Stork Press, £8.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
Mother Departs, By Tadeusz Rózewicz, trans. Barbara Bogoczek
Every mother's son – and daughter – will appreciate this powerful chorus of family memories
Friday 31 May 2013
Aged 91, Tadeusz Rózewicz is the last living poet of the "Golden Age" of Polish poetry that included Zbigniew Herbert, Wisława Szymborska and Czesław Miłosz. I have been lucky enough to interview three of these but it is my meetings with Rózewicz – a warm, wise and mischievous man – that remain most vivid in my memory.
Such a spirit informs the democracy of voices, the collage of forms - newspaper reportage, travelogues, anecdotes, quips, quotations in several tongues - that appear in his work, whether plays, prose or, especially, poetry. He never wanted to be the grandiloquent poet. His working motto: "The poem/ is finished/ now to break it".
Born in Radomsko, Poland, in 1921, Rózewicz published his first work, Forest Echoes, while in the home army (AK) during the German occupation. His older brother, Janusz, was murdered by the Gestapo in 1944. Rózewicz was determined that his work must reclaim language in the face of such inhumanity. In "I Did Espy a Marvellous Monster", he writes, "at home a task/ awaits me:/ To create poetry after Auschwitz".
Published in 1999, when it won Poland's leading literary award, Mother Departs also champions Rózewicz's aesthetic of assembled voices. This time, it is a portrait of his family – his mother, in particular – by the family themselves. There are diary extracts from his two brothers, poems, notebooks, a heart-breaking line found on the back of a photograph, and details of when the family fled the Gestapo. These fragments are simply, poetically, put together. The cumulative effect is astonishing.
The book's longest section is by his mother, Stefania. She recounts her village childhood in an area of partitioned Poland still ruled by the Tsar. There is poverty, hunger, illiteracy, appalling births and brutal midwives, families sleeping on straw. But Stefania also details festive rituals and superstitions, as well as ghost stories, folklore and the weddings that last several days. These vivid pictures also reveal Stefania's insight and charm.
Rózewicz aligns this account with his struggles as a writer; his ostracism from the socialist-realist literati of the early 1950s. These sections are cautious yet determined, already wise, and in some ways redolent of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. "Unless it's broken – smashed… poetry won't ever rise up from its grave," he writes in 1957.
At the same time his mother is dying of cancer: a long and painful departure, as she sleeps in her hospital bed, mumbling about the birds, woods, flowers of her childhood. Rózewicz massages her legs, rubs oil on her back, tries to ease her pain, while thinking of all ''mothers' eyes that penetrate hearts and thoughts". These scenes are powerful and poignant. Barbara Bogoczek's translation is excellent, as is Tony Howard's informative introduction. This is a book for anyone who has ever had a mother.
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 2 Tower Bridge glass walkway 'smashed' by night-time visitor dropping bottle of beer
- 3 Anti-gay hate preacher accidentally tweets 4,000 followers cartoon clip of him 'confessing' to be a 'homosexual sodomite'
- 4 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 5 Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
Christmas 2014: The three most intriguing celebrity panto appearances
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Beyonce '7/11' music video: Star bounces on bed and films daughter Blue Ivy in lo-fi homage to viral video
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'