Polish poet and Nobel Prize nominee in literature Adam Zagajewski spoke Wednesday night for a special Halloween reading in Hodges Library.
Zagajewski recited "Poetry searches for radiance," as the first and last lines of the final poem read on Halloween night went.
Zagajewski stood still behind the podium, reciting his poems with a mastery acquired from years of intense and passionate writing, never speaking too quickly. His words incite wisdom, awe and reverence. By this same note, only the closing eyes of the audience could be heard as he delivered his own personal journey from pressure to spiritual liberation.
He shared that he learned he had only words, only language with which to communicate, to a hostile and cruel world, his provocation, incense and quest for freedom.
The poet expresses a bitterness and a gladness for this realization. His poems possess clarity of the atrocities of his world, of our world. In his poem, "Truth," he conveys the significance of freedom from cushioned lies and the freedom to be open to the truth.
Zagajewski was born into the Soviet Occupation in 1945. His Polish family was repatriated to Poland from Lvov not long after his birth. The year 1956 brought cultural changes after Stalin's rule ended, and Zagajewski said he understood himself as more of a free agent and began a pursuit of self-education.
As a highly regarded figure of the Polish New Wave literary movement of the early1970s as well as the anti-Communist Solidarity movement of the 1980s, he is today one of the most highly noted poets of his time in both Europe and the United States. He is also a member of the Committee of Social Thought at the University of Chicago.
Of his love of music, he jokingly recalled a piano teacher telling him that he "should take up language since (he has) no talent in music." In his more recent poem, "Piano Lessons," he refers to the piano as a "lazy, tamed predator." The poem "Franz Schubert: A Press Conference" speaks of the halfway point between life and death, of unrequited love. It takes away, strips the romanticism down to stamped technical descriptions. "Electric Elegy" is a piece written about his family's move west where there was a strong German population and surrounded by German objects. He speaks of a German radio that will never accuse, speak, or sing the truth of the murderers, "... next dictator rooster crows."
Arthur Smith, professor in the English Department and the Creative Writing Program, compared the author's reading to enjoying good food.
"It was like eating, having a great meal. Nourishment," Smith said.
Katelyn Jackson, senior in English, spoke of the empathy she felt hearing the more personal poems about his father and one poem titled "About My Mother." She said it spoke to her about the cruel and callous illness of Alzheimer's disease.
Zagajewski began his writing career delving into the historical, philosophical and abstract. Later in his life he felt he needed to express the personal, something he had previously advised his students not to do.
Works by Adam Zagajewski include "Tremor," "Without End: New and Selected Poems," and "Unseen Hands: Poems."