Posts Tagged ‘Tomasz Różycki’

On Adam Zagajewski: “He followed his own path, and at times it seemed that he had been abandoned there, alone.”

Tuesday, December 21st, 2021
His poetry “exploding with light”

Tomasz Różycki and I met a decade ago, at a New York City party celebrating the publication of my An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz. He was an up-and-coming poet then, a new generation, and I was told he was someone to watch.

I had met Poland’s greatest living poet, Adam Zagajewski, during my first visit to Kraków in 2008; he became an important reason to return to that jewel-box city. But I didn’t know of the connection between the two poets until The Los Angeles Review of Books‘ quarterly review (that’s right, the LARB has a print edition) published this marvelous homage: “Dark Coat: On Adam Zagajewski,” remembering the poet’s life and work before his shocking and unexpected death on March 21. The artistic reason for the tribute: the younger poet writes that “poetry is, finally, a mourning of each death, of every vanishing, witness to the ‘fury of disappearance.'” In this case prose will serve the cause as well.

According to Tomasz Różycki: “He followed his own path, and at times it seemed that he had been abandoned there, alone.” In writing a retrospective, he has written the best introduction to Adam Zagajewski and his work I know. (The translation of the essay, by the way, is by the poet Mira Rosenthal, a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford.

A couple excerpts, the first one discussing Adam Zagajewski’s renowned poem, “To Go to Lvov”:

It was a very concrete and Polish kind of poetry, as much as Polish recollections of a lost Lwów can be — and, at the same time, it was detached from our cursed Polish problems. It was different, worldly, free. Not because the poems were detached from reality, as Polish critics often accused them of being, no — they were about reality itself, since our reality is twofold, if only because of the fact that it’s made up of the visible and the invisible and, in addition, to quote Hegel, it is threatened by the “fury of disappearance” and, therefore, only accessible to us within the blink of an eye. Moreover, poetry is the awareness of this vanishing, an elegy, a farewell to reality, a moment of mourning, necessary for us to be able to cope with the loss and to deal with the overabundance of memory. 

I’m writing this because some things only happen once in a lifetime; we can pass them over in silence, but sooner or later that silence will overwhelm and engulf us. We can try to be thankful for them, however ineptly, but that gratitude by its very nature will be less than the gift we received. It’s helpful to gain distance from something in order to describe it. It’s even better if the object of description has been frozen, though that’s not possible in this case, even with the help of such a fixative as death.


“I’m writing this because some things only happen once in a lifetime.”

His poetry seemed different from anything I had read before, especially from contemporary poetry, which was marked by some king of gloomy heaviness, some kind of dry, wooden palpitation of language. Within Adam’s poetry, there was breath, space; it was not cramped, but exploding with light. Within it, there was no confusion or great toil; it was exactly as he had written — “a search for radiance.” And it was a poetry of joy — the pure joy of being, of admiration for beauty and the world, of being a child in the world. Joy like the joy of swimming in the warm Mediterranean Sea. He understood and wrote about the fact that, in the same sea, refugees were drowning, just as he understood and wrote about the fact that Lwów, a city that he loved dearly, was the site of so much death just before his birth. “A poem grows on contradictions, but it can’t grow over them,” as he wrote in “Ode to Plurality.” His poetry did not absolve him of anything, but it took on what poetry has taken on from the beginning: a celebration of human existence, of human life. The world is sometimes difficult and unbearable, but it also deserves to be praised, life deserves our gratitude and good that is more powerful than evil. Czesław Miłosz adored how Adam’s poems were so “intoxicated with the world.” His poems are often ecstatic, orgasmic, starting with the concrete and transforming into a hymn — as in, among many others, the poem “Lava,” which could be seen as an attempt to answer Adorno’s famous assertion that writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. So many poems tell of flashes of happiness — of those times, as Schopenhauer says, when “we are, for that moment, unburdened of the base press of the will, we celebrate the Sabbath of the workhouse of willing, the wheel of Ixion stands still,” and which Nietzsche described with the phrase “eternal return.” Adam’s poetry is slight and piercing at the same time, and when I read it, I get the sensation that the calendar has made some kind of mistake again and forgot to note the holiday that the poem announces.

Take heart from award-winning translator Mira Rosenthal! “A dirty secret I keep is that I started horribly.”

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Tomasz Różycki: The “thematic weight of previous generations” and an “ironic attitude,” too.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mira Rosenthal when she was a Stegner fellow a few years back at Stanford. But I met poet Tomasz Różycki even earlier – at a party hosted by Izabela Barry in Westchester, when An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz launched in New York City back in 2011. She had been his translator, bringing him into English, and we chatted about that over coffee in the Stanford Bookstore. 

I was pleased to see she’s been interviewed over at the Center for the Art of Translation. An excerpt:

“Sound drives sense, not the other way around.”

Poland has an amazing poetic tradition, which I first became enamored of in English translation—poet’s like Czesław Miłosz, Anna Swirszczyńska, and Zbigniew Herbert—so much so that I decided to learn the language in order to be able to read their work in the original. When I went looking for more voices, I was both intrigued and disappointed to find that many younger poets had turned away from this post-war generation. In their desire to escape the burdens of recent history, they ended up embracing the New York School of American poets as models instead. How liberating Frank O’Hara’s I-Do-This, I-Do-That poetics must have been after Miłosz’s insistence on pondering the nature of good and evil.

What appeals to me about Różycki’s poetry is that he somehow has found a way to straddle these two stances. He engages with the thematic weight of previous generations while also cultivating an ironic attitude toward contemporary, urban experience, which also means a certain globalized experience today.

EW: How did you start with some of Różycki’s more formal poems, the series of sonnets, for example? Have you found yourself writing in form?

MR: Well, a dirty secret I keep is that I started horribly. And it’s well preserved in print! I began much more loosely than I ended up because, as a beginning translator, I was too concerned with sense. I cut my teeth on Różycki’s poetry—which is partly why it’s so easy now for me to drop into his work, his voice, his outlook, the weight of certain words that he uses repeatedly, and know what to do as a translator. I’m now translating the work of another poet, Krystyna Dąbrowska, and I don’t feel the same automatic facility. There’s an initial getting-to-know-you period in which I have to learn what a particular writer requires of me as a translator.

At first with Różycki’s poems, I figured that, in order to get the sense right, I would do away with meter and rhyme. Many translators had done so before with similarly formal poetry. But I was never really happy with those versions, even though they were picked up by journals. One of the main distinguishing characteristics of Różycki’s poetry is the sound: it convinces through its lyricism. You know, the kind of poetry where you’re not really sure that you understand what’s being said, but you’re overcome and moved by the language. As a writer, I know well the truth in the idea that sound drives sense, not the other way around.

Read the whole thing here.

Brenda Hillman, Anne Carson win Griffin Awards in Toronto!

Thursday, June 5th, 2014


Two-time winner.

The Griffin Awards were announced in Toronto a few hours ago, and we’re happy to see familiar names on the lists.  Canadian poet Anne Carson, recently a Stanford guest (we wrote about her here and here)  became the first two-time winner of the $65,000 award, one of the most lucrative poetry prizes in the world, for her latest collection Red Doc.  The Berkeley’s Brenda Hillman was awarded the international prize, also worth $65,000, for her ninth collection, Seasonal Works With Letters on Fire. The jury had praised the collection as “a unique work. Its letters are on fire.”

In her acceptance speech, Brenda said that the world requires “more poetry and fewer weapons.” She had the guts to show it during the recent Occupy protests, when she and her Pulitzer prizewinning husband Robert Hass were roughed up by the police (I wrote about it here). The shortlisted poets gave a reading last night  at Koerner Hall in Toronto – a video of the readings from the shortlisted poets below. Brenda is about 36 minutes into the video, Ann Carson is at about 1.51.


Brenda goes international.

Here’s part of the reason for excitement for me: the Griffin Poetry Trust considers poetry in translation in its awards as well. It was a pleasure to hear Polish poetry again, recited by one of Poland’s best new poets, Tomasz Różycki – I was pleased to have a chance to meet him in New York three years ago. Stanford Stegner fellow Mira Rosenthal is the translator for his collection Colonies (Zephyr Press). You can see both at about 1.03 on the video below. See if you love the sound of Polish as much as I do. The book has already received a “notable translations of 2013” recognition from World Literature Today.

Other finalists for the Canadian prize were Sue Goyette for her fourth collection, Ocean, and poet and novelist Anne Michaels for Correspondences, a collaboration with the artist Bernice Eisenstein.

colonies-cover-imageThe other finalists for the International prize were Carl Phillips for Silverchest and Rachael Boast for Pilgrim’s Flower. All the finalists, including both winners, received $10,000 for taking part in the shortlist readings.

Adélia Prado was this year’s recipient of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award – Bob Hass read a few of the Brazilian poet’s poems at about 1.40 on the video. (I’ve written about Bob here and here and here.)

Colonies is also on the short-list for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Award, which will be announced next week, June 13-14 in Oxford, UK. The book is also on the long-list for the PEN Poetry in Translation award.  The short-list for the PEN will be announced on June 17 in New York City. We’ll let you know how it goes.


griffinpoetryprize on Broadcast Live Free

Vladimir Sorokin “can eliminate one’s taste for lovemaking for a lifetime”

Monday, October 24th, 2011

The silver hair is lost in black & white (Elke Wetzig / Creative Commons)

Cannibalism, kinky violence, and scatology don’t normal fall within my range of reading material, but it’s always interesting and instructive to meet the author.

In this case, one of Russia’s most celebrated writers, Vladimir Sorokin, is a gentle, soft-spoken man, awkward in English and speaking with a slight stutter.  He’s hard to miss on campus, where he has started his one-month Stanford residency:  His flowing silver hair cascades to his shoulders.

As for the butcherings and bestiality in his writing – well, I guess he’s considered kind of a sci-fi writer. The protests against his books reached a crescendo in 2002, when protesters threw copies of his book into a huge papier-mâché toilet outside Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater.  (A notorious passage described sex between clones of Stalin and Khrushchev.)

During his pornography trial that year, one of his peers defended him, claiming “pornography is something that provokes indecency, yet reading Sorokin’s works can eliminate one’s taste for lovemaking for a lifetime.”

You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

From my short piece on him:

“According to [scholar Nariman] Skakov, many readers miss the point: “The beauty is not the shocking narrative, but what he does conceptually with the text.” For example, in one book, The Queue, it’s not entirely clear what commodity the characters are lining up for, and the lines of dialogue, including snatches of conversation, roll calls, jokes, howls of rage and amorous moans, are unattributed. Still the people in line wait patiently, doggedly, with several dozen blank pages representing the times when everyone is asleep on benches.

Sorokin’s dystopian science fiction books turn our mild anxieties and worst nightmares into art. His imagined future may include a Sinified Russian language or psychopathic cults, biomodification or hallucinogenic drugs, giant carrier pigeons the size of vultures and a cloned Dostoevsky or Pasternak, with characters and narrative lines that morph into others.”

The reading, with his translator Jamey Gambrell (I reviewed her translation of Marina Tsvetaea‘s Earthly Signs in the Los Angeles Times  here), began with Day of the Oprichnik, a book that opens in a futuristic Russia where czars are back and men in narrow beards wear kaftans and carry ray guns.  The narrator has “always the same dream” …  a white horse, “the stallion of all stallions, dazzling, a sorcerer…”

It all seemed sedate enough – but I ducked out after 45 minutes for a quick dinner with Mira Rosenthal, a current Stegner fellow and translator of poet Tomasz Różycki.

While I pondered weak and weary…

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Unexpected connections

As a guest of Columbia University, I have been installed in the Milburn Hotel on W. 76th Street.  I arrived on Sunday night at about 11 a.m., after the book launch for An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz at Brooklyn Central Library.  I had not eaten anything except some hors d’oeuvres  at a Polish literary party (with a bilingual reading by Polish poet Tomasz Różycki, and a Ukrainian poet whose name I did not catch) in a Westchester County, but plenty of cognac and wine had been poured into me — or, more honestly, I had gladly poured into myself after a long day.

So I didn’t have much of a sense of where I had landed when my friend, the NYU mathemetician Lindsey Van Wagenen, arrived to take me for coffee the next morning.  Lindsey, sensitive to the need for a charming and picturesque setting for her visitor, discarded the usual Starbucks.  We eventually wandered up to 84th Avenue and sat down at Edgar’s Café — I hadn’t thought about the name and chose a corner table beneath a big portrait of Edgar Allen Poe.


The penny fell when big marble placque notified me that this quaint and intimate café occupied the former site of the Brennen Mansion, located on the street between West End Avenue and Broadway known as Edgar Allen Poe Street.  Heavens, I hadn’t really associated America’s famous writer with New York City at all.

The plaque, put up by the New York Shakespeare Society in 1922, informed us that Poe resided right where we were standing, between March 1844 and August 1845.

Important dates for the artist:  He composed “The Raven” here.

They make a pretty good goat cheese omelette, too, and a dynamite cappuccino.