Poet. He was born on the 6th December 1945, in Mikołów, he died on the 11th May 1971, in Warsaw.
During his school years he enjoyed yachting, was a boy scout and pursued photography (he developed his photographs in an amateur darkroom set up at his house). He switched high schools more than once and passed his secondary school-leaving examination at an evening high school in Kędzierzyn (1963). Later for a brief period he studied Polish philology at the Jagiellonian University. In 1964 he moved to Wrocław and devoted himself entirely to writing. A year later he debuted in the monthly Poezja (1965, no. 1) with the poems People Go to Sleep…, Dead Season, Family Myth, My Very Nice Dog, Our Lady, He, I Know Who That Is. The works were accompanied by an introduction written by Tymoteusz Karpowicz. Thanks to the publication Wojaczek became popular in literary circles. More of his verse appeared later in periodicals such as Odra, Poglądy, Twórczość and Tygodnik Kulturalny. He prepared four volumes of poetry for print, of which only two were issued during his life: Season (1969) and Other Fairytale (1970). Both were distinguished with the Tadeusz Peiper Prize.
He died at night on the 11th of May 1971 after taking sleeping pills. He was posthumously awarded the Andrzej Bursa Prize. An excerpt from an essay on Wojaczek written by Gwido Zlatkes sheds some light on the ways of the restless poet:
He moved to Wrocław, where he worked briefly as a dispatcher in the city dump. After that he never had a permanent job. He was once hospitalized in a mental institution and served a short term in prison for disorderly behavior. An alcoholic and frequenter of police stations, Wojaczek always existed on the fringes of official literary and artistic life. Viewed as a hoodlum and troublemaker, he was refused membership in the Union of Polish Writers. Once he provocatively answered a request for his resume by saying: ‘I attended many schools, grew up in libraries, railway stations, in the homes of people more or less unfamiliar to me, in various sorts of bars, and in other places. I swam in rivers, lakes, and even in great waters. I gave myself to Adventure—'The land was free to me, alas.' At times I died, and then from the other side of life I would cry, 'boo! Enough? P.S. I can write this differently.’
The turbulent life of the young artist, marked by alcoholism and scandals ended with a suicide death. This resulted in the emergence of the myth of the 'damned poet'. Wojaczek was classified as a 'stuntman of literature'. Even today such a tag has a great influence on the popularity of his verse, but it also obscures the poems’ deeper meaning and value, which aren’t necessarily enclosed in the artist-rebel stereotype. Wojaczek may indeed be a poet of protest, estrangement, of the obsessive fear of death and fascination with it, which is linked to the dark side of eroticism and to a longing for love, however – as Jacek Łukasiewicz wrote –
Rafał Wojaczek didn’t consider poetry an opportunity to express himself directly or to make earnest confessions. From volume to volume he gradually became more interested in art, that is in the use and transformation of forms.
The virtuosity of these poems, their absolutely personal tone, and at the same time their deep rooting in tradition and abundance of literary allusions constantly provoke the readers to seek for new meanings in them.
Over the past fifteen years three reissues of Wojaczek’s verse appeared: Poems (Warsaw 1999), the set I Walk and Ask (Warsaw 2002) and Collected Poems (Wrocław 2005).
From 1997 the Mikołowski Institute is located in the Wojaczek family’s old apartment. This institution performs literary and publishing activities and organizes the annual Rafał Wojaczek Polish Poetic Competition.
In 1999 the movie Wojaczek was made. It was directed by Lech Majewski and Krzysztof Siwczyk played the main role.
Author: Krystyna Dąbrowska, December 2007, transl. 2012, This text was created for the internet project Anthology of Polish Poetry from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century based on the concept by Piotr Matywiecki.