This week's Crimson Arts cover story is about Polish poet and Harvard professor Stanislaw Baranczak. The piece focuses on Baranczak's careful negotiation of his political responsibilities to his country and his own desire to write for writing's sake. Here's a poem by Baranczak that didn't make it into the article but is still worth a read:
SETTING THE HAND BRAKE
In an empty suburban parking lot, setting the hand brake,
he wonders what it actually was that brought him here
and why on earth he was never able not to succumb
to the clichés of sorrow, familiar to all who practice
the invisible craft of exile. There always will be a homeland
of asphalt under the chilly streetlamps, a homeland of rusty crossties
under a pair of rails, which likewise can count on meeting
in infinity only; a homeland that comes along and apart,
that rushes forward with him in the canyons of floorboard cracks
and lights in strangers’ windows, and his veins, and trajectories
of galactic explosion. What is it that still holds him here,
pins him down, encloses him in the circumference
of this and not another skin, planet, suburban parking lot.
And whence this arrogated, arrogant right to exile,
as if it weren’t true that no one will fall asleep tonight
on his own Earth. There will be a homeland somewhere: an involuntarily chosen
second of awakening in motion, in the middle of a breathless whisper
a comma place by chance, by mistake, for the time being, forever.
If you want even more Polish poetry, here is my favorite of Nobel-prize winning author Czeslaw Milosz's many poems. ("I did not want to love so" is inscribed in the original Polish on one of my notebooks.) Here Milosz, 30 years prior to Baranczak's rise to prominence, reflects on his role as a Polish public intellectual,grappling with a dilemma similar to what Baranczak would later face.