Poetry in Poland at the End of the Century: An Overview from a Personal Perspective

My paper aims at summarizing the situation of present-day poetry in Poland, both in terms of important phenomena and processes. On the basis of current developments I would like to offer a few predictions about the possible future. The factual basis for the analysis is a “virtual visit” to a Warsaw bookstore, i.e., a presentation of the books of poetry I saw during my recent visit to Poland. This will detail the poetry to which readers in Poland are presently exposed. It includes brief descriptions of recent volumes by poets from different generations: Miłosz, Rozewicz, Lipska, Rymkiewicz, Pawlak, Swietlicki, et al., and also mentions currently available anthologies, books of world poetry, and publications of Polish poetry in translation to other languages.

The 1989 takeover in poetry had introduced a large group of young poets who rejected the civic idiom of the 70s-80s and reintroduced a civil perspective together with prosaic diction. After ten years they are well established, sit on poetry competition juries, and publish Collected Poems (sic). Their rebellion was limited; they now fit well into mainstream Polish tradition. Their language confirms this; characteristically in their poetry little is found of the aggressive style of the new press (such as Machina) which stems from the tradition of “zines,”even when these are edited by these same poets.

What are the signs that indicate future developments? The abundance of poetry books is accompanied by the widespread complaint that people don’t read. Only in exceptional cases do poets have a large audience (such as Swietlicki who performs as a pop singer). This, together with the fact that it no longer functions as a civic forum, would suggest further marginalization of poetry. However, the very recent revival of literary games, limericks, “Moskalik-s” (a new literary genre), etc. which use fixed poetic forms and are wildly popular with the public, may prompt creativity through discipline among professional poets, and a switch towards form and craft in “high” poetry.