Disruption and Continuity: The Poetry of Krzysztof Piechowicz and Tadeusz Dziewanowski

Tadeusz Dziewanowski
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

To samo niebie, ta sama ziemia
(This Same Heaven, This Same Earth)
BY Krzysztof Piechowicz
(Warsaw: Korab Publishing House, 1991)


Translator’s Note

These poems in Cerise Press are some of the first fruits of my latest stay in Poland, from mid-August to mid-December in 2008.

First a preamble: towards the end of October, a few days before the Polish Day of the Dead on November 1, I emceed a literary evening devoted to the poetry of Edgar Lee Masters and his Spoon River Anthology, hosted in a Gdańsk art gallery that had been renovated from a Cold-War era bomb-shelter. Indeed, to enter the side-room for the wine and cheese reception afterwards, everyone had to duck under a series of low-hanging ceiling beams. It was dark and claustrophobic, a doorway to the underworld — a reminder of the ongoing frisson of our awareness of death, something that we all feel, and something we respond to in very complicated ways, ranging from dressing up as vampires to talking to our dead husband while we trim rosebushes by the porch.

In America, I have always felt that Memorial Day falls in the wrong season. To honor the dead not just in word but with the body, to bring flowers, clean gravestones, and finally to speak some of the words inside you out loud, is certainly a powerful urge, but it is also a rite undermined by the weather, the mythic force of the season — one of expansion and growth, the acceleration of green grass and the ever-concentrating force of the sun. … during my many stays in Poland I have always been drawn to their Day of the Dead held not in the happy drowse of early summer but on the cold threshold of winter. Further, it is a holiday in which the living move towards the dead, not just vice versa. It is no wonder that Memorial Day in America has become more about industrial-strength cookouts and car and appliance sales than it is about contemplation of the past. That is why during my many stays in Poland I have always been drawn to their Day of the Dead held not in the happy drowse of early summer but on the cold threshold of winter. Further, it is a holiday in which the living move towards the dead, not just vice versa. Even in the days leading up to the commemoration, the cemeteries are full with people scrubbing up their family gravesites with brush and rag, with soap and water, washing off the grit of the year, making the marble and sandstone gleam. Then, on the day itself, the graveyards become filled with the throngs of people visiting not just their own dead but the dead of their close friends, sharing old and new stories with one another. Meanwhile, the smoke from the thousands of votive candles lit by the loved ones’ graves congregates throughout the cemetery, and as the night draws on and the air cools, the candles die down and sputter out, replaced by the sound of glass breaking as the fragile candle-holders explode in the sudden cold.

But the world does not stay the same, and in recent years American Halloween has started to make inroads into Polish culture, tingeing the Day of the Dead observations with a more recreational aspect — as a chance to party rather than to contemplate — especially amongst the young. Indeed, the fact that there was this literary get-together devoted to the ghosts of Spoon River (with me reading the originals in English and an actor from the Gdańsk theater reading the Polish translations) was an attempt on the part of the Gdańsk art community to reference American tradition in a way more genuinely resonant with the Polish holiday than did dressing up in costumes and carving yellow pumpkins.


Page 1 of 3 1 2 3 View All

Printed from Cerise Press: http://www.cerisepress.com

Permalink URL: http://www.cerisepress.com/02/04/disruption-and-continuity-the-poetry-of-krzysztof-piechowicz-and-tadeusz-dziewanowski

Page 1 of 3 was printed. Select View All pagination to print all pages.