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The Sound of Modern Polish Poetry

The Sound of Modern Polish Poetry

Performance and Recording after World War II

Aleksandra Kremer

ISBN 9780674261112

Publication date: 12/07/2021

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An illuminating new study of modern Polish verse in performance, offering a major reassessment of the roles of poets and poetry in twentieth-century Polish culture.

What’s in a voice? Why record oneself reading a poem that also exists on paper? In recent decades, scholars have sought to answer these questions, giving due credit to the art of poetry performance in the anglophone world. Now Aleksandra Kremer trains a sharp ear on modern Polish poetry, assessing the rising importance of authorial sound recordings during the tumultuous twentieth century in Eastern Europe.

Kremer traces the adoption by key Polish poets of performance practices intimately tied to new media. In Polish hands, tape recording became something different from what it had been in the West, shaped by its distinctive origins behind the Iron Curtain. The Sound of Modern Polish Poetry reconstructs the historical conditions, audio technologies, and personal motivations that informed poetic performances by such luminaries as Czesław Miłosz, Wisława Szymborska, Aleksander Wat, Zbigniew Herbert, Miron Białoszewski, Anna Swir, and Tadeusz Różewicz. Through performances both public and private, prepared and improvised, professional and amateur, these poets tested the possibilities of the physical voice and introduced new poetic practices, reading styles, and genres to the Polish literary scene. Recording became, for these artists, a means of announcing their ambiguous place between worlds.

Kremer’s is a work of criticism as well as recovery, deploying speech-analysis software to shed light on forgotten audio experiments—from poetic “sound postcards,” to unusual home performances, to the final testaments of writer-performers. Collectively, their voices reveal new aesthetics of poetry reading and novel concepts of the poetic self.


  • Kremer shows…public poetry readings, especially in times of upheaval, were lofty, almost religious events…It is precisely through those authorial renditions, however, that we can glimpse the intricate relationships between the poet, the poem and the audience. Kremer investigates this rarely researched area using the recordings of several prominent Polish poets born in the first decades of the twentieth century. Her method is an odd but effective combination of machine-assisted, quantitative analysis of the poets’ pitch, stress and intonation with impressionistic digressions about their art, life and sociopolitical involvements…Kremer captures the moment when poetry ceases to be fixed on a page and enters time, with all its ephemerality and contingency.

    —Jaroslaw Anders, Times Literary Supplement


  • 2022, Winner of the Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies


  • Aleksandra Kremer is Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University and the author of Przypadki poezji konkretnej. Studia pięciu książek (The twists and turns of concrete poetry: Case studies of five books).

Book Details

  • 376 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press