Celebration of poetry coming soon!

6 July 2022

Real Spaces for Art

On the eve of the Miłosz Festival starting on 7 July, we talk to Joanna Oparek about poetry in her and our Kraków.


Grzegorz Słącz ("Kraków Culture"): You dabble in prose, drama, poetry – do you ever tell yourself, “OK, tomorrow I am going to write a poem”?
Joanna Oparek:
It only happens if I’ve promised someone a poem and they have a print deadline. Sometimes I make such promises and I tend to keep them, so I’ve written a couple of poems this way. But the truth is I write slowly and I think in terms of entire books because there’s a difference between a collection of poems and a poetry book. My latest volume took me two years to write, and I took even longer to think about it. I am trying to write another drama, and I’ve been thinking about it for a few months. I am fighting for time. I have different projects and lots of deadlines. Poetry is definitely my number one, although I also enjoy writing for theatre.

Where do we find a space for poetry in contemporary literature?
For me, poetry is at the very heart of literature, or perhaps more precisely at its brain. A powerful poem poses existential questions worthy of a novel series; it takes issue with reality on a single page. Short communication is certainly a mark of our time, but poetry provides space for real philosophy.

Poets like to step beyond the manuscript – publishing house – volume – meeting with the author format. What are your favourite unusual formats of presenting and promoting poetry?
Meetings with authors speak to me when the author speaks to me. Traditional formats aren’t necessarily anachronistic. In any case, nothing ages more quickly than novelty. Poetry loves transgression and contention. Contemporary poetry doesn’t seek the red carpet, preferring rather seedier locations. It likes real spaces dedicated to art and the company of artists. Poetry readings with background music are very different from joint ventures between poetry and music – the latter become something of a spectacle or performance. Meetings within poetry and literary circles are especially powerful, and Kraków certainly has such circles. There’s a powerful group of young poets brought together by serious literary discussion. The Kraków Poetry School is a phenomenon, and this phenomenon is important. I believe that the school came to be through the activities of the poet Miłosz Biedrzycki. Robert Rybicki gave it a surrealist shape, and it was further bolstered as a literary movement by younger poets such as Dawid Mateusz, Przemysław Suchanecki, Małgorzata Oczak, Nina Manel… I’m afraid I’ll stop here – there are so many names I’m bound to miss someone out. I’m delighted that this formation has appeared at the Otwarta Pracownia gallery. It’s the last true offbeat/fringe space for art. It’s been running for 26 years. Otwarta Pracownia was one of the first non-commercial galleries in Poland and it still is, to the very limits. It has been able to maintain its character and it continues attracting outstanding artists and promising poets. I’ve been doing everything I can there for several years, including hosting different kinds of literary meetings.

What is the role of poetry festivals, such as Kraków’s Miłosz Festival? Who needs them most?
The city. Authors. Readers. Local residents and municipal authorities. The role of literary festivals is to bolster Kraków’s position on the cultural map of Europe, and the Miłosz Festival plays just this role. We become a global centre of poetry for a few days, which means we can feel close to being the centre of the universe all the time. This applies especially to us, authors. We need meetings and discussions with authors including those we read in translation. Otherwise we would feel like a province instead of a capital of culture which we are and deserve. In Kraków, poetry is important and it has an audience. Perhaps it is the city’s soul, or its nervous system? In any case it is Kraków’s peculiarity and unique attraction. I love offbeat atmospheres, but the Miłosz Festival is a different experience – and in any case the festival has its own fringe. Events are frequently held in rather special locations in Kraków – they’ve even reached Otwarta Pracownia.

We live in an era of syncretic forms of art, but I would like to ask: what is the Vernissage of a Single Poem? And what is the poem be about?
We’ve been hosting the Vernissage of a Single Poem at Otwarta Pracownia since around 2018. I think I came up with the idea, possibly with some colleagues. I’ve been going to openings of art exhibitions at Otwarta Pracownia for years and they’ve always been packed. People seek art and that’s wonderful. But people also seek other people. Mingling with art means mingling with artists. Artistic events are social gatherings; they have formal and informal parts. People stand around for hours, sipping wine and coming up with ideas for next artistic enterprises. That’s the dynamics of cultural life, and that’s how artistic circles develop. I got envious of all this wine, standing around and chatting, and decided that you can just as easily spend hours staring at a poem on a wall. I developed the formula jointly with Miłosz Biedrzycki, and he has been involved as curator since the very beginning – he plays an incredibly important role. He suggests the participants and hosts discussions with authors. The next curator is Dawid Mateusz, another poet and co-founder of the Kraków Poetry School – his input is also very important. The Vernissage of a Single Verse has its own script: the poet writes their poem on the wall, they read it to the audience and answer questions asked by the curator, which can be a challenge. This starts an informal discussion which naturally turns into a friendly conversation. This is how manifestos, books and creative friendships arise. Poets who debuted by writing on the wall at Otwarta Pracownia have since been published with some important volumes. We’re delighted – long may it continue! I would love it if you joined us at Otwarta Pracownia in the courtyard of an old tenement house at 11 Dietla Street. I’ve heard that there aren’t any more such spaces in New York, there was something similar in Orleans but it’s since shut… What was the question? What’s the poem about? Perhaps it’s about the joy of writing in spite of all the trauma…

  • Joanna Oparek
    Poet, author, dramatist, director. Her poetry has been translated into Spanish, Serbian, Ukrainian and English. She hosts regular events combining visual arts and literature at the Otwarta Pracownia gallery. Member of the Programme Board of the Tadeusz Różewicz Dramaturgy Prize since 2021.


Photo by Wojtek Nurek

The interview published in the 2/2022 issue of the "Kraków Culture" quarterly.

Detailed information on the festival: [CLICK] and on festival's website

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