The poems of Ewa Lipska offer a deeply private and personal vision framed by European and Jewish history, and articulating a struggle against the forces of evil—their reasoned, systematic violence. Our translation, The New Century: 1999 and Other Poems, builds a case for Ewa Lipska as a philosophical poet whose engagement with Benjamin, Adorno, Habermas, as well as Hannah Arendt, underlies her poetic project. Lipska's poems aim to build a world view in which evil and beauty, reason and the irrational, coexist in twenty-first-century, post-industrial Europe. She revisits social and political issues as a painter might, accumulating dream-like, seemingly incongruous, images a with the tools of skeptical surrealism. Distrustful of notions like poetic inspiration, beauty, and fate, Lipska writes, “There are no poets. There is only the inattentive moment.”
Since 1967, Lipska has published fourteen volumes of poetry, and a book a year since 1996. The twenty poems collected under the title 1999, articulating the vision which has developed, in part, out of her friendships with Wisława Szymborska and Simon Wiesenthal, are the focus of our translation. The volume begins with a poem dedicated to S.W. entitled “31 December 1999” and ends with “2001,” addressed to a fictitious Mrs. Schubert. The eighteen poems which construct the space between the last day of the old century and a future millennium oscillate between twentieth-century reasoned evil, and art, as she might define it—the accident of beauty and love in a century in which “God Asks/That you not call on him. That you not buy and sell him./That you not campaign under awnings of grace./That you not use the alibi Gott mit uns/for a godless crime.” Six years later, in Somewhere Else, Lipska is still haunted by a deity—absent, misunderstood—in a new, but equally dark, century: “Even God/asking for a light in the park’s mortgaged darkness/is just helplessness which turns to dust.”
— Robin Davidson and Ewa Nowakowska
ROBIN DAVIDSON is a poet and assistant professor of literature and creative writing for the University of Houston, Downtown. In 2003-2004 she served as Fulbright professor of American literature at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland.
EWA ELŻBIETA NOWAKOWSKA is a poet and translator living and teaching in Kraków, Poland. Her poems were recently selected by Adam Zagajewski to be featured in Zeszyty Literackie as the work of one of Kraków’s emerging younger poets.