Miłosz Festival 2019


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  • Thursday, June 6, 2019 - Sunday, June 9, 2019

Authority is a great responsibility resting on governments, and it is also borne by poets – after all, they are in charge of caring for our souls.

In one of the most famous works of philosophical and political theory, Republic, Plato postulated against poetry, claiming that it creates a distorted reality, clouds human minds with metaphor and conjecture, and strays from the truth. Thus he expels poets from his ideal polis. Meanwhile, Kraków welcomes them with open arms! The Helena Modrzejewska National Stary Theatre, the Festival Centre at the Szołayski House, independent bookshops and festival cafés throughout the city become a space for poetic dialogue, hosting meetings with authors, discussions, lectures, workshops and concerts. During the 8th Miłosz Festival (6-9 June), Kraków once again abounds with literature and welcomes authors from all over the globe to contemplate the words of the Nobel Prize-winning author: “The exile of a poet is today a simple function of a relatively recent discovery: that whoever wields power is also able to control language and not only with the prohibitions of censorship, but also by changing the meaning of words. […] In any case, there is no reason why the state should not tolerate an activity that consists of creating »experimental« poems and prose, if these are conceived as autonomous systems of reference, enclosed within their own boundaries. Only if we assume that a poet constantly strives to liberate himself from borrowed styles in search for reality, is he dangerous. In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot. And, alas, a temptation to pronounce it, similar to an acute itching, becomes an obsession which doesn’t allow one to think of anything else.”

The motto of this year’s festival is the title of Miłosz’s first (and one of just a handful of) novels, The Seizure of Power from 1953. The poet interprets the threats and temptations inherent in totalitarian regimes, reaching for his personal experiences and the lives of his friends and acquaintances; the work is an example of the roman à clef genre. Today, the question of who’s who in The Seizure of Power is less important than the universal dimension of the novel, providing the focal point for the festival.

International dimension

Meetings with festival guests will centre around discussions on burning questions concerning social, cultural and political matters from all corners of the globe. How do we deal with issues making the headlines as well as those largely overlooked by mainstream media and public discourse? We start with a lecture focusing on Central and Eastern Europe, delivered by Tomas Venclova, greatest living Lithuanian poet. During meetings with poets we face up to some of humankind’s greatest problems such as war, symbolic violence and political aggression. First, we are whisked off to Syria by Saleh Diab, populariser of Syrian poetry resident in France. Next, Elena Fanailova, winner of the prestigious Andrei Bely Prize, takes us on a journey to Russia, while Ferida Duraković, author of the acclaimed novel Heart of Darkness, transports us to Bosnia. Cypriot-Australian poet and actress Koraly Dimitriadis, current holder of the Kraków UNESCO City of Literature Residency Programme, delivers a warning against cultural and religious repressions. We visit Romania with Svetlana Cârstean, author of the award-winning The Vice Flower, while the Iranian-Swedish poet Athena Farrokhzad reveals the realities of immigration to Northern Europe. We will also hear two voices from the UK: Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, and Denise Riley whose works explore political sciences and feminist themes. Festival guests also include Polish authors, including Ewa Lipska, Ryszard Krynicki and Tomasz Różycki. Kraków also welcomes Krystyna Dąbrowska, winner of the first Wisława Szymborska Prize, poet and artist Uta Przyboś, poetry translator and illustrator Alicja Rosé, and poet and publicist Antoni Pawlak awarded the Gloria Artis Medal for Merit to Culture.

Dance off

“There can be no revolution without dance” is the motto of the OFF strand of the Miłosz Festival. During meetings dedicated to independent and experimental poetry, we will see young artists whose works have been affected by revolution, war and violence including that of a symbolic nature. They will present slams, duels for words and poetry performances.

Sounds of poetry

The Miłosz Festival also features music, and this year’s programme is filled with fascinating concerts. On 7 June, National Stary Theatre resounds with a concert dedicated to William Blake and performed by Sean Palmer (vocals), Tomek Wiracki (piano) and Michał Górczyński (bass clarinet and looper), presenting tracks from their album William’s Things. On 8 June, the Klezmer Orchestra of the Sejny Theatre and Mikołaj Trzaska perform on the Barbican walls. The OFF strand also presents SIKSA and the Landschaft duo, appearing at Alchemia on 7 June.

The power of translation

“National culture is enriched, changed and updated with translations and their power to expand the language of communication and bring civility to the struggle for symbolic power,” says Krzysztof Siwczyk, Programme Director of the Miłosz Festival. The importance of translators in improving accessibility of literature is explored through the traditional poetry translation workshops focusing on English, French and Russian and ran by acclaimed translators Jerzy Jarniewicz, Agata Kozak and Leszek Szaruga.

Two poets are better than one

This year, the festival awards the seventh Wisława Szymborska Poetry Prize for best volume of poetry published in Polish. On the evening of 9 June, ICE Kraków Congress Centre hosts the formal gala. This year’s finalists are Kamila Janiak for Wiersze przeciwko ludzkości, Piotr Janicki for Psia książka, Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar for Nawigacje, Robert Król for Polka and Marta Podgórnik for Mordercze ballady. Is one of them a future Nobel Laureate? Let’s read their poetry and keep our fingers crossed! (Anna Mazur)

6-9 June
Organisers: Krakow Festival Office, Foundation City of Literature



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