Waclaw Iwaniuk

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Waclaw Iwaniuk, poet and translator: born Chojne Stare, Poland 17 December 1915; died Toronto 4 January 2001.

Waclaw Iwaniuk, poet and translator: born Chojne Stare, Poland 17 December 1915; died Toronto 4 January 2001.

With some 20 published volumes to his credit, Waclaw Iwaniuk ranked among Poland's most distinguished émigré poets, and was also an acknowledged Canadian writer. Yet his roots were in the eastern province of Chelm, where he was originally connected with the regional avant-garde, and where his first book, Pelnia czerwca ("Fullness of June"), appeared in 1936, followed by Dzien apokaliptyczny ("Apocalyptic Day") (1938).

Iwaniuk was born in 1915, in Chojne Stare, near Chelm, in the province of Lublin, the son of Szczepan Iwaniuk and Józefa, née Dyszewska. Before the Second World War he trained at Officer Cadet School in Równe, in eastern Poland, and, after taking a degree in Economics at the Polish Free University in Warsaw, he was sent to Buenos Aires for consular practice.

In September 1939, he returned to Europe, enlisted with the Polish army in France, and fought at Narvik in the Autonomous Podhale Rifle Brigade. Later interned at Miranda del Ebro, he escaped to Britain and, in 1944, landed in Normandy with General Maczek's First Armoured Division. For bravery at Falaise he was awarded a Military Cross.

Iwaniuk published poetry throughout the war. After demobilisation, he emigrated to Canada and settled for good in Toronto, his first job being in a slaughterhouse. His next employment was in Ontario's Ministry of Justice, initially as departmental head of road accidents, then as an official translator.

For Iwaniuk, poetry was always something more than life. For several decades he remained active in the cultural life of the Polish community, and maintained a regular output of poetry, articles, reviews, and translations of contemporary English and American poetry for the émigré press of two continents. He was the recipient of many literary prizes, though for reasons of censorship he was not "discovered" in Poland until the 1980s.

In a short obituary the translated titles must tell their story: "Silences" (1959), "Dark Time" (1968), "Nemesis Travels the Empty Roads" (1978), "My Aberration" (1991) and, most recently, "In My Father's Garden" (1998). Iwaniuk has been called the "Poet of Dark Time", and his youthful catastrophism undoubtedly found a sequel in the on-going dehumanisation of post-war life.

Often visionary, haunted by an obsessive sense of guilt and quest for God, his poetry springs from fears and passions unnamed. Its principal themes are transience, eschatology and war, the drama of memory ("I lived like a mirror, face turned to the past") and estrangement. He referred to Toronto as his no man's land and many graveyards. But, from alienation and exile, he nevertheless succeeded in creating his "self-owned cosmos".

His output includes original writing in English: Evenings on Lake Ontario: from my Canadian diary (1981). Translations of verse appeared in Dark Times: selected poems (1979), and in several Canadian and American anthologies, including Seven Polish Canadian Poets: an anthology (1984), which he co-edited with Florian Smieja.