Thursday, September 23, 2010

Been and Gone: Poems of Julian Kornhauser

Julian Kornhauser is a Polish poet, novelist, literary critic, and translator who, along with Adam Zagajewski, was one of the major figures of the New Wave poetry movement of the early 1970s. Although Kornhauser's work continues to be read and appreciated overseas (winnning the European Poetry Prize and the City of Krakow Prize), he's not very well known in this country.

This translation of his poems by Piotr Florczyk, therefore, is long overdue. Florczyk, a native of Krakow now teaching in the US, captures the stark clarity and mystery of Julian Kornhauser's Polish originals in this bilingual edition from Marick Press.

As poet Adam Zagajewski says of Kornhauser in his foreword to Been and Gone, "when I read Julian's poems now, I'm amazed by the continuity of his writing, by the honesty of his poetry, by his patient worship of the concreteness of the world. Poetry is for him like the origami he describes in the poem written while traveling from Karkow to Oswiecim, a small city whose German name was Auschwitz--an object both arbitrary and necessary:

We pass hills and forests,
a paper swan
looks sleepily on the burning


Here are two poems from Been and Gone I especially liked.

The first is dedicated to Ewa Kuryluk, an artist who left Poland in 1981 when martial law was imposed.


A search, an escape, death.
The search for languages, the escape
from a school desk, death of dear ones.
Eternal journey over clouds of smoke,
a swirling thin thread of life,
game of lands, gruff farewells, naked bodies
impressed on the cloth. Heart calls out no more
for help, it sinks its claws into a glacier
hung high above the sky. The smell of burning
skin weakens a step from the abyss, the fire
of native captivity, unexpressed happiness.
Ever further, so not to return to the Viennese
apocalypse, young rebels, a departing
mother. Ever closer to a tiny bit of a table
and a narrow window, beyond which one
sees only the happy eyes of a a little Jewess
and two raised wings of an apple pie.


are smarter than we are
know everything
even n o t h i n g to them has the hue of a chestnut
they see mountains where we don't see them
seas splash when nothing is heard
through their crooked teeth
words known to no one slip out
fear and an inexpressible adventure
lurk under dirty fingernails
when they run
their oversized shoes cackle
and their hair sticks to the wind
when they're silent
their eyes express so much adult longing
they stand on tiptoe
to touch what's forbidden
they try to wrestle with rules
to be able to tell the difference
between a joke and fear
sometimes they lie quietly on the floor
casting strange spells
and the the glass falls from the table
opportunity arises
a crayon moves slowly across the white-papered wall.


Some of Piotr Florczyk's own poem are available online. Here are two published in InPosse Review.

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