23 February 2011

Book Review: Polish Poetry


Lately I've been having a real hankering for poetry.  I highlighted Dimkovska's book of poetry, but it's time for more accessible poetry.

The book I read was a collection called, "Spoiling Cannibals' Fun: Polish Poetry of the Last Two Decades of Communist Rule", edited and translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh.  It was a great read.  Poland has quite a tradition of poetry and their generally obstinate nature towards Communism helped anti-state poetry flourish during the red era.  The foreword predicted that readers would have a new favorite poet by the end of the book.  All I have to say is that I may have 5 new favorites. 
A grad student I know who studies poetry said that one translation of a Polish poem inspired her to begin writing.  She said, "I wanted to write just like that.  I developed a different voice, naturally, but it got me writing."  I didn't ask what poet it was, though I should have.  After I read the collection, I became convinced that the Polish soul is very poetic.  A solid portion of the poetry dealt with God, but I'm religious so that was not a problem for me.  The religious poetry was very beautiful and inspiring; it left me wondering how poetic my religious feelings are.  Rainer Maria Rilke does that same thing to me.

The title "Spoiling Cannibals' Fun" is a reference to Communists, but the book acknowledges that it's quite an exaggeration.  Most of the poetry doesn't directly deal with the state apparatus, but it's anti-state poetry because it doesn't conform to communist standards.  More than anything else, this book shows that art was not confined by the state.  This isn't to say these saw the light of day before 1989, but the writings showed no self-censorship.  What they felt, they wrote, state be damned.  It makes me think of Czesław Niemen, who did not let Communism stop his funky psychedelic soul rock music.  Part of the reason I loved Hungary so much was because they had their own thing going, even under Communism (goulash Communism, where private businesses were allowed years before the Wall fell, or the 1956 Revolution) and that is the same reason I am loving Poland.  There is a feisty indomitable spirit to both these nations that defies their political circumstance.  Who doesn't like a good defiance story?  They're awesome.  This book is full of short defiance stories with beautiful imagery.

I think it's clear by now that I love this compilation of poems.  I wrote down page numbers of poems I really loved so I could copy them.  If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is.  Even if you're not big on poetry, I would still recommend it.  The poems aren't long and they are truly special, so I doubt you could read through it and not find one you like.  Poetry compilations are also great reads for the train because you can stop easily without losing continuity.  Of course, I cannot review a  book of poetry without sharing a few favorites.

Anna Kamieńska was a very dear favorite of mine.  Here's a very good one:
"A Prayer That Will Be Answered"
Lord, let me suffer much
and then die

Let me walk through silence
and leave nothing behind not even fear

Make the world continue
let the ocean kiss the sand just as before

Let the grass stay green
so that the frogs can hide in it

so that someone can bury his face in it
and sob out his love

Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain

And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee's head

Julia Hartwig, "In Your Eyes"
In your eyes, Europe, we are history's reservation
with our dated ideals
with our dusted-off treasure box
with the songs we sing
We give up our best
for the dragon of force and violence to devour
The young boys the beautiful girls
the best minds the most auspicious talents
the tribute of flowers crosses words
We the reckless heirs of earnestness
the unordained heralds of hope
inheritors of a native rhetoric
which fits us like a glove
even though yesterday
it still seemed rather tight

Artur Międzyrzecki, "They"
Don't think it's your character they don't like
Your weakness, your terrific disposition
Don't think that they don't like your critical mind
Or your unwavering faith
Or the sky-high flight of your unruly soul
Or that you're a slave to love

It's time you knew that they don't like all of you
They don't like you as you are nor anything you say or do
And it's not my place to tell you
What a black and venomous hatred this is
And who the killers of God are
And the destroyers of peoples