Thursday, September 30, 2010

Poetry Podcast: Selections from Anna Swir (1909-1984)

Listen to the poems here:

While on my journey of self discovery, I set out on an expedition to explore and embrace my Polish heritage.

I took a Polish language class through Warren Consolidated Schools' adult education program.

"What is beautiful is difficult. And Polish is very beautiful," said my instructor, Anthony S. Walawender, a learned Polish gentleman.

I came to appreciate the complexities of the Slavic languages. Polish and English have a Latin-based alphabet in common -- but that's about it.

It was during this expedition that I found the Polish feminist poet Anna Swir (nee Anna Świrszczyńska,) in a volume titled "A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry" edited by Czesław Miłosz.

Miłosz said of Swir, "... I value her intensity and warmth of her poetry dictated by eros, or by empathy and pity for suffering people ... She was also a militant feminist and author of uninhibited love poems."

According to Wikipedia and

"Świrszczyńska was born in Warsaw and grew up in poverty as the daughter of an artist. She began publishing her poems in the 1930s. During the Nazi occupation of Poland she joined the Polish resistance movement in World War II and was a military nurse during the Warsaw Uprising. She wrote for underground publications and once waited 60 minutes to be executed."

"In addition to poetry, Swir wrote plays and stories for children and directed a children’s theater. She lived in Krakow from 1945 until her death from cancer in 1984."

Miłosz also had this observation, "I wonder if she was too brutal for her readers in Poland, or whether her feminism contributed to her being less valued than she should have been."

Of course we know that speaking the truth and pushing boundaries -- as feminists tend to do -- are never roads to popularity.

I have selected three Anna Swir poems that I think illustrate her range: "The Second Madrigal,"The Greatest Love,"and "I Talk to My Body."


Read more poems by Anna Swir at

Poetry collections by Anna Swir -- in English translation:

Thirty-four Poems on the Warsaw Uprising (1977), New York. Transl.: Magnus Jan Kryński, Robert A. Maguire.

Building the Barricade (1979), Kraków. Transl.: Magnus Jan Kryński, Robert A. Maguire.

Happy as a Dog's Tail (1985), San Diego. Transl.: Czesław Miłosz and Leonard Nathan.

Fat Like the Sun (1986), London. Transl.: M. Marshment, G. Baran.

Talking to My Body (Copper Canyon Press, 1996) Transl.: Czesław Miłosz and Leonard Nathan.

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