Other Literary Forms

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When Tadeusz Róewicz’s plays began appearing in the early 1960’s, he was already a famous and prolific poet—one of the most influential of the postwar period in Polish literature—as well as a short-story writer. His poetry, prose, and drama are all interconnected. Róewicz himself has stated that some of his poems are minidramas, written in preparation for his plays. Thus, The Card Index is clearly related to the famous poem “Ocalony” (1947; “The Survivor,” 1976). Similarly, The Witnesses seems to have developed from the poem Zielona róa (1961; Green Rose, 1982). His first two volumes of lyrics, Niepokój (1947; Unease, 1980) and Czerwona rn kawiczka (1948; the red glove), are funeral laments over those who perished in World War II, laments expressed through a new kind of “antipoetic” poetry. Volumes of the late 1960’s, such as Twarz trzecia (1968; the third face) and especially Regio (1969), contain new elements of an existential and philosophical nature.

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Like his poetry, Róewicz’s prose is concerned with psychological analysis. A recurring theme is the contrast between the moral and spiritual emptiness of the present and the horror of wartime and occupation. This theme appears in the title story of a collection of five stories, Wycieczka do muzeum (1966; an excursion to a museum). Róewicz’s most important piece of fiction is his novel mier w starych dekoracjach (1970; death amid old stage props), which exhibits a traditional Polish theme of the hero who travels outside his native land and discovers himself in the process of his encounter with the West.

Achievements

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Tadeusz Róewicz is considered one of the most outstanding and influential twentieth century Polish playwrights. Together with his younger colleague, Sawomir Mroek, Róewicz has been perhaps the postwar Polish playwright best known abroad. Most important, three of his major dramas have been acknowledged as contemporary classics: The Card Index, The Witnesses, and The Old Woman Broods. In postwar Polish poetry, Róewicz has been considered a renewer of poetic expression through his use of simple, colloquial, and even harsh words, as well as his emphasis on the themes of the horror of war and the corruption of human values. By the time he turned to drama in the 1960’s, Róewicz had established a new kind of “antipoetic” poetry and had become the spokesperson for the wartime and postwar experiences of an entire generation.

Róewicz has regularly upset critics and audiences because of his constant exploration of dramatic form. He has refused to remain identified with any one type of drama. Róewicz himself has said that he considers all of his work to be a continuous polemic with contemporary theater. Although some of his early plays have been described as employing a “collage technique” or as having an “open form” (a phrase coined by Róewicz himself), neither of these categories applies to all of his dramas. Nevertheless, certain aesthetic and ethical constants seem to exist in Róewicz’s dramaturgy. His plays often present a multileveled reality. This may be expressed through an expansion of the stage directions, through different modes of existence being present simultaneously on stage, or through discontinuity of time and juxtaposition of unconnected situations on stage. Although his plays are never moralizing, they often have profound ethical dimensions. Róewicz’s hero is frequently a kind of contemporary Everyman who is, to some degree, the author, a participant, and a commentator on the events occurring around him. In his greatest plays, the ethical dimension of the content is as important as the avant-garde form of the work. An assessment of Róewicz’s dramatic output is also complicated by certain factors. Many of his initially innovative techniques have become with time commonplace in avant-garde theater, so that his real contribution is difficult to evaluate. Further, Ró-ewicz’s reputation has fluctuated, depending on current official cultural policy, yet while he has been both lauded and attacked, Róewicz’s significance has never been questioned. His dramaturgy has always been closely connected to the spirit of the times, shaped by Róewicz’s developing concerns as a writer rather than by a need to realize a consistent theatrical program. With his revolutionizing of theatrical forms and his ultimately ethical view of reality, Róewicz’s leading role in postwar Polish drama is assured.

Róewicz is the recipient of several Polish literary prizes. In 1955, he received the Art Award First Category for his Równina (1954; the plain) and, in 1959, a literary award from the City of Krakow. In 1962, he received the First Category Award from the Ministry of Culture and Art for his poetry. In 1966, he received the First Category Award from his government for his entire artistic output. He is also the recipient of an award from the city of Wrocaw. In 1970, he received a special prize from the magazine Odra and in 1982 a state prize from Austria. In 1987 he received the Golden Wreath at the Struga Poetry Festival in Yugoslavia.

Bibliography

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Baranczak, Stanislaw, and Clare Cavanagh, eds. and trans. Polish Poetry of the Last Two Decades of Communist Rule: Spoiling Cannibals’ Fun. Foreword by Helen Vendler. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1991. Baranczak’s masterful translations offer a sampling of Cold-War-era poems from an oppressed people. Bibliography, index.

Contoski, Victor. Introduction to Unease, by Tadeusz Róewicz. St. Paul, Minn.: New Rivers Press, 1980. Contoski’s introduction provides some biographical and historical background.

Czerniawski, Adam, ed. The Mature Laurel: Essays on Modern Polish Poetry. Chester Springs, Pa.: Dufour, 1991. More than three hundred pages addresses contemporary Polish poetry, placing Róewicz’s work in context. Bibliography, index.

Filipowicz, Halina. A Laboratory of Impure Forms: The Plays of Tadeusz Rózewicz. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. Although it focuses on his drama, this monograph offers important context for understanding Róewicz’s writing in general. Bibliographical references, index.

Gömöri, Georg. Magnetic Poles: Essays on Modern Polish and Comparative Literature. London: Polish Cultural Foundation, 2000. A brief (163-page) overview of Polish literature today and its foundations. Bibliography, index of names.

Hirsch, Edward. “After the End of the World.” The American Poetry Review 26, no. 2 (March/April, 1997): 9-12. Focusing on the works of Polish poets Zbigniew Herbert, Tadeusz Róewicz and Wisawa Szymborska, Hirsch reveals how their post-World War II poetry is similarly haunted by guilt. He has found that the major poets of post-war Poland share a distrust of rhetoric, of false sentiments and words.

Sokoloski, Richard. Introduction to Forms in Relief and Other Works: A Bilingual Edition, by R. Ottawa: Legas, 1994. Offers useful insights into Róewicz’s poetics.

Sokoloski, Richard. “Modern Polish Verse Structures: Reemergence of the Line in the Poetry of Tadeusz Róewicz.” Canadian Slavonic Papers 37, nos. 3/4 (September, 1995): 431-453. The general evolution of verse forms in modern Polish poetry is reexamined in order to distinguish certain modifications formulated by Róewicz.

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