As you may or may not be aware, this year Polish city of Wrocław is the European Capital of Culture. Yes, we do have such a thing in Europe, because we’re infatuated with our cultural achievements.

Disclaimer: Just before someone says anything about colonialism, cultural apropriation and classism, I say: I hear you, and I agree. But it’s not the point here: I’m going to tell you some nice things about Polish poetry, and we in Poland never had any colonies, we just used to harass our own neighbours (and being harassed by them, of course).

Anyway, Wrocław is the capitol of Lower Silesia, one of the most cultural and industrial parts of the country. For many centuries it was brimming with artist, writers, poets and artisans; and well, it still is. This year, thanks to UNESCO decision, it also took up the name of the World Book Capital 2016, title transferred to Wrocław from the Korean city of Incheon. Which means a lot of literature-connected festivals and events, just check it out. Maybe my fellow Europeans will find some of the events a nice weekend idea. You know, Poland is just in the middle of the continent, it’s so easy to get there!

The one event I wanted to discuss with you is the idea of International Book Anthem. The poem chosen for this role is Włosek poety (The Hair of the Poet) by Tadeusz Różewicz [Tahde-ush Roozhevitch, more or less]. It’s going to be translated into several dozens languages and sung on six continents on the last day of Wrocław as the World Book Capital, 23 April 2017. The music is composed by Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz, famous Polish composer. It’s going to be one hell of a flash mob.

Here’s the poem and my nightmarish, inexpert translation:

Tadeusz Różewicz
Włosek poety

Poeta to na pewno ktoś
Słuchajcie głosu poety
Choćby ten głos
był cienki jak włos
Jak jeden włos Julietty

Jeśli się zerwie włosek ten
to nasza nudna kula
upadnie w ciemność

Czy ja wiem
albo się zbłąka w chmurach

Słyszycie Czasem wisi coś
na jednym włosku wisi
Dziś włoskiem tym poety glos
Słyszycie

Ktoś tam słyszy

 

 

[A poet is definitely someone
Listen to the poet’s voice
Even if this voice
is as thin as a hair
As one hair of Julietta

If this hair breaks
our boring globe
will fall into darkness

I don’t know
or it’ll get lost between the clouds

Do you hear Sometimes there’s something hanging
hanging just on one hair
Today this hair is the poet’s voice
Do you hear

Someone does]

 

I’m no poet, and I’m definitely not a translator, but I hope you’re starting to realise why this poem was chosen for the anthem.

If you’d like to learn more about Różewicz, as he was brilliant poet and play-writer, see this article. It’s not entirely up to date (at least the video clip in it), as Rożewicz  is no longer the last living great Polish poet. He died in 2014.

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