The Irreverence of Art

“This understanding extends to all things”

Easter and Palm Sunday Red

I found myself mysteriously attracted by the pigment 

in this kind of red… 

You can give it a number, don it a code, paint it on nails,

wear it on lips or eyelids,

stamp it on paper under a fingertip, or bury it in your memory…

It will still be the same kind of red, will it not?

 Take a closer look at the wall on the stage in this picture of beautiful Angela Gheorghiu. 

It seems to be the same kind of red, doesn’t it?

Listen to “Love is Blindness” 

on an album in this colour.

Can you hear the same kind of red? 

Feel your heart beat. Is it the same kind of red pumping in your chest?

What does time smell like?

In a world devoid of senses,  let the tip of your tongue taste fear.

What kind of red does it taste like?

When one by one, the senses leave you, what is left?

Imagine dying in a world without senses. It seems a cruel fantasy, doesn’t it?

Imagine being born without senses. What kind of reality does this spell?

 Whether imagined or excruciatingly real, as it sometimes is, living with or without senses has the same kind of answer. Love. One and the same. 

Feel it, savour it, nourish it,  absorb it into your lungs, wash your body in its aura, dive in its seas, relax in its softness, fade away in its grace.

Happy Easter and Happy Palm Sunday to you, all!


Czesław Miłosz and Kraków

Interview with Ewa Zamorska-Przyłuska,

author of the literary guide to Kraków and the Małopolska region,

Przewodnik literacki

po Krakowie i województwie małopolskim (WAM 2010)

I invite you to read below the interview she gave for the Karnet monthly, on Czesław Miłosz’s Kraków:

Barbara Fijał: In your book, you name nearly a thousand men of letters associated with Kraków and Małopolska. A very special place among them is assumed by Czesław Miłosz, whose name – next to that of Stanisław Lem – crops up most often. Was it a conscious decision or is it just that while writing about literary Kraków one simply cannot leave out the person of Miłosz, who lived in Kraków for just 10 years?

Ewa Zamorska-Przyłuska: My decisions about including an author or a place in the guidebook usually had their own “solid” reasons, the ranking of the person or a venue on the map being among the most important ones. Yet those decisions also had certain undertones based on nuances and personal preferences. Czesław Miłosz owes his multifaceted presence in the book not only to his unquestioned position in the world of literature, but – possibly even to a greater degree – to the fact that I still find him intriguing, somebody who does not leave me in peace, and who in different periods of my life I must rediscover anew, even if only in small snippets. The measure of time, whether only a decade or an entire lifetime, is of no consequence here. The game is played at another scale whose name is intensity.

B F: Miłosz was already living in Kraków in 1945.

E Z-P: He was, but it may be worthwhile mentioning his earlier encounters with Kraków first. When he saw our city before the second world war, he found it charming. In 1941, when he arrived here with Jerzy Andrzejewski from the ruins of Warsaw and visited the café in the architecturally perfect and modern Dom Plastyków – the “House of Artists” designed by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, at ul. Łobzowska 3, the city brought Paris to his mind…

Early in 1945, the poet reached Kraków, freshly liberated by the Red Army, and moved with his wife Janina to the Dom Literatów providing accommodation to assorted men of letters at ul. Krupnicza 22, from where he soon moved to ul. św. Tomasza 26, to a large louse-ridden flat which he occupied together with Tadeusz and Zofia Breza. He had the quarters assigned to him by a political officer of the Polish Army, a true éminence grise and writer, Adam Ważyk, who – as a “Lublin man”, closely associated with the new powers that be – had opportunities in this city that were next to infinite. Miłosz resided in Kraków for less than a year, witnessing not only the new order, but also the poverty and suffering of the people who he met e.g. around the railway station.

To get to know the places associated with the poet at this time, you need to visit the headquarters of Film Polski at ul. Lea 5 (today’s Mikro cinema), where he wrote the script for Unvanquished City (Robinson Warszawski) together with Jerzy Andrzejewski. In The Captive Mind (Zniewolony umysł, 1953) you can find a staggering description of the view from its window onto the courtyard of the Regional Security Office (UB) where the soldiers of the clandestine army were held captive.

Ul. Wielopole 1 is the address of Dziennik Polski, where Miłosz published his regular column under the nom de plume czmił. He knew Jerzy Putrament, the editor-in-chief of the daily, very well from his Vilnius days. Miłosz also published in Twórczość and Odrodzenie, which were housed in the Feniks building at ul. Basztowa 15, and in Przekrój weekly which at that time was based both at ul. Wielopole 1 and at ul. Starowiślna 4. As he wrote in a tribute to Kazimierz Wyka, Professor at the Jagiellonian University, editor-in-chief of Twórczość, and activist of the Polish Writers’ Union (ZLP), “friendship with him sweetened my time in Kraków, where I found myself much like many others (…). If not for the delegation to a foreign post, I would probably have stayed at ul. św. Tomasza in between Wyka and Jerzy Turowicz, with whom I left the galley proofs of my volume entitled Ocalenie (Rescue) in 1945. When I come to think about it today, I believe that having such friends is a sufficient reason to take root in Kraków, even though how I would have behaved in the Stalinist period, I dare not pronounce.” (2000).

In December, Miłosz left for New York as a diplomat, saying his farewells to Poland in 1951 to become an émigré for a long period of time. In 1959, Czesław’s father, Aleksander, died and was buried in the Rakowice Cemetery (quarter LXIII, row 11, grave 18). It was not until June 1981 that the poet was welcomed back to Kraków as winner of the Nobel Prize.

Return visits to Kraków since the late 1980s are separate subject…

B F: Was our city frequently present in the writing of the Nobel Prize Winner? What is the Kraków that emerges from his works?

E Z-P: Kraków was certainly not one of the foremost themes of Miłosz, even though it plays an important role e.g. in A Poetical Treatise (Traktat poetycki, 1957), where it is identified with the culture of the Młoda Polska – Young Poland movement. One may not gloss over the image in Powrót do Krakowa w roku 1880 (1984) either, devoted to someone hardly known today, Julian Klaczko, a man from Vilnius who settled in Kraków. Miłosz mentions “the little town in a hollow by Cathedral Hill / with the graves of the kings”. Another work (W Krakowie, 2001) reads: “on the border of this world and the other, in Kraków. / Pitter-patter on the worn out marbles of the churches, / Generation after generation. It is here that I’ve understood / Something of the customs of my sisters and brothers”. Kraków does not fascinate Miłosz as an urban organism or structure. Perhaps it used to be more of a pretext than the goal of poetic expeditions that went far beyond the borders of the city… Yet, as Ewa Bieńkowska wrote after his death, “it happened thus that Kraków proved the place of Miłosz’s last reconciliations and his last thanksgivings”. Which is the very measure of the intensity I mentioned earlier in this interview.

B F: What, then, could incline the poet to choosing this very city when he decided to return to Poland in 1993?

E Z-P: In the interview he gave to Bronisław Maj in the same year 1993, when he was still living at Berkeley, Miłosz very clearly put a finger on it thus: “I like Kraków very much. I enjoy Kraków, as it is truly a university city, yet in a size that is still human. Moreover I finished growing up in Vilnius, and in many respects Kraków reminds me of my university in Vilnius. The walking of the same few streets every day has its charm. It has, and there are plenty of things going on within these few streets. It is very important, and it is plainly seen, especially in contrast with those cities where nothing happens for tens of miles – in music, poetry, literature, science: no cultural events… (…). Moreover: the beauty of your city also means a lot. Old stones, architecture…”. Miłosz emphasised that his relations with Kraków are of precisely a spiritual character – still in this fragment, we see that the physical “substance” of the city is what crops up second in Miłosz, after the description of its “function”. Already when he arrived to be granted the honorary doctorate of the Jagiellonian University in 1989, Miłosz was believed to have asked that they should find him a home (obligatorily within the garden ring of Planty), since he might soon settle down in Kraków – the city he considered the most attractive. And indeed, together with his wife, Carol, they ended up living close to Planty, yet on the outside of its ring. It was his favourite place for walks.

B F: You have mentioned a few places that Miłosz was connected to – the house at ul. św. Tomasza, the flat in Krupnicza, and another one at Bogusławskiego… Did he take any special liking to any spot in Kraków, did he make his mark on one particular place?

E Z-P: I believe this would be the apartment at ul. Bogusławskiego 6, on the first floor. Even as late as the 1990s, he would come here in the spring to return to California in autumn, yet at 90, he remained here for good. And in that apartment he died on 14th August 2004. I recently read the talks between him and Agnieszka Kosińska, the poet’s secretary from 1996 until his death. In her memoirs, she fills up the space of the city with an exceptionally subtle, modest, and at the same time highly realistic tale full of expression and temper about Miłosz. Moreover, the readers are also familiar with a colourful account by Jerzy Illg, who got the apartment ready for the arrival of the Miłosz couple… Yet the testimony of Kosińska about how Miłosz filled this space with his presence seems to me, particularly acute.

B F: Miłosz’s Kraków is more than just places, it is primarily people – the writers he was associated with, and the magazines and newspapers where he published his poems. Could you talk about this side of Miłosz’s life in Kraków?

E Z-P: It is generally known that the poet remained on friendly terms with the milieu of Znak, the Catholic monthly and Tygodnik Powszechny the Catholic weekly – Jerzy Turowicz was among his chief friends. The realm of closest friends included Wisława Szymborska, Professor Teresa Walas and Professor Aleksander Fiut, Marek Skwarnicki, and the late Professor Jan Błoński, whom he visited in the district of Kliny. The publisher of the vast majority of the Nobel Prize Winner’s writings is the Znak Publishing House, which – together with Wydawnictwo Literackie – coedits his “collected works”. In 1992, the Biblioteka “NaGłosu” series (documenting the legendary NaGłos “spoken magazine” of the 1980s – editor’s note) published a small volume of his Haiku translations. In addition Miłosz was also published in Kraków by Dekada Literacka.

In the last period of the poet’s life, his health was in the care of Professor Andrzej Szczeklik. And let me stop at this, as I want to keep a distance from matters of “living people” remaining closer to “stones” – as I perceive myself as primarily writing a literary guide to the city…

Cz. Miłosz and J. Błoński, photo Błońscy Family

B F: And a very special location for the end – Skałka – the Church “on the Rock”. It is here that Czesław Miłosz was buried on 27th August 2004. Did he visit this place, while still alive?

E Z-P: Yes, he did, Miłosz visited Skałka in the summer of 1941, having visited Kazimierz Wyka in Krzeszowice. An exceptional story, highly significant and complex. Andrzejewski mentions it – though without revealing the name of his friend anathematised by Communist Poland – in his foreword to Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, as the decision to emigrate undertaken by the great 19th-century prose writer and, by the way, one of the Kraków protagonists of A Poetical Treatise(Traktat poetycki), he associated with the impulse to which he and Miłosz yielded when they “began to withdraw from Skałka in silence, first slowly, nearly on tiptoes, and then speeding up their pace the further away they went…”. Andrzejewski’s text is so interesting and important that I would not like to make a summary of it here, as it would certainly lead to trivialising of its senses. Although I quote fragments of it in the guidebook, I do encourage you to reach for the 1956 edition of Lord Jim so that you can read this episode in its natural context.


On September 30th, you are invited to CafeHU, the cafe within the building of the Hungarian Cultural Institute (Warszawa ul. Moniuszki 10) from 6pm, for a book reading.

I am looking forward to introducing my poetry book, The Incomplete Fantasy We Call Love,

to friends and readers in Warsaw. This is event is free of charge and will take place in English.

The book will be available at the venue. I will be happy to take your questions and sign out copies for the people interested!

You could even get Atma Anur’s autograph, as he will also be present and will lend his warm voice to some of the poems in my book.

I would also like to announce the premiere of my song, Maine,” from the upcoming album, Back to Myself,

during the Cross Culture Festival in Warsaw, on October 1st, at the show in Cafe Kulturalna (starting at 9pm).

See you there!

Spoon Measures

Map Spoon (2006) by Michael FittsMap Spoon (2006) by Michael Fitts

Spoon on a Horizon (2007) by Michael Fitts

Spoon on a Horizon (2007) by Michael Fitts

One blue night… don’t we all dream to be sailors?


Fishermen in Alexandria, photo by Mohamed Ebaid

Fishermen in Alexandria, photo by Mohamed Ebaid

During my recent stay in Romania I started reading Europolis.  As time came for me to leave, I had to drop the book unfinished. Too bad for the check in, too good for the imagination. The pen name adopted by the Romanian author (1877 – 1933), Jean Bart, used to wear a 17-century naval commander’s hat. Its owner, the son of a fisherman, had grown up to be an admiral in the service of Louis XIV and an inspiration for many tales of courage on land and at sea.

Eugeniu Botez, a Romanian sailing out under a French flag, writing about the Danube and the civilization of the country of his birth.

Europolis is his posthumously published and oustandingly cosmopolitan novel which I recommend sailing out to, from the Danube port of Sulina into the waters of the Black Sea and beyond. Excerpts from Europolis here.

Maksymilian Novak-Zemplinski – AGITABILIS – The Irreverence of Floating

Wyspianski Pavillon, Krakow, November 6 - 7, 2009

Wyspianski Pavilion, Krakow, November 6 - 7, 2009



What is the artist’s eye meant to encompass within its gaze?

Maksymilian Novak-Zemplinski’s eye encompasses the past and the future, the mysteries of civilizations past and upcoming, in a realm of fantasy and awe.

The force of insight blares out of solid frames. It blows into the sails of flying objects of the past and future, and in this blowing it alerts the gazer of an emergent mystery.

The revered motion in Zemplinski’s universe is flying, floating in a wind of unpredictability,

as well as resting, resting on doubt, resting against reason, logic or physical precepts, resting on the edge of faith.

                                 Inside A G I T A B I L I S

Inside A G I T A B I L I S

The spaciousness of vision allows the eye to relax. The paradox occurs when the eye brushes past encrypted symbols

and equilibrium challenges.

In this universe, man’s presence is not denied. Ghostlike figures accompany huge flying objects, together with stray beasts or stone-carved faces.

In a painting man’s presence is elevated to myth – undeniably a self-portrait.

Maksimilian Novak-Zemplinski, Alina Alens, and "The Incomplete Fantasy We Call Love"

Maksimilian Novak-Zemplinski, Alina Alens, and "The Incomplete Fantasy We Call Love"

The journey is ongoing, and this is maybe the most important:

being in motion, floating, flying, escaping into wonder and mystery.

Follow the eye of the mind

and step into a parallel, magical side of life!

Be sure to enjoy the ride, apart from solving its riddles!

Ingrid Ledent – The Irreverence of Time

5 November, 5pm – The International Cultural Centre in Krakow,

The Ravens Hall

I had been listening to Ingrid Ledent speaking about “litho” in a self-revealing speech.

Within an hour and some minutes, a transparent channel was forged as speech travelled into sight and hearing could envision the larger context of  what it was, back then, the art and life in Belgium, Prague or the US. From mere coincidences to serendipity – the smart use of coincidences, art influences the artist just as much as the artist is trying to influence it in return. True art is self-revealing, true art is honest. “I have always been in my art” each of her works  seems to say about Ledent. There was a time for struggle, for fighting the inadequacy of expression, and this time has been included in all her works, until it was refined to invisibility. This is how the initial struggle, the dissatisfaction with “lotography,” gave way to lithography. Ledent’s “loto” led her to integrate the concepts of “communication” and “reproducibility,” to “incorporate the body in the artistic work.” In time, the accidental, pure “litho” has given way to a mixture of “litho”  and new media. If, in recent years, technology may have caught up with craftsmanship, the value of intuition has always been at work in what Ingrid Ledent has created.

Thus, following an intuitive and self-revealing trail, the alphabet of the artist was made clear for the rest of us. Admirable truths were shared, and a spell of magic inherent to gist and focus, to Ledent’s art, was spread. The art is in “me” and the “me” is in art. Here we are offered a perfect example of time’s irreverence: the duration of “me” in what the artist calls her art.

Ingrid Ledent, Alina Alens and "The Incomplete Fantasy We Call Love"

Ingrid Ledent, Alina Alens, and "The Incomplete Fantasy We Call Love"

As a continuation of Ingrid Ledent’s discourse about duration and time, I proceeded by asking her about the way ahead. The channel previously forged was fortified, and, between eyes reaching far into the horizon of the same metaphors, the flow was re-directed between a “you” and an “I” caught in the same stream of consciousness.

I found it fascinating to watch the making of a “litho” video.  It reminded me of the sawdust story a student of mine had shared at one of my classes, but I’ll have to tell you this story another time.

What is Ingrid Ledent’s secret? some may ask. To me the answer is simple: her desire to reveal the secret of her art.

We have to thank her for that!

Per Olov Enquist – The Irreverence of Transparency

Aula of Collegium Novum UJ, Krakow

Per Olov Quist at the meeting "Inne zycie" during the 1st edition of the Conrad Festival

November 4, the Aula of Collegium Novum. Per Olov Enquist on life, writing, and the future of literature.

“If everything started so well, how could it end so badly?”

The writer writes with low intermissions, filling the thought-rigged frame with life. His life? His long dead father’s life? Your life? My life?

Life floats in and out of hard covers. It permeates the print, and in its overflow it even gives you a lesson in diving.

A Romanian writer once said all valuable work  is perfused with autobiography. What is autobiography, I ask, other than our answer to the questions of Life?

The journey out of the Islandic night brought out the gestures of surrender and irreverence: the surrender to the grip of creative writing and the irreverence of transparency.

The reality in the book is different from and, yet, it is indeed related to the reality as you and I know it.

The work as a period (“.”) is meant to bring closure. Before writing, the period awaits. It settles in the memory after the ink dries out.

“Here’s a question I cannot answer: What next?” More transparency…