Poet, playwright, literary scholar, translator. Born on December 15, 1921 in Zielona near Vilnius; died on June 29, 2005 in Chicago.
Poet, playwright, literary scholar, translator. Born on December 15, 1921 in Zielona near Vilnius; died on June 29, 2005 in Chicago. Considered one of the greatest Polish Modernist poets, Karpowicz also made a name for himself as a leading representative of the linguistic poetry movement.
Considered one of the greatest Polish Modernist poets, Karpowicz also made a name for himself as a leading representative of the linguistic poetry movement.
Karpowicz was one of those artists who have been named "the witnesses to the 20th century". The poet was born on December 15, 1921 in the village of Zielona near Vilnius, where he lived and attended a local school until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Karpowicz made his debut as a journalist for a Vilnius-based newspaper "Prawda Wileńska". When the war came to an end in 1945 he moved to Szczecin. Karpowicz worked for the Polish Radio, published poetry and his first prose piece entitled "Legendy pomorskie" / "Pomeranian Legends". He made his debut as a poet in 1948 with a collection entitled "Żywe wymiary" / "Living Dimensions".
In 1949 Karpowicz settled in Wrocław where he entered the Department of Polish Studies at the University of Wrocław. Soon, he became an assistant to Professor Tadeusz Mikulski. Until 1956 Karpowicz had withdrawn from the literary life – not a single collection of poems was published at that time. After 1956, he joined the editorial board of "Nowe Sygnały" literary journal (1956-57), and next of "Odra" monthly (1958-76). In 1957 Karpowicz was appointed the Chairman of the Wrocław Branch of the Polish Writers’ Union.
In 1957 his volume entitled "Gorzkie źródła" / "Bitter Springs" was published, followed by "Kamienna muzyka" / "Stone Music" a year later. In these two volumes, the poet explores social and political issues while evaluating the past epoch. Both publications were considered by Jacek Trznadel as the actual debut of the poet as well as most profound manifestations of Karpowicz’s artistic maturity. As the critics writes:
"they have grown out of the avant-garde perceived and understood as a whole".
Traditionally, Karpowicz’s works have been interpreted within a broadly conceived context of the Modernist poetry. In his extensive and groundbreaking critical study of the Polish Modernism, Ryszard Nycz refers to the hero of Tymoteusz Karpowicz’s poetry as "bursting with contradictions, uncertainty, internal disintegration and unsteadiness" .What contemporary critics and scholars look for in Karpowicz’s poetry, however, are the traces of two major trends: the avant-garde and linguistic poetry, which seem to develop in two opposite directions: the avant-garde pointing to the poet’s source of inspiration while the linguistic poetry pointing to the poet himself as the source of inspiration.
The references of Karpowicz’s poetry to the avant-garde, and to the Kraków Avant-garde Movement in particular, were expressed in the representation of poetry as a force that changes the original language, opens it up for new meanings and focuses on experimenting with lexis and semantics. In this sense, the poetic language becomes a carrier of ambiguity through peculiar word play, paradoxical and surprising juxtapositions as well as a tool for drawing a composition on the canvas of grammatical and semantic consciousness.
Whereas Karpowicz is considered to be the heir of the avant-garde poetics and a devoted student of its poetics, the poet has been perceived as a master of the linguistic poetry. Interested in the language itself in reference to its limitations of instrumental nature, he looks at speech through the prism of linguistic barriers. What was most fascinating for Karpowicz, was the tension between the multiplicity of beings and the undefinability forced by the limited range of vocabulary. Thus, he turns to the reconstruction of meaning. "Distrustful towards language" (to use the words of Henry Pustowski), the poet aims at formulating beautiful sentences and discovering the self-determining beauty of words. He has the ambition to create his own dictionary setting the borders for his own, individual grammar and semantics.
In the 1960s Karpowicz was still actively involved in the editorial works of the Wrocław-based "Odra", as well as the journal "Poezja" issued in Warsaw (between 1965 and 1969 he also served as a deputy editor-in-chief). At that time the poet published: "Znaki równania" / "Equations" (1960), "W imię znaczenia" / "In the Name of Meaning" (1962), "Trudny las" / "Difficult Forest" (1964). In 1972 his poem "Odwrócone światło" / "Reversed Light" was brought out. In his works, Karpowicz would often derive inspiration from philosophical and cultural concepts. Yet, these were his linguistic experiments which drew the critics’ attention. As Zbigniew Jarosiński claimed, Karpowicz
"pursued a poetry, which would spark off the greatest semantic possibilities of a language, an autogenesis of meanings freed from common logics".
In 1973 Karpowicz defended his PhD thesis at the University of Wrocław (entitled "Poezja niemożliwa. Model Leśmianowskiej wyobraźni" / "The Impossible Poetry. The Case of Leśmian’s Imagination") and at the very same moment received an invitation from the University of Iowa. Then, he would also lecture at other foreign universities, including that in Chicago, Berlin, Munich and Regensburg. Beginning with 1978, the poet was the head of the Polish Language and Literature Department at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
Following a long break, a volume of poems entitled "Słoje zadrzewne" / "Tree Rings" was published. Collected throughout many years, these poetic fragments and smaller pieces remind of the poet’s attempts at linguistic experiments. Pointing to the existential context of the challenges that the language poses, Karpowicz commented on this collection in one of the interviews:
" 'Tree Rings’ is an attempt to show that my own tree of life and consciousness has grown into such a condition, in which it can no longer squeeze into the area of real circulation of juices and reaches beyond itself."
The collection received the "Odra" Prize and was nominated for the "Nike" Literary Prize.
Aside working as a critic and poet, Karpowicz was also the author of many plays (such as "Wracamy późno do domu" / "We Come Back Home Late" 1958; "Zielone rękawice" / "Green Gloves", 1960) and translator from the Russian language. His poetry was translated into such languages as: English, French, German, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Hungarian and Italian.
Karpowicz died on June 29, 2005 in Chicago. His funeral took place about a month later at the Osobowice Cemetery in Wrocław.
"Legendy pomorskie" / "Pomeranian Legends", 1948 – poetic prose
• "Żywe wymiary" / "Living Dimensions", 1948 – poetry
• "Gorzkie źródła" / "Bitter Springs", 1957 – poetry
• "Kamienna muzyka" / "Stone Music", 1958 - poetry
• "Znaki równania" / "Equations", 1960 – poetry
• "W imię znaczenia" / "In the Name of Meaning", 1962 – poetry
• "Trudny las" / "Difficult Forest", 1964 – poetry
• "Opowiadania turystyczne" / "Travel Stories", 1966 – including 2 competition entries by Karpowicz
• "Odwrócone światło" / "Reversed Light", 1972 – poetry
• "Poezja niemożliwa. Modele Leśmianowskiej wyobraźni" / "Impossible Poetry. The Case of Leśmian’s Imagination", 1975 – theory of poetry
• "Rozwiązywanie przestrzeni: poemat polimorficzny" / "Resolving Space: a polymorphic poem" (excerpts), 1989 – poetry
Collected and selected works:
• "Wiersze wybrane" / "Selected Poems", Ossolineum, Wrocław 1969.
• "Słoje zadrzewne. Teksty wybrane" / "Tree Rings. Selected Works". Afterword by Andrzej Falkiewicz, Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 1999.
Selected case studies on the poet:
• Henryk Pustkowski, "Gramatyka poezji", Pax, Warsaw 1974.
• Andrzej Falkiewicz, "Fragmenty o polskiej literaturze", Czytelnik, Warsaw 1982.
• Andrzej Falkiewicz, "Metafora metafor", "Teksty Drugie", 1991, no 3.
• Katarzyna Krasoń, "Sztuka aluzji literackiej w twórczości lirycznej Tymoteusza Karpowicza", Uniwersytet Szczeciński, Szczecin 2001.
• "Podziemne wniebowstąpienie: szkice o twórczości Tymoteusza Karpowicza". Ed. Bartosz Małczyński, Kuba Mikurda, Joanna Mueller. Biuro Literackie, Wrocław 2006.
Author: Marcin Wilk, December 2007