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18 - 29/06/2021

Jan Błoński, a literary critic of the highest order, once wrote that Ryszard Krynicki’s poems are like ‘a shot to the heart.’ Now, I will humbly write these several words: words on the margins of four poems by one of the most outstanding Polish poets of our time.

This is remarkable poetry: a poetry of the concrete, of concrete experience, concrete observation, concrete emotional shock. It is also a persistent effort to save the dignity of one’s speech amidst the clamour of other peoples’ words when the political discourse is governed by assassins of words. It is a return to elementary words. The poet asks: What is the truth? And he asks the question in a hushed voice to rescue its sound and sense among the noisy lies in a world of organised hate. Characteristic of the poet’s speech is an ascetical language, an ironic half-smile as he asks: Is truth already marketable?

The same ironic tone accompanies Krynicki’s reflection on the great purge in collective memory, where a Jewish synagogue is turned into a public swimming pool. These are words he uses to create an image of the Polish remembrance of the Holocaust.

Truth and memory are not safe in our world, our human world. Hence Krynicki repeats after Wisława Szymborska that cats are God’s greatest success. But even then, only sometimes. Why sometimes? Because a cat can bring to us a newly hunted tit nestling. Even cats are cruel killers at times. These poems are born of an angry protest saturated with bitter intimacy. They are like an incantation uttered through clenched teeth; like a silent scream that comes from a choking throat.

Because these poems are the last refuge the poet offers us, readers, in a world of platitudes, debasement and the chaos of despicability. This is what history usually looks like when it is let loose.

In another poem, Lepiej zostań w domu (xxxxxx), the poet advises:


A poem from another epoch, yet so touchingly pertinent.

The poems offered to us by Krynicki are a priceless gift. With these poems from a great poet of my generation we become free again. These are poems that are a constant lesson in dignity.