Idea | Miłosz Festival

On the International Poetry Day, 21 March, the dates of the 13th edition of the Miłosz Festival were announced. This year’s event coincides with the celebration of the Year of Czesław Miłosz. That is why we are going to see reissues of some of his volumes of poetry, including Ocalenie/Rescue, which will be published for the first time since 1945. The volume also serves as the title of this year’s festival.

The Miłosz Festival is slated to start on 30 June, the poet’s birthday. The event dedicated to the author of The Land of Ulro will run longer than usual, until 7 July. As always, the festival will be an interdisciplinary celebration of poetry. For the third year, the events will revolve around war and violence. Rescue is a book that collects the poet’s most important texts written during the occupation. These accusatory and ruthless texts pose questions about the attitude of witnesses towards violence, passivity and the possibility of standing against evil.

As we witness wars raging in Ukraine, Palestine and Syria, these questions are as pressing as ever. The idea of our complicity in the creation of evil, which in spite of its obviousness is vehemently denied or neutralised with indifference and silence, remains one of the most important themes taken up by contemporary poetry. Its applicability goes beyond military conflicts, covering the violence inherent in the structures of patriarchy, our relationship with nature, all the way to class and racial divides in the society. Finding the necessary moral strength and words to describe these phenomena is not an easy task, requiring a conversation within the broader community. Many years later, Miłosz himself stated that Campo di Fiori, one of the most famous poems featured in Rescue was an immoral work, guilty of keeping a comfortable distance, while another of his poems Poor Christian Looking at the Ghetto became one of the most important texts of Polish culture, which spurred a debate about the participation of Poles in the Holocaust that continues to this day.

Rescue was withdrawn from Polish libraries in 1951 and its author’s works were banned. Many of the poets participating in this year’s edition of the festival are – like Miłosz – working abroad due to political persecution and restrictions on their freedom of expression. These restrictions may also concern poetry itself, as they stem not only from political violence but also from the rules of tradition. After the publication of Rescue, Miłosz himself lamented that whenever poetry tries to tackle these so-called grandiose themes, it tends to resort to Romantic mannerisms. Like in every year, the Miłosz Festival will be a celebration of free poetry, or at least poetry that strives for freedom.

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