Poet, playwright and novelist, one of the most versatile and pre-eminent writers living today. Różewicz was born in Radomsko, October 9, 1921.
Różewicz studied art history at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, but he has been associated with Silesia since the late 1940s and has lived in Wrocław for thirty years. His work has been translated into many languages including English (his work is championed in the UK by the poet and critic, Tom Paulin, and the Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney), French, German, Serbian, Serbo-Croatian, Swedish, Danish and Finnish and he has received Polish state prizes and foreign awards. He is well-known in many countries as an excellent poet of the highest moral authority. Różewicz is a precursor of the avant-garde in poetry and drama, an innovator firmly rooted in the unceasing re-creation of the Romantic tradition, though always with a teasing ironic distance. He is a grand solitary, convinced of an artistic mission that he regards as a state of internal concentration, alertness, and ethical sensitivity.
Many ask: Is poetry possible after Auschwitz? Różewicz has provided his own answer by creating a new type of restrained verse that is known as the fourth versification system in literary Polish, in Anxiety (1947) and A Red Glove (1948). The fact that he has never accepted the consequences of the Second World War is indicated by the disturbing Our Elder Brother, a collection of stories published in various volumes since the 1950s, dedicated to his own brother who was murdered by the Gestapo. "I saw people who were brought through the streets on carts," he told James Hopkin in an interview (The Guardian, May 19, 2001) "dead bodies, naked bodies - these were Russian prisoners brought out from a German camp." Perhaps the only poet explicitly to take on Adorno's famous refutation, Różewicz writes in I Did Espy a Marvellous Monster: ‘at home a task / awaits me: / To create poetry after Auschwitz'.
Out of the remnants of war, Różewicz assembled a democracy of voices, past and present: newspaper reportage, travelogues, anecdotes, quips, quotations in several tongues - continuity in the rustle of language. "It's like the art of collage," he said in the same interview, "putting in a piece of wood or metal or clothing. Then it can be replaced or painted. If I have quoted something I will do so in the original language."
In this way, Różewicz wilfully undermines the poet's status; he seeks the tone of the common man, from whichever country, the folklorish anon. His working motto is: "The poem / is finished / now to break it".
Różewicz ferrets out contemporary instances of human cruelty. He is the founder of a shocking tendency in Polish literature, which concentrates on existence as the struggle against nothingness - Conversation with a Prince, 1960; The Anonymous Voice, 1961; Nothing Dressed in Prospero's Cloak, 1962; The Face, 1964; and The Third Face, 1968.
Having studied art history in Kraków, Różewicz is passionate about the visual arts, while constantly challenging its self-importance. One of his finest poems is Francis Bacon, or, Diego Velazquez in a dentist's chair. Like most of Różewicz's oeuvres, it's a deeply humane poem, alive with a corporeality that's both grisly and grotesque, while bearing a wit that's easy to warm to. His playfulness, sometimes lascivious, is never arbitrary.
In a poem in '47/8, he said in the interview, I wrote about a sperm in a man's trousers. The [Communist] party activist dealing with poetry screamed that this poem had destroyed the peace of the country during rebuilding. But it's a serious poem. It was an attempt to make a hole in the armour of socialist realism, as well as being an allusion to a famous poem by Mayakovsky, A Cloud in Trousers. But instead of writing about clouds or big things, I wrote about a sperm. It's only now that this poem can have a real career. Although, of course," he chuckles, "there is the problem of feminism.
Różewicz is a seeker of new forms in a poetic expression that ultimately abandons the avant-garde for aesthetic straightforwardness and stunning short-cuts that serve as a metaphor for a human existence bounded by birth and death. "Yes, that is all there is," reads one of his verses on the fragility of existence. Equal to Beckett or Ionesco in his renovation of theatrical forms, Różewicz is fascinated by "open theatre" and the means of expressing, on stage, the internal anxieties of contemporary man (The Card Index, 1968; The Old Lady Sits Waiting, 1969; On All Fours, 1972; and The Card Index Scattered, 1997). He is an artist gifted with an extraordinary "ear" who has anticipated such contemporary artistic phenomena as feminism and post-modernism (White Wedding, 1975).
His Beckettian play, An Old Woman Broods, explores the ubiquity of waste in the modern world. A self-confessed "prophet of waste", Różewicz said in the interview: "This drama, written 35 years ago, anticipated questions of ecology which hadn't even been named at that time." Yet waste and re-processing (of language, literature, history) have always been central to his work.
Różewicz's collection of poems, Recycling (1998), makes the relationship between words and waste ever more explicit, while also exhibiting an urgent contemporaneity allied to an irrepressible humour and charm. The title poem tackles BSE ('on one farm minks went mad/_ / and a cow in a shed started singing'), while Fashion (1944-1994), offers a disturbing contrast between concentration-camp conditions and the vapid glamour of today's fashion industry. In a chatty delivery that betrays the gravity of the comparison, Różewicz switches from catwalk commentary ('natural fabrics are back') to SS guards spitting insults at Jewish women (the brutal German phrases are retained).
Recycling is not a poem about which you could say it is unripe or imperfect," he says. "It is a living form. I want them to eat my 'Recycling'. And reflect on it. One German publisher did not want to print it; he said that poetry about beef is uninteresting. I kept telling the translator that you shouldn't send it to the publishers, you should send it to the politicians, the farmers, even to the cows themselves." His 1999 volume Mother Departs takes the form of a literary family album, some of his own poems, which are dedicated to his mother, a sketch with memories by the author's brother, Stanisław Różewicz, fragments of the author's diary and his mother's memoirs. Anna Frajlich writes of the book that while it is entirely focused on the family, "This book, which is entirely focused on the inner life of a family, is nonetheless also a reflection of a whole epoch. Through the family's experiences, the reader is taken on a journey which passes through some of the most important stages of the last century." Tadeusz Różewicz was awarded the NIKE prize in 2000 for the book.
In 2008 his collection New Poems was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2008. The book, published by Archipelago and translated by Bill Johnson, brings together the poet's three most recent volumes: exit (1998), the professor’s knife (2001), and gray zone (2002). Such poems as the professor's knife, symbolise the sharpness of memory and the pain it continues to influct even years on. This volume starts off with Cobweb / Pajęczyna, about "four grey maidens" - Lack, Poverty, Care, and Guilt. At first, these "four phantoms / hiding in the foundations / are waiting"; but then, as they find themselves missing out on human life, "the uninvited guests enter the house" and in the end, "the house turns into a cobweb". This is one of those Różewiczian poems that by using the simplest of words and imagery from everyday life, constructs a perturbing image of transience devoid of solace and the sublime.
In response to the collection The Guardian wrote "The startling juxtaposition of sensual and brutal histories, of human and animal flesh, of the experience of war and of writing is Rózewicz’s great achievement throughout twenty volumes of poetry". In 2011 the W.W. Norton & Company published Sobbing superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Różewicz. In the foreword American poet and critic Edward Hirsch calls Różewicz an "Anti-poet, who speaks the truth in a ruthless manner, even if this truth is painful". The critic goes on to call him "A poet of dark refusals. A naked, impure poet. A poet speaking from the margins", and a "bemused seer of nothingness". The collection, translated by Joanna Trzeciak, was on the shortlist for Canada's Griffin Poetry Prize in 2012.
In 2011 Poland celebrated the Różewicz Year with several publications of new poems and other cultural events. The Biuro Literackie Publishing House in Wrocław published both The Tributaries of Różewicz - Collection of Poems and The History of Five Poems. In the latter collection, poems are preceded by manuscripts of subsequent variants, filled with deletions and notes, with alternative titles, and finally corrections made on the typescript. The reader has a unique opportunity to get familiar with the "maturing" process of a poem "in contrast with the common concept of a poetic inspiration". Opera and theatre director Zygmunt Krauze directed a staging of The Trap, based on Różewicz's novel of the same title, which tells the story of a great writer living in Prague, unnerved by fears and premonitions of the future tragedies of twentieth-century totalitarianism. In 2012 Biuro Literackie published this and that / to i owo, a volume of poems, essays and parodies on the themes of Shakespeare and Beckett, accompanied by illustrations, original manuscripts of his poems and dedications from other famous poets and authors, such as Leopold Staff and Tadeusz Borowski, even Nobel laureates Seamus Heaney and Wisława Szymborska.
Source: www.polska2000.pl, Copyright: Stowarzyszenie Willa Decjusza. Updated and Edited by James A. Hopkin in January 2011.
- Niepokój /Anxiety, 1947
- Czerwona rękawiczka/ The Red Glove, 1948
- Nasz starszy brat/ Our Elder Brother, 1992
- Rozmowa z księciem/ Conversation with a Prince, 1960
- Głos Anonima/ The Anonymous Voice, 1961
- Nic w płaszczu Prospera/ Nothing Dressed in Prospero's Cloak, 1962
- Twarz/ The Face, 1964
- Twarz trzecia/ The Third Face, 1968
- Stara kobieta wysiaduje/ The Old Lady Sits Waiting, 1969
- Na czworakach/ On All Fours, 1972
- Kartoteka rozrzucona/ The Card Index Scattered, 1997
- Białe małżeństwo/ White Wedding, 1975
- Pułapka/ The Trap, 1982
- Płaskorzezba/ Bas-Relief, 1991
- Kartoteka/ The Card Index, 1968
- Zawsze fragment: Recycling/ Always a Fragment: Recycling, 1998
- Matka odchodzi/ Mother Departs, 1999 (more...)
- Nożyk profesora/ The Professor's Pen Knife, 2001 (more...)
- Szara strefa/ The Grey Zone, 2002 (more...)
- Wyjście/ Exit, 2004
Selected translationsEnglish: The Card Index, & Other Plays London: Calder & Boyars, 1969Faces of Anxiety: Poems. London: Rapp & Whiting, 1969.The Witnesses & Other Plays London: Calder & Boyars, 1970. The Survivor and other poems Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976.Conversation with the Prince and Other Poems London: Anvil Press Poetry, 1982.Mariage Blanc and The hunger Artist Departs: Two Plays London - New York: Marion Boyars, 1983.Forms in Relief and Other Works New York: Legas, 1994.Reading the Apocalypse in Bed: Selected Plays and Short Pieces New York: Marion Boyars, 1998.Recycling London: Arc publication, 2001.They Came to See a Poet: Selected Poems Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2004.New Poems New York: Archipelago Press, 2007.Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Różewicz New York: W W Norton & Company, 2011.
- French: Anthologie personelle. Actes Sud, 1990.
- German: Der unterbrochene Akt. Berlin: G. Kiepenheuer, 1965.Weisse Ehe. Berlin: G. Kiepenheuer, 1976.Die Laokoon-Gruppe. Berlin: G. Kiepenheuer, 1962.Die Karthotek. Berlin: G. Kiepenheuer, 1961.Entblößung. Münich: Hanser, 1968.Auf allen Vieren. Berlin: G. Kiepenheuer, 1973.Der Abgang des Hungerkünstlers. Berlin: Literar. Colloquium, 1980.Die Falle. Berlin: Henschel, 1983.Eine alte Frau brütet. Berlin: G. Kiepenheuer, 1969.Der Tod in der alten Dekoration. Münich: Hanser, 1973.Der komische Alte. Berlin: G. Kiepenheuer, 1964.Die Zeugen oder unsere kleine Stabilisierung. Berlin: G. Kiepenheuer, 1964.Schild aus Spinngeweb. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1967.Er ging aus dem Hause. Berlin: G. Kiepenheuer, 1965.Das Paradiesgärtchen und andere szenische Miniaturen. Berlin: Henschel, 1991.Überblendungen. Gedichte. Münich: Hanser, 1987.Der unterbrochene GesprÄch. Gedichte. Graz: Droschl, 1992.Vorbereitung einer Dichterlesung und drei aussergewöhnliche szenische Miniaturen. Berlin: Katzengraben-Presse, 1993.
- Spanish: El fichero. Madrid: Fundamentos, 1974.Testigos o nuestra pequeña estabilización. Madrid: Fundamentos, 1975.