Miłosz for all times: Festival in memory of Nobel Prize-winning poet goes online

Photo: PAP/CAF-Jerzy Undro

In this world shaken and torn by calamities, could there be a better way to inaugurate the ninth Miłosz Festival with his poignant poem entitled “A Song on the End of the World”? A festival in memory of Czesław Miłosz, one of the greatest contemporary Polish poets, traditionally held in Kraków, goes online in view of the pandemic.

It is music and poetry conjured by poets Ewa Lipska, Ryszard Krynicki and Adam Zagajewski that will inaugurate the festival on Thursday evening. During the event, internet users will have the opportunity to listen to poems of authors invited to this year’s edition of the festival. The recitations will be in English, French, Spanish and Polish.

The solemn evening will be moderated by poet and photographer Marta Eloy Cichocka and double bassist Marcin Oleś will look after the music. Internet users can participate in the event by following the Festival’s Facebook and YouTube profiles.

This year the festival activities are stretched over a longer period of time and will continue until Autumn. The organisers invite interested individuals to sign up for creative writing workshops. The registration will remain open until June 25. Another activity is a competition for established poets.

According to the festival’s official website, “the Miłosz Festival is the largest celebration of poetry in Poland and in Central Europe. The biggest names of world literature attend every edition. The festival emerged from Meetings of Poets of the East and the West, organised by Wisława Szymborska and Czesław Miłosz in 1997 and 2000 in Kraków. Five years after Czesław Miłosz died, the Polish Book Institute organised the first edition of the festival entitled ‘The Captivated Mind’.”

Ever since 2009, “the Miłosz Festival asks an important question about the place of poetry in the modern world,” the organisers wrote, adding that during previous editions of the festival “the audience had a unique opportunity to listen to the voices of many poets from Belgium [Stefan Hertmans], South Africa and France [Breyten Breytenbach], Sri Lanka and Canada [Michael Ondaatje], Syria and France [Adonis], Libya and Norway [Ashur Etwebi], Russia [Olga Sedakova] and Poland. Individual meetings provided another opportunity to listen to the poems by our guests and talk about their experiences with the space of world and the language.”

Moreover, the festival brought Charles Simic (USA), Robert Hass (USA), Ruth Padel (UK), Valzyna Mort, (Belarus/USA), Marie Lundquist (Sweden), Uroš Zupan (Slovenia), among others, to Kraków.

Nobel Laureate, a critic of the Beat Generation

Czesław Miłosz was a Polish-American poet, prose writer, translator, and diplomat. Regarded as one of the great poets of the 20th century, he won the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature. In its citation, the Swedish Academy called Miłosz a writer who "voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts".

Miłosz moved on the borderlines of various poetic styles and artistic milieus. Having emigrated to the US in 1960, he met with some of the most influential representatives of the Beat Generation, including Allen Ginsberg. Although intrigued and tempted by the frivolous, anticonformist, smelling-of-the-railroad-track, sexually liberated literary movement, Miłosz remained critical and reserved.

Sharing his mistrust for what he associated with vulgar marxism in letters to his friend, compatriot, iconic writer and Nobel Prize nominee Zbigniew Herbert, Miłosz remained resentful. On the one hand, he scoffed at the infantile counter-culture, on the other he admitted that the US was “transforming into one of the most poetic and artistic countries in the world.”

Throughout his life and work, Miłosz tackled questions of morality, politics, history, and faith. As a translator, he introduced Western works to a Polish audience, and as a scholar and editor, he championed a greater awareness of Slavic literature in the West. Faith played a role in his work as he explored his Catholicism and personal experience.

Miłosz died in Kraków, Poland, in 2004. He is interred in Skałka, a church known in Poland as a place of honour for distinguished Poles.