Rozewicz Comes to America, I

Tadeusz Różewicz is the last of the great run of Polish poets that picked up where Polish independence left off to become fully audible in English.  Norton publishes at the end of this month an ample survey of his career, Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Różewicz, translated by Joanna Trzeciak.  Little Star brings you a sampling in two parts.


what’s tempting
to an old poet?
the prospect of landing in a sandbox
with Dadaists ( . . . )!
a man is a big child
a poet an even bigger child
an Old poet has the right
or even obligation to become childish
especially since children
supposedly inhabit heaven
on earth . . . Villon Jarry Arp Breton
Francis Tzara Tristan Picabia Marcel
Breton André Duchamp Vincent Ray
Man Marie Cocteau Yvan Goll
Theo Éluard are my fellow
writers bratty children
in the vale of tears
the Dadaists were enjoying themselves so much
that they didn’t notice
a neatly dressed man
who sat surrounded by newspapers
deeply absorbed in them
frequented neither the Café de la Terrasse
nor the Cabaret Voltaire
lived in Zurich
at Spiegelgasse 14
immersed in Beethoven’s music
he missed the birth of Dada
on February 8, 1916
at 6 in the afternoon
at the time he was busy
taking notes on
The Socialist Revolution
And the Right of Nations to Self-Determination
maybe he was writing Der Imperialismus
als höchstes Stadium des Kapitalismus
though Spiegelgasse
is a narrow street
the father of the October Revolution
Lenin-Ulianov and the father of Dada
Tristan Tzara never met
they did not read each other’s works
they edited different newspapers
perhaps resulting in a loss
for Dadaists and Bolsheviks
these two international movements ruled out any deviations
Dada’s periodical had
a different look than Pravda
tsatsa dada prav dada prav
Tzara and Trotsky
did not live to see worldwide
revolution Soso wrote
and finished off all
revolutionaries and poets
using a pink bonbon box
topped with a red ribbon
even the tough Gorky swallowed
sweet bait and departed
just in the nick of . . . a bomb!
Tussnote- und Versfüsse- Footnotes, etc.
1. the names of the Dadaists have been changed
so that the learned Dzoilos could point out
the author’s ignorance and holes
in his higher education (never completed) only
those initiated into Dada will discover
interpolations introduced to
intertextual sawdust which
a conspiring senior nihilist
stuffs into his suspicious
2. the old poet was acquainted with
all the mysterious corners of
Parnassus he met Iamb— ˘ —
Trocheus— — ˘ Penis
Dachtylus— — ˘ ˘ too was no stranger to him
nor was the familiar sad Spondeus— — —
Choriambus— — ˘ ˘ — tried to curry favor with him
but he chose free verse
to depict the nose of his muse
3. in his old age the poet
went to Zurich on a visit
where Professor German Ritz
awaited him
and Mr. Dada and Mr. Lenin
and my old friend from Kraków
lovely eyed Roma
4. I have lost my train of thought
and will never find it
the Dadaist coffee shop in Zurich
has been boarded up
the October Revolution
turned into a museum of wax figures
charming Ms. Joanna
anounced the end of Communism
on 8/19/2005 I received a postcard
from Roma in Zurich
“I am traipsing through the streets of the old city,
sometimes climbing, sometimes descending.
It is very picturesque, a bit
like out of a fairytale. There are many bridges
and much water. The museum is fairly well stocked.”
( . . . )
5. Lenin confided in Gorky
that he could listen to Sonata in F-minor
(Appassionata) every day but . . .
(etc.) Did Tristan Tzara listen
to Beethoven with equal feeling
and fervor? I don’t know.
of me in front of the closed Dadaist
café and another one in front of the house
where Lenin lived, but
both pictures have been lost—just like
the professor; I wrote to him,
but he gives no sign of life.
7. the pink chocolate bonbon box
which Soso employed to poison Gorky is not
a figment of my imagination, this information
was provided to me by
Józef H. who was
a friend of King Stas Poniatowski
(he attended theater on water etc.)
8. when I read the poetry of the Dadaists
I came to the “conclusion” that:
not knowing French makes it
easier for me to understand Confucius
but my knowledge of the German language
(weakening with time)
makes it harder for me to understand why
Reich Ranicki is considered the pope
of German literature
Breton André Duchamp Vincent Ray
Man Marie Cocteau Yvan Goll
Theo Éluard are my fellow
writers bratty children
in the vale of tears
minuit definitif
accolade des coucous
progression des coucous
cacadu oxygéné
daumenhalt auf mist
reichbohne singt
Wrocław, 2004–2005

Some notes: It appears that Lenin frequented the Café de la Terrasse, where he reportedly played chess. According to Hans Arp, “Tristan Tzara invented the word Dada on February 8, 1916, at six o’clock in the afternoon; I was present with my twelve children when Tzara for the first time uttered this word which filled us with justified enthusiasm.” “Soso” was the childhood nickname of Joseph Stalin. Józef Hen (b. 1923–) is a Polish author and playwright. His historical novel My Friend the King (Mój przyjaciel król) treats the life of the Polish king Stanisław Poniatowski (1732–1798). Writer and critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki (b. 1920) hosts the German television talk show Literary Quartet. Reich-Ranicki comes from a Polish rabbinical family. He survived the Warsaw Ghetto, worked as an intelligence agent in the late 1940s in London, and was part of the Communist establishment in 1950s Poland. A cult figure in Germany, his show garners a million viewers and his book, Mein Leben (My Life) has sold five hundred thousand copies.


Tadeusz Różewicz was born in 1921 in Radomsko. When his planned career as a forester was thwarted by the war,  joined the Polish resistance, serving in a partisan unit under the pseudonym “Satyr.” As Satyr he published his first book, Forest Echoes (1944), a collection of poems and prose pieces. After the war he moved to Kraków to study art history and there encountered the literary and artistic circles that would become the dominant voices of postwar Poland: including Miłosz, Szymborska, Lem, Andrzejewski, Mrożek, Gałczyński, Przyboś, and Staff. His spare and apolitical poems continued to be published in Communist Poland, but he was under continuous suspicion and attack. In the sixties he also began to write plays and had a significant impact on the Polish theater. A period of silence after the imposition of martial law was broken by the rapid publication of eight books, beginning in 1991, from which the poems appearing in Little Star are drawn. He lives in Wrocław, Poland.

Joanne Trzeciak is an Assistant Professor of Russian and Polish translation at Kent State University. The notes appearing here are drawn from her commentary to Sobbing Superpower.

Read more here and here.

How do you pronounce Tadeusz Różewicz?  Ta-dáy-oosh Roo-zhe-vich. With thanks to Tomasz Popielicki!

“Temptations” will appear in SOBBING SUPERPOWER: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Różewicz, translated by Joanna Trzeciak. Utwory Zebrane copyright © by Tadeusz Różewicz. Poem by Jan Różewicz  copyright ©  by Malgorzata Różewicz. English translation copyright © 2011 by Joanna Trzeciak. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means wihtout the prior written permission of the publisher.

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