Polish Poetry – 2

Jerzy Kosinski speaking on the occasion of the PEN Julia Hartwig and Artur Miedzyrzecki reading/discussion,  November 25, 1986, PEN Club, New York – photo -(c) Czeslaw Czaplinski

Continuing from here – a poetry reading from November 25, 1986, by Polish poets Julia Hartwig and Artur Miedzyrzecki  at the PEN Club, New York City.

Allen Ginsberg moderates the Q & A period.

Some brief excerpts:

AG: Well as you’ve heard, both poets have dealt very directly with the problem of having to confront the large giant, and appease the giant, or relate to the violence capable of.. on the part of the giant.  I wonder if there is.. to begin the conversation, I wonder if there is any  understanding that you’ve gained in your experience in Poland through these last two decades that you think Americans don’t … that you think American writers and the intelligentsia, don’t understand, and should understand, and pick up on (if that’s not too large a question?) In other words, where do you think the American poets are naïve?

AM: No, I really don’t think so. I think it would be a very extravagant and an arrogant thing to say yes…..I think that, of course, we have very different experiences (perhaps lucky for you!)…however, I think your. . The experience is unique. I think.. I really believe, that is the experience of the second half of the twentieth-century, because you are, you are..
You mentioned Allen, these last two decades. These are our universal experiences. You mentioned, for example, 1968. So it’s a very interesting fact, and I have no answer, but..I think, the state itself in Poland and Czechoslovakia..  the world, after 1968 was not the same. And this was the same generation in action everywhere independent of the v..  So this is one example where we cannot answer in a very simplistic way…

I don’t know how you would explain, how you would translate this into American life. I’m speaking about cultural and literary rights.  I think that the change was tremendous. Moreover, in the late ’60’s, such American phenomena in American Literature, like, for instance, the first book of (J.D) Salinger’s novel (The Catcher In The Rye), the first book of Truman Capote novel, the Voices (Other Voices, Other Rooms), yes,  and Francois Sagan’s first book (Bonjour Tristesse), in Poland, (Józef) Mackiewicz’s short stories.. All this (I am speaking about my experience), all this, practically formed a very similar world of ideas. Of course, this was a world singing the songs of The Beatles. This was this period,  but this was this nostalgical-now period of our
AG: Even in Poland?
AM: Yes , I would say so. I know, with Julia, for instance, we knew the Beatles songs because this was all the time played in our daughter’s room, so this was in the same place. So.. and this experience was not unique.. and I think that… and moreover the Spring of Prague, I think (this was what, to our experience, was very close, we had a march in Poland),  I think this was very popular in America, very well-known. So I think that everybody who wants to be informed is, everybody who wants to participate is
and I didn’t mention also the poems of the Beat Generation, of yours, but this was also the beginning of this –  because you are here, because.. I didn’t want to tell you. but, this also was the question of the Beat Generation. After all, we saw in Beat Generation a kind of continuation (I don’t know if you’d agree), of the line of Walt Whitman, and in Poland, the line of Romanticism in our country was very much alive, very much expected. So this was a kind of common…  common interest in this kind of tradition (because this was a kind of tradition, actually).

So.of course, the differences were enormous, I mean in political life. This is obvious. This is the so-called great wrath of the newspapers. However in culture, the literary life, I wouldn’t say that this.. that this is  so.. different. I wouldn’t say..  Our conditions of life are different but our concerns, no – we are both Vice-Presidents of the same organization!

AG:  Other hands here? Does anybody wish to ask questions? You’ve got a great opportunity now. Could we announce our names as we speak and perhaps stand up so we can be heard clearly by everybody?

Audience member asks a question about censorship and publishing

You know, I think that it is.. I have reached the same position before writing these poems probably. So it doesn’t change, you know the fact of publishing, I think we feel rather, very much and very deeply,  no concern, but even connected with our other readers and also with other Polish writers, who of course write differently however in the basic human questions we are together. So this is..it’s not the question of our play with government because this is a minor question, this is a minor political question. The major question is your moral status, your attitude, and you cannot care about this.  Of course you are going to be challenged after , it’s obvious. But I would… I don’t think it’s.. it’s so important. It is in a way, however, very early you make always (you did probably) a kind of choice, you say a big “Yeah” or a big “No and it is not…and you simply make your life, telling your opinions, expressing your feelings in a way you find honest. No, that’s all, that’s all. I don’t know, because you know the government changes. We are, of course, weak, because we have no power, but, however,    Literature and Art are not so easy, because we are longer, we are longer. The government changes, they come and they go. Literature stays, you know. So we have the feeling of the durability of the letters. We are not weak.’

Next audience-member (AG: “Perhaps you can rise”)  asks a question about the history of twentieth-century Polish poetry

If you don’t know we have to explain this because Poland was two hundred years under the Russians, it means… it was.. you now, the part.. I am sorry to remind you, the partition.. this was a partition of Poland, so the whole nineteenth-century, they didn’t go out..they were.. they stayed there. And they have this independent spirit after 1918…

I understand that this is not precise enough. I feel that you wanted to ask what kind of writing existed in Poland, since-independent Poland, before (the) First and Second World War? – yes? was that your question?   – So.. I see.. because this is the cell, I think, of your question, yes. – so, perhaps Julia will tell you… (Both Julia Hartwig and Artur Miedzyrzecki speak at length on the history of Polish poetry)

AM: Allen saw the young people trying to make the theater, trying to, after all, do something. So…

AG: I had an interesting experience which was, I was… It was suggested before I go, not to go on television, not to go on the radio, and not to cooperate with the official media, and so when I went there I was immediately put into the hands of younger friends, who in the daytime worked in publishing companies and at night worked in samizdat, or who were working in theaters that were financially independent of the government, on a margin, so they were able to do what they want without too much censorship . I found a livelier and much more radiant intellectual life there than I do find in America because they are clearer about the role of the government – they know the government, the state is.. is a drag. Here, until maybe up till maybe last week with the Iranian crisis (sic), everyone was sucked in by Reagan(‘s) government  and thought the government was official. Everybody here still believes in the government, whereas there the disillusionment was so complete so “everyone’s on their own, making their own culture”. So it wasn’t all official culture, and it reminded me a great deal of the alternative culture we had here in America in the ‘Sixties. And the key word was “autonomy”

AG: Before we conclude one former Polish President of PEN Jerzy Kosinski is here, I wonder as a former President of PEN and a Polish-speaking writer do you have any questions or comments?

Jerzy Kosinski: Thank you very much. I am very moved. I felt that there was two of me here –  my Polish part, listening in Polish, and my American part, my thirty-year-old American part, listening in English. I really think that there’s no way to reconcile poetry in different languages, poetry exists the way one’s deepest thinking does, the way the way ones reflux does. I listened to the Polish poetry, poetry in Polish, and I recall that both (Paul) Valery and Henry James claimed that poetry must be spoken,  it should never really be read.  And the reason that it should be spoken is that one then one feels the inner rhythm of it which somehow disappears on the printed page. In translation.. what happened to me (and, since this is a bilingual audience, potentially, it might be of interest), what happened to me was my Polish-part responded to the poetry emotionally, I was very moved (which is not the state I find myself in very readily), and my American-part listened to the translation not to the poetry. In my American-self I was a censor, censor in the translation, my Polish-part responded emotionally, I was very moved. And in fact, for a brief moment, I had a sense of regret  – “What would have happened had I remained in Poland”?  Another dream was – ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if half of Polish PEN could speak English and half of American PEN could speak Polish, my Presidency would have been so much easier, in the past”. And these are, basically, the reflections of a bilingual PEN member would have.  For instance, I’m much more interested in to what degree that you would feel that poetry actually can be translated. In other words, would poetry spoken to a Polish audience (entirely Polish audience in New York, not an American-Polish audience, but entirely Polish audience), would such poetry evoke or elicit the same responses the English translation did? Is it possible that the American translation was more detached and therefore read more as a message rather than as a poetry?  The writing there was no message in it, it was feeling, it was a very gut feeling, I was moved.  In translation, I tended to look for a notion. Poetry is not about notions, poetry  is about emotional reaction….in Poland, particularly…

Pasternak, Boris Pasternak said that “a good poet cannot be a bad man” (it’s probably true for a woman as well!, a good poet – might as well, correct it!……

As a partitioned Pole, as a Pole partitioned in two different cultures, I don’t see any break in Polish spirit. That’s the spirit that’s been guiding Poland and keeping  us, thoseportioned Poles very much alive. And that’s the spirit I heard here in Polish, and in English I heard an echo of it. But that’s the way it ought to be. Translation of the poetry is always an echo, not the original sound.

Allen concludes

AG:  Well as a member of the board of trustees on the Committee For International Poetry, I’d like to thank PEN club for hosting the.. all of us, particularly Karen Kennerly and the PEN staff for getting (us) all….

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