Monday, June 13, 2016

Anna Swir: A Polish poetry giant

"You will not tame this sea
either by humility or rapture.
But you can laugh
in its face."

Anna Swir

I Carried Bedpans
by Anna Swir

I worked as an orderly at the hospital
without medicine and water.
I carried bedpans
filled with pus, blood and feces.

I loved pus, blood and feces-
they were alive like life,
and there was less and less
life around.

When the world was dying
I was only two hands, handing
the wounded a bedpan.

He Was Lucky
by Anna Swir

An old man
leaves the house, carrying books.
A German soldier snatches the books
and throws them in the mud.

The old man picks up the books,
the soldier hits him in the face.
The old man falls,
the soldier kicks him and walks away.

The old man
lies in mud and blood.
Underneath he feels
the books.

I Talk to My Body
by Anna Swir

My body, you are an animal
whose appropriate behavior
is concentration and discipline.
An effort
of an athlete, of a saint and of a yogi

Well trained
you may become for me
a gate
through which I will leave myself
and a gate
through which I will enter myself
A plump line to the centre of the earth
and a cosmic ship to Jupiter.

My body you are an animal
from whom ambition
is right.
Splendid possibilities
are open to us.

Anna Swir (1909-1984) was a Polish poet whose works deal with experiences during Word War II, motherhood, the female body, and sensuality. 

Swir  was born in Warsaw  to an artistic, though impoverished family and studied medieval Polish literature at University. During the 1930's worked for a teachers association, as an editor and published poetry.

Swir joined the Polish resistance during WW2 and worked as a military nurse. She was arrested and faced a Nazi firing squad during the war, waiting 60 minutes to be executed. As well as writing poetry for Polish resistance underground publications, Swir cared for the wounded during the Warsaw Uprising and many of her poems are based on her experience.

Swir's poetry is sophisticated and powerful without the rhetorical embellishment that characterizes so much of what passes as poetry. Her poetry is purposeful, direct, simple and with a profound reverence for life.

Many of her poems record the experiences and ravages of war, although it was 30 years after the war before Swir would write and publish the poems about her wartime experience. As one reviewer notes those wartime experiences changed her poetry profoundly, bringing a concern for the value of the simplicity and immediacy of life.

Swir wrote candidly and passionately about the female body, sensuality and erotic love. Her poetry views the body with both intimacy and detachment.

After the war Swir lived in Krakow and wrote poetry, plays and stories for children and directed a children's theatre. Anna Swir died of cancer in 1984.

Other blog pieces featuring Anna Swir's poetry are here.

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