Clare Cavanagh’s lecture at Harold Wash last night was terrific. In a lecture entitled “Poetry and History,” Cavanagh considered the question of why Polish poetry played such a large role in September 11 memorials. (A few instances: The New Yorker published Adam Zagajewski’s poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” on the back page of the September 24th issue, just following the attack on the World Trade Center. A Ground Zero memorial by artist Jenny Holzer consisted of a giant projection of the poem “Could Have” by Wislawa Szymborska. And Szymborska’s “Reality Demands” was chosen by the Great Books Foundation as the focus of its September 11 remembrance, “Chicago Reflects: One Year Later”.) Her conclusion (much simplified) is that Polish poets, perhaps following the example of Czeslaw Milosz, have forged a uniquely universal perspective, resisting the tempation to focus on Poland’s own unique suffering in this century. Cavanagh also mentioned that she is writing Milosz’s authorized biography.
Isn’t it interesting how Milosz has gradually become everyone’s choice for the greatest poet of the last half of the 20th Century? To get a flavor of how Milosz is regarded this days, read Helen Vendler’s piece in the May 31, 2002 in the New York Review, or (and especially) the piece on Milosz in Seamus Heaney’s new collection of essays, Finder’s Keepers.