Polish poet in exile, Slavic scholar. Born on rhe 10th of March 1942 in the settlement of Katta Taldyk near Osh in Kyrgyzstan (the former USSR).
A poe and scholar of Slavic studies; she often wrote, in an interesting and critical way, about current Polish problems seen from the perspective of an immigrant.
Anna Frajlich-Zając, photo courtesy of the writers's family archive
Anna Frajlich-Zając was born to a Jewish couple from Lviv who came back to Poland in 1946. Anna Frajlich spent her early years in Szczecin and she finished secondary school there (in 1960). Her press debut came in 1958 in "Głos Szczeciński" and in "Nasz Głos" (the Polish supplement to the Jewish newspaper "Fołks-Sztyme"). In 1960-65 she studied Polish literature at Warsaw University (completing her Master's thesis on Stanisław Brzozowski). When she finished studies she worked as a secretary to the blind writer Jacek Szczygieł, and next - under his direction - she worked in a magazine for the blind until 1969.
The landmark in her biography, like in lives of many Polish intellectuals, was a wave of antisemitism inspired and steered from the top, which started with the Israel-Arab war in 1967. It was popularly called "March 1968". At the end of 1969, as a result of this "witch hunt", Frajlich emigrated with her husband, Władysław Zając, an engineer, and their small son through Vienna to Rome, and next to New York. She worked as an instructor of Polish language at the State University Stony Brook and in Kimbell Research Institute in New York (1971-75). In 1972 Frajlich started to publish her poetry in the London "Wiadomości". In 1977-81 she worked for the Polish section of Radio Free Europe. Since 1982 Frajlich has lectured in Polish literature at Columbia University in New York. In 1991 she received her PhD title at the Department of Slavic Languages at New York University. In 1995-2003 she worked as an examiner and consultant for court interpreters.
In 1984-86 Frajlich was on the staff of Tygodnik Nowojorski, a Polish-language weekly in New York, and since then she has closely cooperated with graphic artist Bartek Małysa. Frajlich publishes poems, essays and reviews in the Polish immigrant press (especially in Przegląd Polski, a weekly supplement to New York's Nowy Dziennikrun by Julita Karkowska) and also in Poland: in Akcent, Midrasz, Odra, Plus Minus"(supplement to the Rzeczpospolita daily) and Tygodnik Powszechny.
So far Frajlich has published nine books of poetry which contain lyrical, often erotic poems, poems about different aspects of emigration, about traumatic feeling of rejection that can be overcome thanks to contacts with the mother tongue - which is the essence of the poetry and brings back links with the lost homeland. Frajlich often writes, in an interesting and critical way, about current Polish problems seen from the immigration perspective. In her poetry the big role is played by paintings and other works of art which inspire her and give a pretext to pose philosophic questions.
Frajlich received the Kościelski Foundation Award (1981) and W.&N. Turzański Foundation Award (2003), the Knight Cross of the Order of Merit (2002) and a title of honorary Ambassador of town of Szczecin (2007).
The poetry of Anna Frajlich can be called the poetry of removal, the poetry of uprooting and poetry of dreams of return. She began writing as a teenager and it seems that it was through writing that her world was shaped. Trees, bushes and birds from Szczecin were taken along on her journey through the world. Living on the other side of the ocean, she looks for them in the New World, compares the reality that surrounds her with that lost paradise. In an extensive autobiographical interview Frajlich says,
Perhaps because there is no return to time, this time, this moment persistently comes back to me, bringing on a lot of questions: 'Where is home? Why do people from one street in a small town now live on different continents? Who has a right to define a place for other people? (Anna Frajlich about herself and poetry in Nowiny-Kurier, [Tel-Aviv], August 17, 2001)
Anna Frajlich's poems are melodic, musical. They have a certain turn of phrase that is characteristic of the author. They are ambiguous, provoking readers to reflect. It is not, however, dry intellectual poetry. Frajlich plays with emotions, builds her poetry with metaphors that invoke universal experiences, such as: pain, memory, separation or expectation.
Anna Frajlich, asked about the genesis of her emigration poetry, answers
From time to time a poem flows into me. Only a pencil is needed. Sometimes there were funny situations on a subway when a poem suddenly came to me, and I did not have anything to write it with. I used to leave the station and look around on the pavement, and usually I found something to write.
(Dwa istnienia rozszczepione / Two split beings, Conversation with Czesław Karkowski, part II, Przegląd Polski, Nov. 28, 2003)
The first volume of Anna Frajlich was typeset by hand by an artist printer Stanisław Gliwa, next two volumes were printed in a small press run by two poets: Krystyna and Czesław Bednarczyk ("Poets' and Painters' Press"). The memory of this beginning, of the difficult preparations is still present in the economic use of words characteristic for Frajlich.
Another characteristic feature of Frajlich's poetry is her openness for art. One sees it not only in her reaction to paintings but also in readiness to cooperate with an artist. Most striking examples of such an ideal symbiosis are: The Tree behind the Window, the poetic work realised with Bartek Małysa, and In November's Sunshine, illustrated by the same artist.
The poems of Anna Frajlich are often born from pain, from unpleasant biographicical experiences. The most poignant was the feeling of rejection, expulsion from Polish identity, something that can be called the "March 1968 complex" or the "Gdański Station complex" - named for the Warsaw train station from which Jewish immigrants were leaving (the volume of "after March" correspondence with family in Poland is the meaningful proof of this traumatic experience represented by the words: "the platform of Gdański station divided their lives into two parts [...]").
In a mysterious way fragility and vulnerability are connected in Frajlich's sensitivity with the possibility of rebirth and regeneration. The symbol of this possibility is often represented by the motive of mistletoe - ever green branch that grows on a tree: "Gilded broom of the mistletoe / pain /grows on an ancient oak" (Złota gałąź / Golden Bough from In November's Sunshine).
The same tension is discernible in her double identity - Polish and Jewish. Anna Frajlich was brought up with the feeling of "dignity and pride" of her family's roots. On the other hand in the cited above interview in Kurier-Nowiny she says:
I grew up in Poland and was shaped by Polish culture, like my parents, and I take everything else from its angle. Polish poetry moves me most deeply though I learned to believe that there are other great poetries and some of them really speak to me.
The Polish poetry of the XIX (Romantic poets) and XX centuries (Broniewski, Gałczyński) constitutes the base from which she takes comfort and incentive to express her own torment and dilemmas. And the name of Gałczyński shows that poetic picking at wounds and penetrating the uneasy has some humorous aspects.
Her book on the legacy of ancient Rome in the Russian literature at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries (Vladimir Solovyov, Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Valery Bryusov, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Maksimilian Voloshin, Vasily Komarovsky and Mikhail Kuzmin) is among her most important works.
Anna Frajlich has organised major international conferences on such writers as Józef Wittlin and Bruno Schulz. She has published articles on Michał Choromański (in contrast with Otto Weininger), Henryk Grynberg, Wacław Iwaniuk, Bronisław Przyłuski.
Major works of poetry:
- Aby wiatr namalować / To Paint the Wind. London 1976, Oficyna S. Gliwa (with Henryk Grynberg's introduction);
- Tylko ziemia / Only the Earth. London 1979, Oficyna Poetów i Malarzy (Poets' and Painters' Press);
- Indian Summer. Albany, New York 1982, Sigma Press;
- Który las / Which Forest. London 1986, Oficyna Poetów i Malarzy;
- Drzewo za oknem / The Tree behind the Window (with graphics by Bartek Małysa). New York 1990 (poetic sheet);
- Ogrodem i ogrodzeniem / The Garden and the Fence. Warsaw 1993, Czytelnik;
- Jeszcze w drodze. Wybór wierszy / Still on its Way. Selection. Warsaw 1994, Niezależna Oficyna Wydawnicza Nowa (Independent Press Nowa);
- W słońcu listopada / In November's Sunshine. Cracow 2000, Wydawnictwo Literackie;
- Znów szuka mnie wiatr / The Wind Seeks Me Again. Warsaw 2001, Czytelnik.
- Po marcu: Wiedeń, Rzym, Nowy Jork / After March: Vienna, Rome, New York. Warsaw 2008, Midrasz (co-authors: Felicja Bromberg, Frajlich's sister, Władysław Zając, her husband - letters written to family in Poland).
A volume of letters to Anna Frajlich:
- Stefania Kossowska, Definicja szczęścia. Listy do Anny Frajlich 1972-2003 / Defintion of Happiness. Letters to Anna Frajlich 1972-2003. Toruń 2007, Nicholas Copernicus University (Emigration Archives, vol. 27).
History of literature:
- The Legacy of Ancient Rome in the Russian Silver Age. Amsterdam - New York 2007, Rodopi.
- Between Lvov, New York and Ulysses' Ithaca: Józef Wittlin - Poet, Essayist, Novelist. Toruń - New York 2001, Nicholas Copernicus University & Department of Slavic Languages, Columbia University (Emigration Archives, vol. 10).
Translations (bilingual editions):
- Between Dawn and Wind: Selected Poetry. Austin 1991, Host Publication (translated by Regina Grol-Prokopczyk);
- Le Vente, à nouveau me cherche. Soisy-sur-Seine 2003, Editinter (translated by Alice-Catherine Carls, with introduction by Jan Zieliński).
Author: Jan Zieliński, October 2009; translated by Alicja Skarbińska-Zielińska
See also: "Woman with a pearl. On Anna Frajlich's poetry".