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    Poeta i świat Twórczośc literacka ks. Janusza A. Ihnatowicza

Charles S. Kraszewski

By Alicja Jakubowska-Ożóg. Rzeszów: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Rzeszowskiego, 2009. 316 pages. Bibliography, index of names, appendix containing previously unpublished poems. ISBN: 978-83-7338-423-1. In Polish.

Alicja Jakubowska-OÏóg’s monograph should find an audience among readers who appreciate the terse, disciplined, powerful, and allusive verse of Fr. Ihnatowicz. Jakubowska-OÏóg sets Ihnatowicz’s poetry against the background of the Kontynenty group of poets in postwar London. In this way justice is done to an important poetical tradition of Polish émigré literature, too often overlooked in literary studies and histories of literature. The book will also aid Polish scholars who specialize in the literatures of the British Isles. Fr. Ihnatowicz and his colleagues, including Jerzy S. Sito, created in Britain a current of “British” letters comparable to the ethnic literatures of the United States. Just as the authors of Chicano literature cannot be fully comprehended from a purely Mexican or Spanish standpoint but have to be considered through the lens of the North American environment that informed their lives and works, Fr. Ihnatowicz and the other authors of Kontynenty were formed not only by the Polish tradition but also by the British and Anglophone traditions in literature and culture. In 1955, Fr. Ihnatowicz wrote the following:

Nigdy nie zgodzę się, Ïe Eliot moÏe komuś byç niepotrzebny. Niektórzy twierdzà, Ïe stał się on nieszczęściem dla młodych poetów, bo “raz Eliotyda, na zawsze Eliotyda” (jak trudno się z imitowania go wyrwaç, sam to wiem najlepiej). Zaczyna się od świadomego nśladownictwa jego maniery, łatwo skończyç posiadaniem jego sposobu patrzenia na świat, jego wiary. Bo eliotyzm to nie tylko maniera poetycka, to prawie religia, w kaÏdym razie pewien rodzaj mitologii poetyckiej (39).

[I will never agree with the statement that Eliot might be unnecessary for a person. Some people opine that he has become the misfortune of young poets, as “once Eliotean, always Eliotean” (and after all, I know best how difficult it is to tear oneself away from imitating him). It begins with a conscious imitation of his manner and can easily end in the possession of his way of looking at the world, his faith. “Eliotism” is not only a poetic mannerism, it’s almost a religion-at the very least a certain form of poetic mythology]

Like their ethnically British colleagues, the exiled Fr. Ihnatowicz and his friends were shaped by the British modernists, especially Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. One cannot understand the poems printed in the Appendix without comparing them to Eliot’s. It is he, and not the somewhat kindred Tadeusz RóÏewicz, whom we feel so palpably behind the cycle “Sonata nr. 1.”

One of Fr. Ihnatowicz’s volumes of poetry, Displeasure, was originally composed in English. Claims can thu be laid to Fr. Ihnatowicz by three literary traditions: Polish, English, and the European Christian tradition of letters that goes all the way back to Dante through Eliot. It is to be hoped that Poeta i świat finds an English translator who will bring the “Eliotean” Ihnatowicz to the attention of Anglophone readers.

The book consists of eight chapters plus introduction and conclusion. The first three chapters, Ihnatowicz’s biography, “The Heritage of Eliot,” and “From Seminary Theater to the Dialogic Text,” are a chronological overview of the persons and times that shaped the poet, including the British milieu and the Kontynenty poets. Chapters 5 through 7 constitute the critical heart of the work. Here the author discusses “Space,” “Time,” “Music and Musicality,” and “Biblical motifs.” In this last section, Jakubowska-OÏóg quotes Ihnatowicz’s self-description that uncovers just how“British” a poet he really is:

Nie chcę pisaç o sobie, lecz o świecie. Nie chcę, by czytelnik patrzył na mnie, lecz byśmy razem patrzyli naświat. Dlatego od poczàtku wybrałem poetykę podobnà do tej, której uÏywał Twardowski w swych wczesnych wierszach. Jest to poetyka Ezry Pounda, Audena, imagistów, z Polaków moÏe Czechowicza. Przed czytelnikiem rozgrywa się jakaś rzecz, maluje się pejzaÏ. Patrzàc nań, moÏe on współ-odczuwaç z autorem, mieç udział w jego zdziwieniu, i tak się z autorem takÏe spotka (230).

[I do not want to write about myself, but about the world. I do not want the reader to contemplate me, but rather that together we should contemplate the world. And this is why from the very beginning I opted for a poetics similar to that used by Fr. Jan Twardowski in his early poems. This is the poetics of Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, the Imagists, and perhaps of Józef Czechowicz from among Poles. Something is going on in front of the reader. A landscape is painted. Looking at it, he can “feel it together” with the author, participate in the author’s amazement, and in this way meet the author as well.]

T. S. Eliot’s name is missing from this list, but its absence merely signifies the author’s recognition of the self-evident manner in which Eliot suffuses these sentiments: Ihnatowicz is here describing the “objective correlative”; Eliot has so saturated him that he speaks Eliot naturally.

Chapter 8 (“Ihnatowicz-Poet and Priest”) and the Conclusions offer a summary of this fine volume.

The book is richly illustrated with photos generously lent by the poet. Among the poems in the Appendix (329-56) one finds the previously unpublished verse and a translation of the opening scenes of Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. Altogether, in Poeta i świat Alicja Jakubowska-OÏóg “brings out of her store treasures old and new.” Of all the works in Polish literary criticism that have crossed my desk this past year, Poeta i świat is the most noteworthy.

Among the volume’s shortcomings are the occasional and unnecessary forays into postmodern philosophy (118), a sure sign of the book being an academic dissertation. Some of the author’s interpretations of poetry are likewise questionable. In her discussion of Ihnatowicz‘s religious poems, her theological sentiments are not entirely in tune with those of the poet who is a scholar in his own right, and committed to orthodox Catholicism. But at all times Jakubowska-OÏóg proceeds with clarity and builds her interpretations from the texts of the poems themselves, which makes her interpretations consistently respectable. Δ

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