew Herbert.  I posted about them a while back here.

Come up and say hello if you see me — otherwise, prepare for a few logistical delays, but I expect to be posting about Clare Cavanagh, Robert Hass, Edward Hirsch, Adam Zagajewski, Anna Frajlich, Bogdana Carpenter, James Marcus, and many others in the coming days.

See you there!

Join me in NYC for the Czesław Miłosz Centenary!

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
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There’s a swirl of events March 21-28 honoring the Czesław Miłosz centenary in New York City (and one event for Zbigniew Herbert).  Join me in celebrating, if you’re in town!  It’s certainly a rare event for me — at least a decade since I’ve been in New York at all, sedentary little West Coaster that I am.

I will be speaking at Columbia University (see poster at right) on the 28th and at the Brooklyn Central Library on the 27th.

Ann Kjellberg at Little Star has blogged about some of the other events here.

They include:

March 21 — 8 p.m., Kaufman Concert Hall, 92 Street Y: “A Celebration of Czesław Miłosz with Robert Hass, Adam Zagajewski and Clare Cavanagh

March 22 — 7 p.m., Music Building, Queens College: “A Centennial Celebration of the Work of Czesław Miłosz” — Clare Cavanagh, Robert Hass, Edward Hirsch, Adam Zagajewski

March 24 — 7 p.m., Poets House: “A Poet’s Prose: The Poetic Vision of Zbigniew Herbert,” Edward Hirsch, Charles Simic, Alissa Valles, Adam Zagajewski

March 27 — 1.30 p.m., Brooklyn Central Library, “An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz,” Cynthia Haven, Adam Zagajewski, Anna Frajlich, Elizabeth Valkenier and Zygmunt Malinowski

March 28 — 7 p.m., The Lindsay Rogers Room, Columbia University, “An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz,” Cynthia Haven, Anna Frajlich, Elizabeth Valkenier, Bogdana Carpenter, James Marcus, and Alan Timberlake