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Adam Zagajewski

Photo by Joanna Helander

Adam Zagajewski

Self-portrait in an Airplane

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Read by Wojciech Barczyński, recorded by Radiofonia Association
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English translation: Clare Cavanagh
Crouched like an embryo,
crushed into the narrow seat,
I try to remember
the scent of fresh-cut hay
when wooden carts descend
in August from the mountain meadows,
skidding down dirt roads
and the driver cries out as
men always do in moments of panic
--they screamed that way in The Iliad
and have never fallen silent since,
not during the Crusades,
or later, much later, nearer us,
when no one hears them.

I’m tired, I think about what
can’t be thought—the silence that reigns
in forests when the birds sleep,
about the coming end of summer.
I cup my head in my hands
as if shielding it from destruction.
Seen from outside I doubtless seem
seem immobile, almost dead,
resigned, deserving sympathy.
But it’s not so—I’m free,
maybe even happy.
Yes, I hold my heavy head
in my hands,
but inside it a poem’s being born.
English translation: Clare Cavanagh
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Adam Zagajewski

(b. 1945) - an eminent poet, prose writer, and essayist. Translated into dozens of languages, he is one of the most globally appreciated Polish poets. Studied Polish philology and psychology in Krakow. Assistant professor at the Jagiellonian University (he lectured philosophy), Zagajewski also helped to edit Student and Odra magazines. He soon became a leading representative of the generation of 1968 in Krakow, referred to in literature as the Krakow New Wave. Feeling oppressed by a printing ban in the 1970s, he left for Paris during martial law. He returned to Krakow to live for good in 2002. Krakow exerted a powerful influence on the majority of his works.

View of Krakow (Widok Krakowa) a film directed by Magdalena Piekorz which centres on Adam Zagajewski, premiered in May 2013. It is a polyphonic and poly-genre memory of bygone masters, friends, brothers in quill, notably Czesław Miłosz, Stanisław Lem, and Wisława Szymborska, yet also – in a broader perspective – an elegy-like reflection of the essence of the mysterious link between work and the place, the writer and the writer’s city. You can watch the movie on krakowcityofliterature.com/viewofkrakow (ezp)
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