Saturday, 12 September 2009
Andrzej Bursa: ‘Poet’
A poet suffers for the millions
from 10 to 1.30
At 11 his bladder is full
He goes out
Unzips his flies
Zips up his flies
Returns to his desk
Clears his throat
Suffers for millions
– by Andrzej Bursa, and included in Killing Auntie and other work, newly available from CBe. It seems the kind of slight thing that might get a laugh at a reading, but for Bursa (born 1932 in Kraków, Poland) the idea of the poet as someone who suffers for the millions both wasn’t a joke at all (it was part of the job description, along with being conscience of the nation, etc, a job description left over from the 19th century) and was a huge joke, a tasteless one (members of his family died in Auschwitz).
The translator Wiesiek Powaga writes in his preface: ‘The fact that Bursa grew up surrounded by war and Stalinist terror focused his mind in a way that may be difficult to appreciate fifty years later’ – which seems to me a huge understatement. His in-your-face disenchantment (‘I’ve seen the sunset/ And the loo in a nightclub/ Same difference’) is not, as it later often became for writers in the West, a pose: it’s a living response to impossible demands.
Bursa was young, ambitious, and had around just two years (between the death of Stalin in 1953 and his own death at the age of twenty-five) to speak. About much of the work in Killing Auntie there’s an urgency and restlessness; Bursa was experimenting with all the forms available to him, and the book includes poems, parables, stories, dramatic scenarios. There is also – see the first chapter of the short novel Killing Auntie – wit and a sophisticated maturity; and, teasing our retrospective view of Bursa as writer in history (though this wasn’t that long ago: W will be taking copies of the book to Bursa’s son, still living in Kraków), his own retrospective (‘You are too big to cry/ And too small to love/ So I wander the earth/ With holes in my tights/ And big red ears’) on the childhood history messed up for him.
(Among the poems there's one on Joseph husband-of-Mary, who always seems to me to have had a rum deal: ‘he raised the Child/ whom he knew/ was not his own/ but God’s/ or someone else’s’).
The first chapter of Killing Auntie is in the September issue of Litro. The short prose ‘Freemason’ is on the untitledbooks.com website. The book can be bought from the CBe website.