A Poet, His Translator, and His Paintings

A Poet, His Translator, and His Paintings

On April 7, the department hosted a bilingual reading from a newly translated collection of prose poems by Grzegorz Wróblewski, a painter and one of Poland’s leading contemporary writers who has been living in Denmark since 1985. Wróblewski and his translator, Piotr Gwiazda, took turns reading from Kopenhaga in the original Polish and in English translation, and the poems were accompanied by Grzegorz’s paintings.

Wróblewski’s writing combines two tropes: the emigrant’s double identity and the ethnographer’s search for patterns. In dispatches from the crossroads of politics and culture, technology and ethics, consumerism and spirituality, Kopenhaga explores a supposedly borderless world of ethnic strife and global capitalism. As literary critic Marjorie Perloff has put it, “Wróblewski is the true poetic chronicler of our 21st century diaspora in all its absurdities and anxieties. Kopenhaga is a journey to the end of the night that always makes a U-turn in the middle, to take in the latest folly of the transplant.” His writing has been translated into 15 languages and published in Poland, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the U.S. Before Kopenhaga, his poems in English translation have been published in the collections Our Flying Objects (2007) and A Marzipan Factory (2010).

The event – titled  “Poetry, Art, Migration, Translation” – was organized by Lecturer Anita Starosta in conjunction with her course, “After Babel: Literature in the Time of Globalization,” which takes the Tower of Babel as a metaphor for thinking about the contemporary world. The themes of Wróblewski’s work fit perfectly alongside writings by Jorge Luis Borges, Witold Gombrowicz, Juan Goytisolo, Dionne Brand, and others, in which moments of historical and existential crisis register as linguistic and narrative disturbances. The bilingual reading added the aural and visual dimensions to the printed page, exposing students and the larger audience to their unpredictable intersections. For Justine Chang, a student in “After Babel” who experiments with combining words and images in her own work, Wróblewski’s prose poems and paintings function well together despite the differences in medium. “The specificity of his mundane, but absurd, accounts” in Kopenhaga, she said, “fills in the gaps left by the abstraction in his paintings.”