About the Work
by piotr florczyk
What do you think when you hear “Polish poetry”? Czesław Miłosz or Wisława Szymborska? Poets manhandled by history and wrestling with the human condition? Probably both. For me, it’s also about the fact that Polish poetry has been important to numerous American poets, however circumscribed their reading of the Polish masters has been. I don’t mean that as a complaint, since all literary communities—any time, any place—borrow or steal selectively from their foreign counterparts at the expense of an immersive experience. Even if the success of a particular type of Polish poem has led to the exclusion of poets writing in a different thematic or stylistic vein, it’s actually a good problem to have, isn’t it?
Jakub Kornhauser has internalized his poetic forebearers—not only Poles but also, and more importantly, Francophone and Romanian avant-gardists—and managed to create his own style and recognizable diction. The prose poem, above all else, has served him well. Eschewing traditional lineation, the form allows Kornhauser to write associatively and get lost in the thicket of language. There is something absurdist about his project, but it works, it seems, given how many followers he has in Poland and abroad, where his work is being translated with increased frequency.
As is often the case, however, the process of forging one’s own path is also one of return. These four poems are from his 2021 Krwotoki i wiewiórki (Hemorrhages and Squirrels), a collection marked by intertextuality, as all of the volume’s poems feature borrowings from or allusions to the work of Adam Zagajewski (1945–2021) and Julian Kornhauser (b. 1946), pillars of the New Wave generation of poets who burst onto the Polish literary scene in the late 1960s arguing for poetry to provide a more truthful representation of reality than what the Communist authorities were allowing the state media to broadcast. While Adam Zagajewski was widely admired in the States, Julian Kornhauser, Jakub’s father, attracted a following of his own, especially among California avant-garde poets, such as Paul Vangelisti, who translated his work into English.
Jakub Kornhauser’s aim in engaging with the work of the two older poets was to see if the props found in their work—things, places, people, etc.—had aged or become obsolete, having belonged to a particular time and place (Poland in the ’70s and ’80s), or if they have acquired universal meaning. The result suggests the latter, and the volume’s shifting tone, irreverent as well as serious, gives the younger poet’s dialogue with his famous predecessors a sense of ongoingness. What’s more, the two nouns comprising the collection’s title—hemorrhages and squirrels—seem arbitrary, not unlike the poems themselves, whose individual titles are straightforward and unadorned. The associative aspect is foregrounded, in other words, and it’s best not to try to figure things out. This work is meant to feel sudden and fleeting, chaotic, even, but also thrilling, especially since reading a Jakub Kornhauser poem will lead you to begin in one place and end up someplace else.
jakub kornhauser is a poet, essayist, translator, editor and literary scholar, co-founder of the Center for Avant-Garde Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He has published five volumes of prose poetry, including Drożdżownia (The Yeast Factory), which won the 2016 Wisława Szymborska Award, a best-selling collection of bicycle essays, Premie górskie najwyższej kategorii (Mountain Climbs Hors Categorie), several monographs on the European avant-gardes, as well as translations of books by Henri Michaux, Gherasim Luca, Gellu Naum and Miroljub Todorović. He lives in Kraków, Poland.
piotr florczyk is an award-winning poet, scholar, and translator. For more info about him and his work, please visit: www.piotrflorczyk.com