Jan Polkowski

Photo by Mateusz Adamczyk

Jan Polkowski

Blood marks

Read by Piotr Czarnota, recorded by Radiofonia Association.
English translation: Alicja Klimurczyk

In the city of Cracow, everything was newoldish in a familiar sort of way. The exit from the underground passage reeked of urine. The luxurious space of the Railway Square was marred by a discordant composition of buildings: a somewhat empty nineteenth-century station, a shapely manor house, slowly decaying platforms, and the tawdry architecture of the new shopping centre.


Henry was walking along the Planty Park, dragging a small suitcase behind him. In front of him were the facades of buildings on Szpitalna street and fragments of the ramparts, with the hazy silhouette of the Barbican. Away to his left stood the shining sandstone walls of the Słowacki Theatre in all its Galician glory. Remember, the kings are watching you. Can you feel their breath on your back? With these words, a young doctor in wire rim glasses finished his first lecture at the department of Polish Studies. He looked like John Lennon. Henry remembered the puzzled faces of his peers, the girls smiling. Those two sentences were enough to earn him the reputation of a nutcase. The poor guy didn’t remember that originality should be based on emulation and considerable funds. You have to invest in originality, preferably with dollars. Henry was being ironic at the time, but the lecturer’s disquieting message stayed with him until today. Is he strong enough to look the kings in the eye? What about the uncrowned? And whose gaze could he endure?

English translation: Alicja Klimurczyk

Jan Polkowski

(born in 1953) poet, journalist.
Though he was not born in Krakow, he finished high school in this city and then studied Polish philology at the Jagiellonian University. From 1978, he published in Zapis, founded underground magazine Sygnał and was editor-in-chief of Arka. During the martial law in Poland, he was interned for opposition activities. In 1983, he received the Kościelski Literary Award. In the 1980s, he published a few volumes of poetry, including To nie jest poezja (This Is Not Poetry) (1980), Oddychaj głęboko (Breath Deeply) (1981) and Drzewa (Trees) (1987).
After 1989, he engaged himself in the activity of state offices (he was e.g. the press spokesperson of Jan Olszewski’s government and an advisor of the Committee for European Integration) and media enterprises, and for almost 20 years published no poetry. It was not until 2008 that he issued Elegie z Tymowskich Gór (Elegies from the Tymowskie Mountains). His latest collection of poems is Głosy (Voices) (2012).
In 1989, Marcin Świetlicki published a poem entitled Dla Jana Polkowskiego (To Jan Polkowski), which was interpreted by critics as a literary gesture of the Brulion generation’s breaking with the tradition of patriotic and politically-engaged poetry. (mj)

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