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.
Brilliant…The Sound of Modern Polish Poetry is an impressive work of scholarship…Given the dearth of scholarship on Polish literature in English, this is a wonderful addition to knowledge, and one that will delight any reader interested in Polish poetry, culture and history.
An impeccably researched, well-argued, and original work of scholarship. It is also an erudite and highly readable history of twentieth-century Polish literature and the individuals who shaped it…The book’s unique approach will doubtless appeal to many readers and open new avenues of research on the intersection between literature, performance, and technology.
Excellent…Her analyses of the selected recordings create surprising constellations and shed light on the development of Polish poetry, as well as on the historical and cultural changes that affected the writers’ self-awareness and the reception of their recordings. Kremer’s book can therefore serve as a manual on the cultural and intellectual history of postwar Poland.
An exemplary study of poets’ sound recordings, public and private, in postwar Poland. Aleksandra Kremer reads poetic performance styles through history, aesthetics, national culture, ideology, and translation, often using machine-assisted prosodic analysis. Her close listenings reveal the many ways in which poets’ voicings exceed their texts.
Erudite, lively, and brilliant, this book examines Polish culture through an original point of entry: poetry performance. Exploring the audio practices of canonical modern poets within the context of history, Kremer achieves a true breakthrough in literary and performance studies.
Listening closely to an audio archive of postwar Polish poets including Miłosz, Herbert, Różewicz, and Szymborska, Aleksandra Kremer shows how each one navigated the cultural and political pressure to embody the Polish people and country. These writers strove to recapture the singularity of everyday speech, wresting their voices from the state and the dramatic stage actors who often performed poetry. The paradox at the center of this rich account is how the strategic downsizing enabled by tape recording ultimately expanded Polish poets’ range of address.
Aleksandra Kremer makes a compelling case for modern Polish culture as a ‘laboratory of poetry performance’ in this original, masterfully researched study. It is a must-read not just for specialists, but for anyone interested in postwar Polish writing or indeed, in new ways of combining the humanities with technology while doing full justice to both.
- 2022, Winner of the Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies
- 376 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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