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Adam Zagajewski Meets Spanish Book Clubs

Second year in a row we had an opportunity to participate in book club's meeting with the laureate of Princess of Asturias Literature Award. Our trip was paid by the Princess of Asturias Foundation and, same as in 2016, we spent one day in Oviedo. It actually meant spending many hours in a bus to be back the same night, but as hard as it was, it was totally worth the effort.

This time we were 20 people from Renteria, Donostia, Iurreta, Ermua and Leioa. The journey to Oviedo took us about 5 hours. After a quick lunch we had some time to visit the most emblematic places of the city. Mafalda, the cathedral, la Regenta, Woody Allen...


Architect's medieval "signature" on the cathedral

Woody Allen

At 6 we directed our steps to Palacio de Congresos de Oviedo. Over 1,500 participants of different literary groups came from all over the Spain and were trying to get the best places possible. At 7 the door was open for the general public without the individual tickets, which, by the way, had a form of a unique bookmark with a personalized number each.

A limited edition of bookmark/ticket that all the members of participating book clubs received

The meeting started on time. Adam Zagajewski was interviewed by Juan Manuel Bonet, the director of the Cervantes Institute and a poet himself. Although most of the topics brought by the interviewer were really serious, Zagajewski managed to sneak in some jokes. Below you can see some of the things the awarded poet commented on (you can find more looking on social media for a hashtag #PoeamasAlVuelo).

Adam ZAgajewski )on the left) with Juan Manuel Bonet (in the right)

About Lviv (natal city):
The loss of the city was a privilege for me as a poet, a treasure”.
The city of Lviv was up to 1945 a Polish territory, when it was ceded to the Soviet Union and Polish families had to relocate leaving their houses behind.

About Cracow, where he studied:
It was a city of my university years. I got there 18 years old from a small town in a province, which I hated, or pretended to hate. Like so many others... I embellished it.”

About travelling:
I wouldn't say I was a tourist-poet. I was the accidental traveller. It wasn't a choice, it wasn't, the majority of it, for pleasure.”
Houston is a nice city, but not pretty. It awoken in me kind of mechanism that rebounced me to Paris. It was an antidote for all that americanism.”
In Paris there were many Polish expatriates, but I was a passerby, a walker in Paris. You see many nameplates there. <<Chopin lived here>> <<Mickiewicz lived here>> Paris is scattered with symbols, with footprints. Chopin, Mickiewicz, Slowacki. Polish passerby. You never felt lonely.”

About solitude:
I liked solitude a lot. The solitude of my room where I was writing.”

About politics:
It wasn't for me. Long meetings with cigarettes. Cigarettes, smoke and talking for many hours. But I am a dissident. (…) I adored Michnik. His sharp sense of humour. He's a friend. Yes, he's a friend of mine.”
/For those of you who would like to know more about Adam Michnik, here is a quote form Wikipedia: <<Michnik became an opponent of Poland's communist regime at the time of the party's anti-Jewish purges. He was imprisoned after the 1968 March Events and again after the imposition of martial law in 1981.
Michnik played a crucial role during the Polish Round Table Talks, as a result of which the communists agreed to call elections in 1989, which were won by Solidarity. Though he has withdrawn from active politics, he has "maintained an influential voice through journalism". He has received many awards and honors, including the Legion of Honour and European of the Year.
Today, he's an editor-in-chief of the Polish newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza.>>/

About Polish poets:
Milosz, Szymborska, Rozewicz. Yes, I knew them all. We were friends and they were splendid people. Witkacy, Bruno Schulz, Witold Gombrowicz were gods of my youth. Later, I distanced myself a bit from the three of them, but they are still a necessary reference. They're strange, almost grotesque.
I'm afraid literature has lost some of its status nowadays.”

About music, painting and poetry:
Music, painting and poetry form One Art with three different facets. The music gives the immediate understanding. The painting needs a bit of translation. The poetry, same as the painting requires an effort, favourable conditions.”

When the talk between Zagajewski and Bonet was finished, the public was up to another surprise: Fernando Beltrán, a poet born in Oviedo but now set in Madrid, read in Spanish 4 poems personally chosen by their author, Zagajewski, who also gave us a small recital of the same titles in Polish.

Fernando Beltrán (on the left) and Adam Zagajewski (on the right)

At the end of the event, quite surprisingly, a few readers managed to get their books signed by the Polish poet, who seemed equally pleased and surprised. 

My signed copy of ensayos de Zagajewski

Try To Praise the Mutilated World
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days, and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.

You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

(translated by Clare Cavanagh) 


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