Friday, 20 January 2012

Halina Poświatowska - the poet.

I thought Dancing Nina - the film - requires few words of explanation and  information about the author of Dancing Nina.  Here is the article by Anna Nasilkowska, translated by Marie Kabala, that you can also find at website:

 "1956 marked a significant political as well as cultural transition: after a period of social realism, Polish poetry spoke with a full voice and showed incredible richness. What began to matter was imagination, the courage to express oneself, irony, distance and personality. The debut of Halina Poowiatowska Idol Worship in 1958 was one indicator of this transition. Her choice of the free verse, addressing directly the subject of love and the existential reflection placed Poswiatowska within the mainstream of Polish poetry.

Perhaps in the case of Halina Poswiatowska's work even more important than the historical background of her debut was her own life story. When the first book of her poems was published, she was recovering from complicated heart surgery in Philadelphia. Polish doctors could not help her. As a little girl, when the war front went through her home town, Czestochowa, Halina spent a few days in hiding in a cellar, together with her parents. When they were able to come out again, it turned out that she was ill and the sickness - a heavy bout of throat inflammation which was treated with home remedies - was followed by complications, including a serious heart condition. She could not go to school, so she was studying on her own, with her mother assisting. Several periods spent in hospitals and sanatoria were of little help. At a sanatorium she met her future husband, Adolf Poswiatowski, who was studying to be a film director and who also had a heart condition. Their marriage did not last long - it was broken up by the death of her beloved.

Halina suffered a tragedy but she wanted to live. It took an immense effort of many people to organise a trip for her to the US to undergo an operation: doctors, the Polish community in America who helped to raise funds, and her family. The operation, difficult and dangerous, was successful. And then Poswiatowska made a decision which many people found hard to accept: rather than returning to Poland and thinking primarily of taking care of her health, she decided to stay in the US for a while to study, despite her insufficient funds. At first she lived with people whom she happened to meet, moving from one place to another every two to three weeks, and then news came that she was lucky to be granted a scholarship. For two years she was studying art, mainly philosophy, at Smith College. She told her story of that period in an autobiographical Tale for a Friend. She was both grateful for and critical of her time in America, and she left many references to that time in her poems.

 After returning to Poland and completing her degree, she worked at the Jagellonian University in Krakow. She was planning a doctoral dissertation on the ethical principles of Martin Luther King's activities. More than a philosopher, however, she considered herself to be a poet. Soon it became clear that her health was deteriorating rapidly. She died a few days after the second heart operation in Warsaw in 1967. She was 32. She had managed to have three collections of poems published (in addition to the original one mentioned before, there were Present Day and Ode to Hands), and a year after her death the fourth collection was published. One More Memory, which she had prepared in part herself.

Poswiatowska is primarily a poet of love. For the first time in Polish literature a woman wrote so openly about erotic desires and admitted her own sensuality. She could not forget though that her life was under threat. She perceived death with calm but even more so she wanted to live to the fullest. Until today for many readers there remains an unresolved puzzle to Poswiatowska's life: why did she not give up being active, why did she travel, and love, although doctors recommended that she avoid emotions and maintain peace and moderation? If one understands her poetry though, and especially discovers the relationship that exists between love and death, the puzzle will cease to intrigue. Intense feelings, joy, compassion and the torments of love are the opposites of the total calmness which death brings. There is no attempt in her poetry to reach out with hope beyond the end of life. Where there appear religious elements - they are mere elaborations on cultural motifs. Only nature takes on another general dimension, which extends itself beyond death. When the poet wrote about her dead husband, she was seeking him among trees and in the abundance of nature.

In Poswiatowska's poetry there are references to philosophy but it is not philosophical poetry - intellectual, using the language of discourse or argumentative. A great role is played by the metaphor, imagination and emotions. The poet perceived the whole world in a sensual way: even the sun, the breezes, flowers and animals, all bring about erotic associations. Sometimes we can see a particular cult of her own beauty. A poem becomes a mirror in which a delicate slim figure is reflected to indicate both gracefulness and the existential threat. When she wrote in her third book: "I lack former tenderness for my body", it was a threatening signal of her doubting her own strength.

Literary critics hardly ever mention Poswiatowska, although she is undoubtedly well regarded and her poems are included in many general anthologies of Polish poetry. Despite the passing of time Poswiatowska is not forgotten by the readers, and in particular by girls. It is as if Poswiatowska's charm could be sensed through her poems and acquired a special appeal. Perhaps she enchants with her feminine charm but at the same time she impresses with her existential courage."

1 comment:

  1. Rest In Peace Halina Poświatowska. If you forgot your life for poetry, your poetry has not forgotten your life.