Death of a Bookman # 2015 / The Resurrection

 

 

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In my 21st and final Death of a Bookman essay, I want to talk about resurrection.

 

I took a year out from producing books in order to understand better many of the phenomena associated with publishing. That year is now over.

 

Note, I did not write “took a year out from publishing books”.

 

Although I have been producing books, and damn fine books at that, for some few years now, it took me a while to realise I wasn’t actually publishing them. A publisher, as I mentioned a few times before, does three things – produces a book, distributes it out to customers and then publicises it in order to convince customers to buy it.

 

In the UK, where 100,000 new books are registered with ISBN numbers each year, that is a lot of publishing and shoving if you want your baby to succeed.

 

Yet still, I am in sad shock to think of how many of the writers, translators and literary facilitators I know do not understand this three-fold process, do not care about a living wage from sales, do not perceive the importance of effective translations, do not communicate the joy they feel when writing with audiences via readings, films, songs, etc.

 

In this now-gone year of Deathly sabbatical, I have found no new means of becoming a true publisher – by which I mean finding the funds to not just produce, but also distribute and promote our books effectively.

 

In the business of publishing, there are a lot of bookworms and very few businessfolk. I definitely fall into the former camp.

 

Hence, in 2015, OFF_PRESS is escalating operations in a different way.

 

First of all, we are launching Project 2VEEM. This approaches the process of translating and presenting poetry in ways that have nothing to do with books – via hip hop, garments, magic binders, karaoke machines, sex cards, QR codes, stickers – you name it (long as you don’t say “book”), we’ll be there making it happen. Starting with 2VEEM 4KIDS.

 

Secondly, we are going to launch a selection of OFF_DIGITAL titles. Starting with allteria, a guide to quantum consciousness, followed by a New Constitution, followed by anti-bullying texts, motorcycle jokes and other life-saving digital titles.

 

And thirdly, we are launching Open Anthology – a project which will present, via our website, 12 poems by 12 young Polish poets over the next 12 months. Translated by Seweryn Gorczak, a young poet from Warsaw, these will be backed up by interviews, recordings, live events and – if we find a devil which will lend us the dosh to cover printing costs in exchange for our worthless souls – eventually books.

 

So, hello life and literature in 2015.

 

Gonna be a gloriously bumpy ride, if we have anything to do it with it, ahoy!

 

Marek Kazmierski, Founder Editor

 

Death of a Bookman # 20 / Mucha, Peszek, Poland by Jan Hartman

 
 

[NOTE: Recently, a number of Polish artists have been questioning the ideas of national identity through their art. The singer Czeslaw Mozil released a song titled “I hate you, Poland”, followed by a YouTube experiment “The Book of Migrants”. However, these “unpatriotic” statements have met with intense and often violent attacks from the conservative media and online commentators. Most recently, however, female artists have taken up the topic and continued to challenge conventional perceptions of loyalty to the Polish state. This article, published recently in Polityka Magazine, explores the reasons for this clash of ideologies.]
 

 
 

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First Maria Peszek, and now Anna Mucha. Both these female artists are rebelling against moral blackmail, inherent in the concept of Polish patriotism dating back to the 19th century, which is when national mythologies and struggles for independence raged in our country. A patriotism understood as readiness to shed blood in times of war and the giving of dues to hierarchical power structures, which include the Catholic Church, in times of peace.
 

In her wonderful new song, Maria Peszek sings: “Sorry Poland, I wouldn’t surrender to you, Poland, a single drop of blood. Living is horrific enough. A living citizen beats a dead heroine!”.
 

And most recently, Anna Mucha, a young actress (I can still see her appearing as a child wearing a raincoat and glasses in 1992’s Schindler’s List), had the courage to say: “My primary obligation is to protect my children, my family, my closest ones. At all costs. And I couldn’t care less about ‘God, honour and homeland’! The survival of those I love is more important.”
 

And so two brave, wise female artists have spoken, throwing these bold words back in the face of the god-national patriarchal dominator types, words about living, breathing, vital values, in the context of which killing for a free fatherland and the preservation of our forefather’s faith systems starts to appear ethically suspect. Thus the simpleton figure of Ares, although draped in all sorts of holy insignia, comes to a grinding halt and starts spitting and screaming in impotent anger. What’s up, Ares, going to fight some girls, are you?
 

And so we have one female singer declaring that she detests the idea of violence, and in times of trouble she’d like to do everything possible to help her loved ones live on. And that this is more important to her than the fate of the nation, than whether the ruling parties will be made up of fellow pure-blood Poles, rather than some damned foreigners. Certainly, this second aspect may be extremely important, but the life of children, parents, siblings is to her of primary value. And no one can be expected to discard these on some bonfire of historical vanities. And now a second actress has added that true loyalty to a homeland means respect for the state and the duties of a good citizen, not the vile screaming of football hooligans. Dedication to hard work, the paying of taxes and commitment to social causes – these are the true measures and hallmarks of patriotism.
 

And I mean to tell you that they both have every express to hold these opinions, and what’s more they both deserve respect for the guts to airing them in public – even from those who do not share those opinions.
 

Besides, it’s not all that easy to debate with these points of view, seeing as there is nothing obvious about the assertion that it is better to kill thousands of people for the sake of sovereignty, rather than by losing it save those same thousands. The truth is neither here nor there. What is certainly disgraceful is that for some people in Poland the very posing of such questions is cause enough to unleash waves of aggression. Still, these come from cowards, those who lack the guts to consider opinions and discuss them calmly, or even formulate precisely their own position. Go on, let them state just how many millions of human beings are the equivalent of the value of Polish independence?
 

And thus the question of the price worth paying for the highest good remains to be answered. And wise people go on debating it, while the dumb go on believing that silence and straying away from complex issues is something akin to duty. Lovely! We actually have words for such “duties”: denial, hypocrisy, duplicity, and of course cowardice. He who gags others, burning with holy, yet misguided fire, casting aspersions, and at the same time shying away from every offer of dialogue, he – as it was said in olden days – soweth discord among brethren.
 

I have a few more bits of bad news for our “fellow patriots”. Choking on paroxysms of pride and high-minded outbursts are not some sort of emotional kitsch, which can be excused without any real challenge, but is clear anti-patriotic practice. You are not a patriot if you imagine your nation is above all others, as more brave and more dignified than any neighbouring state. Wrong is he who has no time for the subtle shades of historical fact and the complexity of past tragedies and hence imagines that his nation was always as pure as a freshly shed tear, while imagining its leaders to have been personages free from blemish. Wrong is he who would reserve for himself, and for those like him, the right to judge who is or isn’t a real Pole, what Poles should or should not believe, and what opinions they should hold dear. Such folk might have been mistaken for patriots two bloody centuries ago, when on the backs of tribal unity, the fearing of “others”, upon superstitions and insecurities we created the myths and propagandas of a unified body politic, which was meant to bring together “lords” and “commoners”. This was hard work, this marrying of fire and water, and any method was considered valid. Even the pretence that our Church, although Vatican and Rome-led, was somehow Polish, or even hyper-Polish. Back in those dark days, this was understood and accepted. Without a mass use of propaganda – created by politicians, writers and men of the cloth – Poland as such would not exist today.
 

Yet who in the 21st century of today, caring nothing for the formation of a real, mature, civic Polish nation, still wallows in this infantile, para-nationalistic mythology, created for revolutionary and warmongering purposes, thereby damaging and destroying the very same nation? Dragging it down to their own childish, warped version of anachronistic tribalism and xenophobia.
 

Today, this is not on. Today this equals the denial of patriotism.
 

And yet the curators of this ideologically pseudo-patriotic (and hence how aggressive and arrogant!) museum are never in short supply. Why? The answer is simple.
 

The pact between the Throne and the Altar still stands. Political parties benefit from creating chauvinistic & fanatical sentiments, for they have great mobilising power, power related to the pleasure principle which is amplified by feelings of pride, self-pity, grandeur and uniqueness. This is good manure with which to sprinkle the political landscape, hence we shouldn’t be surprised that government propaganda spin maintains this course, adding little to the rehashed slogans and posters from the 19th century. The ruling party benefits, the Church benefits too, developing an enhanced role of God’s governors in this damned theatre, receiving from the powers that continue to be tax breaks and additional tributes. All it has to do is continue to pretend it is somehow “Polish”, though of course it is anything but, being historically designed and governed by the likes of the Vatican, Rome, the Hapsburgs, the Teutonic Knights and every other damn “other”, as and when needed, on top of being “ours”.
 

And it really is hard for millions of us not to fall prey to this brainwashing, seeing as we are fed a diet of it from cradle to the very grave. This is how the Polish nation continues to erode itself. This is what hinders the formation of a truly free and independent, global-minded, pluralistic society – a modern Polish state. Those who scream “Nation! Poland!” are most often its stragglers and vandals. They still don’t know what it means to be a Pole. But we, eventually, will teach them the error of their ways.
 

All sorts of myth-makers and “nationalists” consider themselves to be patriots, and they look down upon all those who aren’t like them, denying them their Polishness and their right to patriotism. They only have insults for those other than themselves, “lefties” being the tamest. Has anyone ever heard them speak about those different to them in a tone containing anything other than contempt or hate?
 

Meanwhile, the truth is quite the opposite. Patriots are us: Peszek, Mucha, Hartman. Along with millions of other, open-minded, tolerant and decent Poles. Patriots are us because we respect the state and the law. Because we respect our own democratic citizenship. Because we don’t spit upon and reject freely elected leaders. Because we know that civic duty is not about going to mass while wearing jackboots, but a daily existence of hard work, engagement in social activities, the propagation of culture and order. Because we respect diversity within our own borders and ranks and are repulsed by the idea that every Pole must be just like us, be it believer or non-believer, or in any way “the very same as all other Poles”.
 

Because we want Poles to be free, and hence also inherently varied. Because we care about the truth, even if it is often painful, and always complex, rather than the easy substitute of cheap chauvinistic myths. Because we are angry when a drunken thug waves about a red-and-white banner and screams his oratory of pride, spreading fear of the unknown and hate for all things which do not originate from his own tribe. To them we say – learn from us! Be, as we are, legitimate Poles – it doesn’t have to hurt.
 

 

Translated by Marek Kazmierski
 

 

Death of a Bookman # 19 / A tale of two Polands

 

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

  

 

Having recently overseen the translation of Wioletta Greg’s book for Arc Publications (pressing poetry in translation ten times as long as us), I decided to take a trip to Poland on the 1st of November. To rest, after a year away, and to visit my relatives on the Day of the Dead.
 

The dead sure enough were there, though I didn’t get much rest. Poland is not the kind of place to go if you just want to kill time. I now realise each visit, like a trip out to a wilderness overgrown with the weeds of traumas and the fruits of victories, includes a period of picking thorns out of metaphorical skin upon returning home to UK, US or wherever it is you are from.
 

Some trauma psychoanalysis suggests it is impossible to ever recover from truly devastating events. The sting keeps on pumping its venom without pause, without end. The only thing to do is learn to live with the pain.
 

Poland, 25 years after its liberation from communism, preceded by 250 years of other occupations, partitions and pogroms, still has a problem with itself. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Gender. The Swedish Deluge of the 17th century. Religion. The upcoming elections. Solidarity. Traumas old and new just kept coming up in conversation, in art, in the media. When talking to working class people in cemeteries or the best young literary types in the coolest cafes. The cover of Res Publica Nowa proclaimed Poland was a creative force to be reckoned with, while Newsweek carried the screaming banner “The Torment Called Poland”, both mags launched the same week. See pic below.
 

No one in England, a country I was raised in, ever talks this much about national identity. Sure, there is a constant debate about Europe, Englishness and the evil of UKIP, but nothing like this.
 

Warsaw and Krakow are still at loggerheads (a problem for us book exporters, considering the Polish Book Institute is split between the two cities). Other cities compete for attention – Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdynia, Sopot, Lodz and Lublin all have their own fans. Somehow, no one ever mentions Katowice, even though it’s population is bigger than Warsaw.
 

Warszawa / Warsaw, my home town, is changing rapidly. Once upon a time, even migrants to London would slag it off as grey and dull (an ancient Polish sport – hating the capital and those who come from it as classless snobs). Today, it seems to be transforming into one of the hippest places on the planet.
 

One day soon, its moment will pass and fashion bloggers will move onto Odessa or Petersburg or some other “Saw War, So Wild” town. But me, I am still completely head over heels in love with it. Have been since I rediscovered the city 20 years ago. But there is a problem with exporting of Polish culture, and literature especially. The people charged with promoting it are too traumatised to see they are still at war with each other. The funding streams, so different to other parts of Europe, don’t work. The distribution of books is ineffective and in the case of poetry non-existent.
 

I am generalising, I know. But this is not to put the situation down. Rather to say – it demands creative solutions. In the same way Poland must stop talking opposing languages of countryside vs city, Warsaw vs Krakow, literature vs all the other arts, anyone who is creative must start being creative about the 21st century. That is why, for a year, OFF_PRESS will move onto pastures new. Binders full of poems. Street wear. Hip Hop. Yes, ladies and gents, Project 2VEEM is launching soon. Rather than focus our attention on several projects at once, we are going to get laser on literature. More on how soon.
 

Poland is the kind of place where strange things happen. Where powerful medicine can be sourced. Where the dead rise and where even though they should be zombies they refuse to give up. This column is dedicated to Asia, to Jakobe, to Jan, to Joanna, to Justyna, to Kamila, to Kasia, to Kinga, to Klementyna, to Kuba, to Maciej, to Marta, to Monika, to Pawel, to Piniak, to Seweryn, to Ula, to Wioletta – to all those who took up the pen and, though it seems so have been much less mighty than the sword in the history of their home, refused to put their weapon of choice down.
 

As the bible long ago promised, when all is blogged and done, those who wield it will win the world.

 
 

Marek Kazmierski, Founding Freak

  

The elephant in the room is weeping, the King stark raving naked.

 
 

photo (9)

 
 

DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

 

Death of a Bookman # 18 / OFF_2.0…

 

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

  

After three years of publishing handmade poetry in translation, time for something completely different. Something with some here-and-now clout to it.
 

prisons… motorcycles… bullying… quantum tales… binders full of women…
 

Starting this year, OFF_ will launch a series of digital publications, backed up by online projects and multimedia presentations.
 

These will develop new audiences, secure income and improve our capacity for reaching audiences with classic books and ebooks.
 

We are tired of giving words away – time for a wealth of new designs:

 

August / S.O.N.S. is an ebook/app aimed at improving the safety of motorcyclists around the world…
 

September / Tessen is a new ebook/app take on anti-bullying philosophy and training…
 

October / 42 minutes of doing nothing important at all is a photography book by a Lithuanian artist based in London…
 

November / allteria is a book/ebook which explains how quantum physics can completely alter your life…
  

December / Walls of Hebron is one of the greatest Polish works of contemporary writing… if we get the OK from its author!
 

January 2015 / Nests of Stone is a play/book/film which brings the separate ends of Europe together in one laser-sharp narrative…
 

March 2015 / Binders Full of Women is an innovative publishing project, focused on poetry by women from around the world…
 

May 2015 / World Poetry Archive is… well, exactly that – a database of all the world’s poetry translated and published in English

 

Anyone interested in selling your soul to us helping us sell the above, get in touch.   
 

Marek Kazmierski, Founding Freak

  

The elephant in the room is weeping, the King stark raving naked.
 
 

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DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

 

 

Death of a Bookman # 17 / The mad magic of a shallow bubble

 

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

  

There is a place in Poland I call Mad Magic Mountain. It is by the seaside. Small, but superbly situated. Sandy beaches. Escarpments to watch them from. Woods to hide in from being watched. It is home to many handsome, wealthy people. Most bought their way into it. But those native to this place are straight out of Thomas Mann. Gorgeous. Wealthy. Sick with a bizarre kind of sadness.
  

I’ve visited it dozens of times in the past few years. Listened to its siren song. The women are uniformly stunning. The men equally seductive. Unlike the nearest big town, it has six or seven book shops and another six or seven literary cafes and bars to its name. Culture runs through it like a river. Or a sluice. Yet like the Davos of Mann’s fable, it fills me with dread. Everyone there knows everyone. Has ripped off/betrayed or been ripped off/betrayed by everyone. Had their hearts ripped out and up more times than they care to remember. And yet nothing. No crimes of passion. No forms of exile. All is weathered with stoical sorrow.
  

Bars pop up and vanish. Uber-expensive cars are crashed. All the nation’s celebs summer there. Yet no matter what people do to one another, all is forgotten, for we all must get along. It is like a little Poland. Or at least a little literary Poland. No one speaks ill of anyone else. Not to their faces. Those that do, do so with just the right amount of cuteness to be forgiven. Or get enough “likes” to turn satire into soma.
  

I have translated and published several writers from this place. Held several readings in it. Attended several literary festivals. Things seem to be getting worse, not better, a perverse “direction of travel”. It is a place which lives inside its own comfy bubble. Perfect for hoteliers. Deadly for poets. I admit to having been seduced by it several times. To loving the seduction. To missing it often. But I do remember history. That during communism, many tried to sail their way to freedom in little boats from its coast. To freedom outside a shallow bubble. Some died trying. But we all know how the tales of Hans Castorp and of Odysseus came to pass. All of us Instagram beautiful, us Prozac damned.
  

Marek Kazmierski, Founder Editor
  

The elephant in the room is weeping, the King stark raving naked.

 

sirens
Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper

 
DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

 

 

Death of a Bookman # 16 / Warszawa makes me scream, weep, sing…

 

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

  

I promised to quit translating poetry. This being a song, I hope to be forgiven…
 
 
Warszawa
 
The day unfurls in winter light
while I unfurl out of bed.
I look out the window, sleep in my eyes,
the suburbs already half-dead.
The last of our spirits awaken the veins,
buses plough through melting snows,
our concrete jungle awaiting spring rains,
the river all blackened ice floes.
 
When I look in your eyes, as tired as mine
there’s love for this city, as tired as I am.
Where Hitler and Stalin unleashed their designs
and springtime chokes in the sky.
 
The centre of town is flooded with light,
you whirl like a cloud, in out of the beams.
Me, I am starving, so utterly starving,
but love, we will feast on its dreams.
Oh, pretty suburbs, pathetic suburbs,
everything blooming, all sickly green,
The river pissed on its own poison
I scream, I weep and I sing
 
When I look in your eyes, as tired as mine
I see love for this city, as tired as I am.
Where Hitler and Stalin unleashed their designs
and springtime chokes in the sky.
 
Come autumn, the schools always call in
while bars call the rest of us too,
the waiters pass by, still we shelter within,
I guess we’ll be wasted come two.
Come autumn, I always think of the summers
as worn as the old cobbled lanes.
Come autumn, we stroll as giddy as lovers
and howl her glorious refrain
 
When I look in your eyes, as tired as mine
I feel love for this city, as tired as I am.
Where Hitler and Stalin unleashed their designs
and springtime chokes in the sky.
 
Written by Zygmunt (Muniek) Staszczyk
 
 
 
 


 
 


 
 
 

Marek Kazmierski
 
Founder Editor
 
The elephant in the room is weeping, the King stark raving naked.
 
 
 
DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

 

 

Death of a Bookman # 15 / a sort of travelling magic circus…

 

 

  

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

  

Guest post from Kamila Pawluś, a poet / writer / translator, as part of the Writing Process Tour project:
 
 

I have barely began to blog, and already I’m invited to take part in the project Writing Process Tour, a sort of travelling magic circus which intends to reveal the secrets of the writers’ trade, by asking the sort of uncomfortable questions only a writer can ask of a colleague, or perhaps a publisher. The tour takes place across blogs, in many languages. Once I have exposed my self, laying bare the secrets of my own writing process, I will have to then point to three other magicians and their blogs. Oh yes!
 
What am I working on?
 

Most recently, I’ve mostly been working on trying to help tetra and paraplegics rise in the mornings, and then get back into bed at night. When I do manage to find some time for myself after work, I make notes for my blog, which helps me keep a record of the wild journey I am on at the moment. I am also translating a story by Marek Kazmierski, “Losing Light”, into Polish. The story is divided into hourly segments, covering just one day of its protagonist’s life, which is really helpful, as at the moment I find it hard to concentrate for any longer than an hour or so at a time. I am also writing new poems (strangely enough, in English!), am getting ready for academic sessions in June and am wondering how to find time to write two collections of short stories. One has already been started, rifled through and abandoned, something in the spirit of “Guguły” by Wioletta Grzegorzewska, just the setting different, Sanok in the 1980’s. And the second about the little disabled birds I am tending to here in the UK.
 
How Does My Work Differ From Others in its Genre?
 

In the past, when I used to write more poetry, and less prose, I would sweat myself silly trying to answer this. That it’s this, not that, that this line or influence in place of another. Now, I don’t see much sense in such digressions. For ages people have been telling each other stories, in all languages, in dance, in images. In this way they tame and overcome their own private experiences. Abandon childish egoism and enter the giant book co-written by runners and jabberers. Language is only a wave generated by Solaris. That which remains transmuted into colourful apparitions, that is my experience, observations, narratives. This is what I work with, but it is in no way unique.
 
Why do I write what I do?
 

There is a fairytale by the Brothers Grimm about a poor girl who is taken to heaven by Holy Mary, otherwise she’d die of hunger. Mary then fed, clothed, taught the girl. And when she was setting off for a journey, she left the keys to 77 doors in the heavenly palace. And she told the girl that she can open all of them, admiring the motions and harmonies of heavenly places, angels showing her round, all – except the 77th door. And how can I say this? I couldn’t stop myself. I opened the first 76, but my curiosity was too great to stop me there. Holy Mary didn’t have punishment waiting when she got back, she only sighed heavily and sent me back down to Earth mute, without a penny in my bank account, without a debit card or overdraft even. But because she is merciful, she let me keep my laptop, so that I could keep typing my little prayers out.
 
How does my writing process work?
 

It requires solitude, a separate room, a computer, internet access, a decent night’s sleep beforehand, and a few hours of peace the following day. It’s good to also experience something, see something, read or think about something else. It’s a furnace constantly demanding fuel, with me the stoker who can’t always afford more coal. It sometimes goes into a huff – recently, it’s turned its back on the Polish language, and only once we were the other side of the border did it forgive it. It sometimes dies down – I keep on knocking on its door, but there’s no one in. That’s when I feel truly lonely. Then it comes back, but it is never repentant. It’s a bit like a thoroughbred horse, which I keep in a neighbouring farm, because I can’t afford to do so on my own plot of land, constantly driving me into debts, both in terms of time and life.
 
 

Kamila Pawluś
 

 

Przystan_2014_04_13__Komiks-z-komentarzem_Pawlus__top 
 

 

DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

 

 

Death of a Bookman # 14 / The General is dead. Long live his story…

 

 

  

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

  

The death of General Jaruzelski, one of the last great anti-heroes of the Cold War, has just been announced. And considering he stars in one of the stories from my collection Damn the Source, I thought it was apt to publish it here.
 

Years ago, as they started relaunching the James Bond franchise with Daniel Craig in the starring role, I wondered what happened to all the spies who suddenly found themselves out of work when the Iron Curtain fell? Where did those killers go? Home? Their paymaster motherlands no longer wanted them. Would they stay where they were, in London for example, and go on spying for the new regimes? Or find new employment? Or just go completely mental and go out in a blaze of violent glory?
 

This story is an attempt to answer the question…

 

* * *

 

WARHEAD

 

Satellites streamed images of the old General’s demise from the other end of Europe straight into Adam Staropolski’s North London living room. Slow-mo, constant repeat, pixellated blow-ups on all Polish news channels. The same ghastly scene of a bald, speckled man of eighty, thick dark glasses slipping from his nose, breathing his last on trial for high treason.
 

After a whole night of watching and drinking, Adam’s failing eyes were having a hard time focusing. He had seen enough of General Jaruzelski, his old childhood friend, in the dock for the supposed crime of crushing Solidarity and declaring martial law those thirty years ago, to know his demise had not been accidental. Someone must have slipped something into his prison breakfast. Or his customary glass of water. Or even the little microphone pinned to his lapel. Death injected or vapourised or swallowed. None in their game cared about traces of evidence, not since Litvinienko and his execution in that little sushi place in the heart of London. A radiation pill in a cup of black tea, flown over all the way from the Kremlin. The insane cheek of it. Litvinienko been ex-secret police too. FSB, KGB, and so what? With his Putin-backed killers still at large, nothing and no one could think themselves sacred or safe.
 
The sound of envelopes crashing through the letterbox in the hallway jolted him. Christmas was almost here, but was it too early for the real post man? Could it be a set up? Sarin in a greetings card? Even an old-fashioned letter bomb, pretending to be a seasonal gift?
 
Swaying, Adam rose from his armchair and walked through a forest of empty Guinness bottles towards the window and the old television set stood by it. Early light streamed through the lace curtains, piercing the low crowd of brown glass all around his slippers. During the weeks of hearings, as he had got drunker and drunker and the number of empty bottles grew, he had stopped taking them into the kitchen and simply let them collect on the living room floor, entertaining himself in breaks between hearings by arranging the little brown soldiers in various patterns. Simple military parades at first, lined-up regiments of empties, in honour of the old general. Then more complex arrangements, a detailed map of Britain, stretching out across the carpet, and now a large eagle, the Polish national emblem, cut in half by the path he had left to the TV.
 
Now there was nothing more to see. No need for further distractions. He turned off the screen, but the old tube held on to the image of the former head of state slumped in the dock. Or perhaps Adam was only imagining it? Having watched the dictator, the demagogue, once Poland’s most hated man, dying in full view of a thrilled public a hundred times over, it dawned on him, what they had done. The media. The stations. Maybe even the new secret services. Mocking that historic day in ’81 when, in full uniform, the General had put himself on national TV reading out his martial law decree. On all channels. Constant repeat. Followed by tanks and arrests and killings. And now they were getting him back. Screening the footage of the old man expiring a thousand times over again and again, an act of the most modern vengeance.
 
Adam felt giddy. If they could do that to the General, mock this publicly, this viciously, they could easily come for him. Even here, in London, a thousand miles distant. He walked back through the glowing glass bird, stopped beside some fading pictures scattered on the coffee table next to the armchair. Teenage Adam and the twenty-something Jaruzelski outside of occupied Warsaw in ’44. A year later, both of them riding a captured Tiger tank through the rubble of Berlin, Adam beaming, Wojtek poker-faced. Official photos from the Fifties and Sixties, two old friends now serving a Communist Poland. Jaruzelski climbing the army ranks, always in uniform, loyal from word go. Adam, then still called Aron, in a sharp, dark suit, part of the new political police force set up to scour the People’s Republic of Poland, hunting down the last of the partisan freedom fighters left over from the real war.
 
Adam gathered up the photographs, the only evidence he had left of his old life, then drew himself straight, staring out the window, expecting surveillance or even snipers to be waiting across the street. In that one moment of fear in his own house, he chose: no more waiting – he would strike before being struck. He would demand protection from the Polish embassy. Though he had not stepped through those doors since 1989, once he explained his past, showed them the photos and the papers, code words, letters, negatives, they would have to offer him sanctuary. Ship him to Poland, probably. Under another new name. One last chance to start over again.
 
Adam turned to look at his old living room. Everything perfectly English. Immaculately staged. The furnishings, the books, the piano, just like his accent. No pictures of any family. No evidence of tedious passions or hobbies. Nothing to show the unnatural machinery under the surface.
He caught himself looking in the massive mirror in the hallway. The ever dapper, ever tall, ever devastatingly handsome devil. At seventy something, he still could charm the pants off anything. That smile, teeth gleaming their porcelain lie. The baritone that melted thought and turned the stupidest remark into the wittiest come-on. And now the panic in the eyes as the front door rattled and another batch of junk mail dropped onto the hallway floor.
 
Hurriedly, he slipped on some shoes, grabbed his long overcoat, stuffed the photos in its inside pocket and left through the kitchen. On his way out, he pulled a long bayonet knife from the hiding place behind the fridge. The final souvenir from the battlefields of Russia, Poland and Germany. He secured the custom-made leather scabbard on a belt across his chest, concealed beneath his mac. It felt good, the weight of the weapon against his rib cage. Felt like the best and the last of him.
 

 

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download the complete story in PDF here
 

 

DTS 006 dn

 
 

the book can be ordered here – Damn the Source
 

Marek Kazmierski

Founder Editor
 

The elephant in the room is weeping, the King stark raving naked.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

 

 

Death of a Bookman # 13 / Writing Process Tour Quantum Edition

 

 
  

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 
  

I have been invited by Anna Robinson to be part of this online Writing Process Tour. Do have a look at her site and follow the tour backwards as well as forwards. There are many interesting writers who are part of this process. We have each answered the same 4 questions and then nominated 3 others to take part.

  

What am I working on?
 
Resuscitating prison literature from three decades back (see previous post), developing a new religion and trying to square up to the digital age. Running an indie publishing house and a cultural magazine of the unfree in the UK leaves no time for my own writing. But then again, I do have plans to publish three novels in the next three years, as well as translating several more, so I am going to have to try pulling my finger out quite soon.
 
How Does My Work Differ From Others in its Genre?
 

As for the writing itself, I am not trying for any original sort of originality. Only vividness. None of my literary heroes were innovative or transgressive. I have no time for shockers like Joyce or Burroughs. I want writing that is superficially conventional, but tells that same old story in fresh ways. Like a sleeper street racing car – totally standard on the outside, supercharged wonders under the hood.
When it comes to my translations, I am never absolutely true to the original. The thing that interests me in my approach is the readers’ experience. They must be able to feel what the intended reader in the original language was meant to feel, as I understand it. If this means taking some liberties with the original text, so be it (see my translations of Tuwim).
 
Why Do I Write What I Do?
 

The book is the most astounding invention in human history. The second will be the quantum computer, which will similarly alter the human mind. In my writing, I am trying to get one to marry the other – the convergence of art and science is something that passionately drives me to write. Also, I am trying to pen the scientific theory of love. The parallels between the two sets of motives should be clear to anyone who knows something about the cultures of creativity and scientific endeavour.
 
How Does my Writing Process Work?
 

Like a chav teen on working a bank holiday weekend, basically. Haltingly, at best. Writing is the most challenging of all artistic processes, demanding the brain convert thought into alphabetic symbols and in this way create worlds of emotional and intellectual wonder. This is exhausting work, hence, being a decidedly lazy sort of soul, I find writing the hardest of grafts. But I do love it. And I walk. A lot. That is when all my “writing” happens. When all the ideas swirl, get hunted down and ordered into narratives. What happens once I sit at my computer is then only typing.

 

Marek Kazmierski

Founder Editor

The elephant in the room is weeping, the King stark raving naked.

 

 

My tagged trio are:
Wioletta Grzegorzewska
Jan Krasnowolski
Kamila Pawlus 

 

 Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 23.17.58

 

 
 

DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 
 
 

Death of a Bookman # 12 / Stasiuk put me in prison

 

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

  

30 years ago, Andrzej Stasiuk took three weeks to write his devastating debut Walls of Hebron, a book detailing his experiences of being put in prison for desertion from Communist era army service. It did not see the light of publication until 1992, after the fall of the regime, once Poland was (supposedly) ready for it.
 

His career since has been stellar. Great books, plays and films. Fiction and non fiction. His own publishing house. Many of his works have been translated into English, but not that first original howl from behind bars.
 

Why not?
 

Well, let’s consider what it is a translator actually is in the 21st century:
 

First, they must read a lot and learn who is worth translating into English. Then they have to ask permission to translate samples of chosen works. Maybe even apply for grants to do the samples. Then they have to hawk those samples round publishers. If one of them expresses an interest in putting the translation into print, they have to apply for more funding to finish the translation. Often also apply for more funding to cover the cost of producing and publicising the book. Then they have to go on the road, attending conferences, festivals, interpreting for the original author during discussions and signings, sending copies out for review, making sure the book is in shops, is being talked about, is being bought.
 

A literary translator is hence also a critic, a fundraiser, a literary agent, an editor, a publicist, an interpreter, a manager – most of these roles going unpaid and unsung.
 

Who therefore would go to the trouble of trying to champion the almost-forgotten Walls of Hebron? Battle with prison jargon, as well as the literary establishment? Worry about the violence of its beauty, as well as paying the damn bills?
 

Me.
 

I know I recently said I would do no more translations this year. But my work as editor of Not Shut Up magazine and love of Stasiuk’s writing mean it is now, on the 30th anniversary of the penning of that book, that I want to translate it.
 

It took Stasiuk three weeks to write it. I want to translate it in the same amount of time. Starting today. I don’t have the rights to publish the finished translation. No one is paying me to do it. It is just a love thing, that’s all.
 

My adventure with translations started five years ago, when I read Dukla and decided to “have a go”. I sent the finished translations to the German firm who owned the rights, asking if I could publish them somewhere, but they never even responded. At the time, I thought it was me, my translations not good enough, my email worded wrong. Today, I know that is how the business works. No one cares about translations, or translators, not even writers or the institutions charged with their promotion. But because of Stasiuk, I am imprisoned by my passion for translations.
 

Though perhaps with this book we will be able to break out of the niche cell that is translated literature and make it into the big time of the world of publishing. Tear down the Walls of Hebron once and for all.

 

Marek Kazmierski
founding editor
 
The elephant in the room is weeping, the King stark raving naked.

  

.mury.

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

Death of a Bookman # 11 / Trauma Breeds Cultures

 

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

  

Is it only me who seems to be surrounded with moany buggers of late? Always complaining about the state of the world, the crap writers have to put up with, the awful ways of the publishing world? If there were no assholes and accidents to contend with, we would have nothing to write about!

  

So, on the eve of the London Book Fair, I wanted to step back and have a wee look at how OFF_PRESS came to be.

  

Five years ago, I was writing a weekly column for a emigre newspaper in London which considered itself “high-brow”. I jumped that editorial ship after about a year of not getting either appreciated or paid (a long story involving pedophilia and financial mismanagement, but I will save that for later posts). One by one, other Polish writers and photographers left the newspaper, all for the same reasons. We sat around drinking and complaining about the lack of opportunities for migrant writers, until the vodka ran out, along with our excuses.

  

It was the spring of 2009. OFF_Magazine was born.

  

The name was a shortening of the word “offensive”. We did mean to wind people up, but it was less about being offensive and more about going on the offensive. We did, and some of us still do, want to change the world.

  

OFF_Magazine was a blog-type online portal, meant to be open to all narrative suggestions. Stories, photos, films. We didn’t know what we were doing, hence why OFF_Magazine no longer exists. With a bunch of well-meaning but non-committal friends, we decided to promote the new online journal by announcing an international writing competition. Five writers from Poland and five writers from English-language Elsewhere would be published in a print anthology, even though had no contacts, no money and no idea about how to make, sell or distribute books.

  

Still, we advertised for entries and got some wonderful submissions. Plus, I wanted to learn more about the country I had been forced to flee as a child, so as an amateur filmmaker I also wanted a film to go with the book (setting a trend we would then use for most of our future titles). Anthologia – A Prequel Manifesto was born.

  

I organised a seven day, seven city marathon, covering the whole of Poland in a week flat, meeting writers, holding literary events, promoting our first title (see trailer below), but those whose idea it was to launch the anthology suddenly got cold feet and then got aggressive, saying they were not going to go on any trip around any country, that the (bilingual and ridiculous rushed) book was sure to be full of mistakes and that it would only lead to bad reviews and we should all forget it. The book and the magazine and the whole shebang.

  

With all journey details booked, the book at the printers and my ego riled, I had no idea what to do next. I asked my friend Sam if he would go with me, instead of my Polish friend. He jumped at the chance (and when a two metre tall American jumps, you jump with him). Then, a few weeks before departure, I met Lilian, a German journalist, who asked if she could come with us.

  

It was then I realised that people from traumatised lands find it easier to embrace failure than success. As long as OFF_Magazine was but a pipe dream, everyone was on board. As soon as we started to make things happen (the website, the anthology, the film), all its Polish initiators jumped the very ship they themselves had launched.

  

That was when I realised we had to focus. Explore the Polish psyche. Concentrate on one language. One form of writing (poetry). OFF_Magazine mutated into OFF_PRESS, new people came on board, and now, fifteen books and films later, we are still wondering – what next?

  

Will the London Book Fair offer answers? For years now, everyone has been on edge. Will print die? Will literature thrive in e-formats? Will video games take over?

  

Stick around – until utopia hits, there will always be interesting stories to live and write about…

 

Marek Kazmierski, Founder Editor

  

..

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

Death of a Bookman # 10 / The Naked Elephant

 

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 
 
 
At the moment, there is an interesting little firefight going on among some Polish writers. A debate around whether we have the right to make a decent living from our craft or whether we should always expect to go unpaid. Kaja Malanowska started a simple Facebook thread which, for a moment, turned into a serious debate, but then quickly degenerated into the inevitable dirty little fight (link in Polish here).
 
I don’t want to point out that, once again, women are being serious about the business of arts animation and men are attacking without thinking, but that is what seems to have happened. And, of course, these are men who have: a) sources of disposable income & b) no children to upkeep. You know who you are…
 
Words fail me, so let’s move on.
 
Why are we still in this position? The 21st century, and everyone tells you: “Don’t expect to make money from writing”.
 
Oh, so agents, publicists, editors, proofreaders, designers, printers, distributors, editors of magazines, organisers of literary festivals, etadinfinitumcetera, can all claim decent wages, but those who actually create the product the rest of the industry shifts expect to starve and joke: “When I die, that is when I’ll sell”?
 
How is that? How is it the elephant in the room is star raving naked and no one is saying jack?
 
It’s because we’re scared. Writers are cowards. That is why we have no academies, no venues of glory (like concert halls, multiplexes and sports arenas) and no real public presence beyond the extremes of crazy legends (Bukowski, Parker, Hemingway, Thompson, Kerouac, Salinger, Mailer, Plath) and rest of us dull workhorses (life’s too short for me to type up your names).
 
You know why we’re scared?
 
Because money can be counted and we don’t like the burden of actual proof. We refuse to believe quantity can happily marry quality… aaaaaand
 
We are terrified of facts. We know there is money out there. We know people don’t mind paying for good books, same as they don’t mind paying for good coffee. It’s just that books are written by those who feared Math when at school, yet published by those who feared English, hence why the Talent will always suffer at the hands of the Trade..
 
Yessir, playground rules abide, don’t care how old you think you are. We are being bullied by business, which has the money to share but won’t and instead of sorting the problem, we go home, bury ourselves in our books and pretend we’re fine with coming home beat up after school each day.
 
There is no debate. Quit your little online spats – the bullied belittling the bullied while the bullies laugh on. Writing should pay a decent wage share of the profits made by the trade, end of.
 
I am not demanding utopias, but let’s have some dignity. And bread on the table. Between the wealthy few and the pauper many, there has to be a reasonable middle-ground.
 
Writers should expect to work, expect to sell their work and expect to be paid. But if we, people of the highest possible culture and erudition, go on being exploited by the industry which exists because, not in spite of us, what hope is there for us to ever take pride in what we do?
 
 

Marek Kazmierski, Founder Editor and Fellow Coward
 

 

 

Courtesy of www.jasonlove.com
Courtesy of www.jasonlove.com

 
 

DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

Death of a Bookman # 09 / The Critic’s Stone – Bad blood is in the game

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

 

Let me criticise your critical faculties.
 
How little do you know about what criticism actually is?
 
I keep seeing writers and publishers blabbering on about being reviewed in this blog or that publication. Most blogs, unfortunately, are written by people who couldn’t criticise their way out of a village beauty pageant, and most print reviews are DESCRIPTIVE (they tell you about the book, but not about how good/bad the book is) and not ANALYTICAL (the critic has actually read and developed an opinion about the book). And don’t even get me started on things like Goodreads and Amazons.
 
I think all writers should be made to write literary criticism. By law.
 
I’m not sure how such a law could be imposed, but most “writers” I know dream of spending time in prisons (“Oh, it would be so grand to have all that time and peace in which to write”), so maybe a custodial sentence could be imposed if you don’t publish at least one literary peer review a year?
 
All writers should start their journeys by accepting the fact that if you do your job right you will make enemies. Admit it. Event the sweetest writers I know end up in life and death tussles, with other sweet writers, or writers who are talented assholes, or totally talentless tossers.
 
We all do it. We need a good scrap. It’s part of the creative process – challenging yourself and hence challenging others, because let’s face it – we all love a good bit of feedback.
 
But in the same way as young men need to vent their frustrations in a safely violent arena (such as martial arts or rugby), writers need an outlet for their passions that is not their own art. We can’t write well without reading well, and you can’t read really well if you don’t put your opinions down in writing.
 
Our only problem is, we’re too stupid to realise just how much we need to read and to be critics.
 
And hence why literature suffers. Because it doesn’t listen, not even to itself.
 
And hence hence why I’m toying with the idea of shutting OFF_PRESS down as a publishing house and turning it into a think tank / critical journal. Too many bad books out there and not enough good critics, hence a book lover’s got to do what a book lover’s got to do.
 
And if you want to start on me, please send me your address – I will happily post you a copy of my book to delight in or demolish, as you see fit.
 
 
Marek Kazmierski,

 

Founder Editor

 

 

 

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DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

Death of a Bookman # 08 / A fairytale about creative trolls, cute princesses and destructively critical dragons

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

 

Once upon a time, not that long ago, in a dark wood, not that far away, toiled a group of creative trolls.

 

They lived alone, sharing their poetry, prose and theatricals among themselves, staging readings, workshops and performances, totally absorbed in the unique magic of their endeavours.

 

One day, a princess decided to leave her castle to learn more about the world. She had read every single book in her library, but realised she needed to get her empirical hands dirty before she could consider herself wise, as well as clever.

 

At first, she came across some orcs who toiled in shiny, sky-scraping mountains to extract as much gold as they could from the earth. The orcs wanted her to stay with them, to invest her wealth in their dark schemes, but the contrast between the glory of their bling and the ugliness of their characters disgusted the princess. They were only interested in numbers.

 

She then happened upon a group of elves, immeasurably more beautiful than the orcs, but also immeasurably more vain. All the elves were interested in was dietary regimes to help them fit into skinny clothes to look good in dark discoteques. Because the princess was so effortlessly cool, the elves wanted her to stay and join their revelries, but their vacuousness disgusted the princess. They were only interested in beauty.

 

She then came upon a vast settlement of hobbits. These lived in high-rise huts, working menials jobs, giving birth to pudgy babies, drinking and eating and dozing their days away. They wanted the princess to stay and spice up their little lives, but the princess was not fooled by their down-to-earth values. They were not really interested in anything at all.

 

Having heard about the creative trolls, she searched long and hard through dark woods until she found their settlement. Their erudition, effervescence and enterprising way with words and ideas seduced her. After weeks of spending time with the trolls, learning their tales, poems and plays, she offered to sponsor a tour – bringing such high culture to the creatures beyond their woods would surely make the world a better place. Their stories would truly enrich the trolls, their ideas truly enchant the elves, their plays truly entertain the hobbits.

 

But the trolls looked at her crossly, snorting under their bearded breaths, quoting Hegel and Plato and Sartre, and then told her to piss off, right back to the bloody castle where she came from.

 

Which the princess did, but not before paying a mercenary dragon to attack their village, burn down their woods and chase them off into the four corners of the world.

 

She could forgive all the other tribes, but not the trolls.

 

Why do you think this might be, my little readers?

 

Email me your epic answers at info at off-press.org

 

Marek Kazmierski,

 

Founder Editor

 

 

copyright-troll-5185332

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: These texts are intended to stir up debate about some complex topics which are very important to us, not to stir up conflicts which are very displeasing to us. We know publishing won’t be revolutionised overnight, that change is a very slow process, but that instigating it sometimes demands a little radical thinking. Everything with a pinch of salt and a dollop of ice-cool calm, por favor. 

Death of a Bookman # 07 / Polish fiction is finished. Any chance of a resurrection?

 
 

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 
 
  

Do many readers around the world know any Polish writers? Any living Polish writers? And the old greats they might have heard of (Conrad, Kosinski, Herbert), are they likely to be identified with their mother tongue, or rather with their adopted homelands (English, American, French)?

 

I want to suggest the answer is no, and that something needs to be done – by the world of Polish writing itself.

 

Other exports from Poland seem to be doing quite well. Visual arts. Design. Performing Arts. Jazz. I think this is because the proponents of those genres know, from word go, that they can be accessed and experienced by anyone in the world, without need for translation. They produce and perform knowing they are going up against the best ever.

 

But what about Polish pensmiths? How many expect to at any point in their careers to reach foreign audiences?

 

Back in the 20th Century, almost all the Polish greats travelled and lived abroad. They mixed with the world, its action, its art, its ambition. But they were all men and only a few (marked in red) ever returned:

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 20.25.07

 

 

In the 21st, it seems so few reach out beyond our own borders. How many of the names we can think of now have lived abroad? Maslowska, Gretkowska, Filipiak… Now women finding liberation in movement. But how many have been translated and received well in other languages (the way Szymborska was embraced by the Italians, for example)?

 

As long as Polish writers stay home and expect to be read in Polish only, they will always write for a very limited audience with ever-more narrow wavelength of expectation. I read a lot of contemporary Polish fiction and poetry. It seems stuck in its own inner-narrative, own sense of perception and preoccupation – why? Because it is preaching to a market which is not only converted, it is totally tired of hearing about Poland. So we end up with fiction which is constantly rehashing the same themes of passing, modernity, post-Communist transformation, corruption and the senselessness of living in a land which is so, so tired of itself. Too tired to even get up and go elsewhere for its kicks.

 

Polish travel writers seem to be an exception, with reportage selling fabulously well, and Hugo-Bader achieving substantial success in translation last year, but who else? Will Stasiuk go back to writing fiction? Is Szczerek capable of transcending Gonzo? Will Chutnik become a voice for international women’s experience?

 

Jacek Dehnel seems to be the only modern writer interested in making a name for himself abroad – poet, translator, prose writer, bon vivant – he is our “go to” literary figure to be sent abroad, be it China, the US or England, a sort of literary ambassador. He writes about the far-off past, all sorts of stories not focused on Poland or its wild present, but one mercurial talent is not enough to save a nation once famed for its literature.

 

I actually think most Polish writers are afraid of being translated. They don’t know English well enough to judge if the translations are any good… they are afraid of having to speak in front of international audiences… they are afraid that their work will not stand up to world-class judgements.

 

If we don’t start opening up our minds, we might as well start shutting down our presses.

 

Maybe one day, 100% of books published in Poland will be translations (see the most recent DOB essay on the subject). No more Polish writers. Only Polish translators, working from other languages.

 

And all translators of Polish into English will have to work with is a dead past.

 

Grim, but happening already… Of course, it is not only Polish writers, but other aspects of the Polish literary scene which are to blame for this malaise, but I will come for them later;)

 

Marek Kazmierski,

 

founder editor

 

Death of a Bookman #6 / The Hell’s Angels of the Book World

 

 

A series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 
 
 
 

dob_kill
 
 
 
The Channel 4 documentary “The Truth About Killing” suggests 98% of human beings, much like dogs, are genetically programmed to be unable to kill a member of their own species. The battlefields of previous ages were littered with unfired weapons, as men failed to overcome this most basic of instincts. Only 2% of us are supposedly able to kill without pause or suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. Half of those heroes. The other half psychopaths. But what has this got to do with world literature?
 
Czech Republic – around 70% of all books published are translated from other languages
Poland – around 40% of all books published are translated from other languages
UK/US – around 3% of all books published are translated from other languages
 
So, it seems the only people in the West interested in literary translations are also either saints or satanists… But seeing as these stats have been static for decades, does anyone care? Or are the translators and publishers of translated literature happy in a cultural ghetto of minuscule proportions?
 
Most men who return home from battle are never quite the same. The middle of the last century saw a lot of such men returning to America from various war zones. Europe. Korea. Vietnam. Many were unable to go back to their previous lives, permanently scarred by their tours of “duty”. The ones who quite trying to pretend they wanted back in were called the One Percenters – the one percent of society who do not fit in and do not care they do not fit in. They set up motorcycle gangs, joined hippy communes, influenced cultural counter-movements – the original modern outcasts.
 
Do literary translators have a similar attitude to what they do?
 
Because of demand, if you translate books in Poland you tend to expect to get work, get paid for that work and for that work to then sell, be read and be reviewed. You expect to be noticed. In the case of a few brilliant translators, become a household name even.
 
In the UK and US, translators are total outsiders – the ones who don’t get paid/read/reviewed and don’t care they don’t get paid/read/reviewed.
 
Well, I’m tired of being an outcast. On the margins of single figure stats. As of now, I quit being a translator. No more poems, short stories, essays. No more working long hours for love of something insanely lonely. No more binding of books no one wants to buy. Maybe I’ll come back to it in years to come, but a rest is as good as a change, and right now I need both.
 
So, don’t expect any new titles from OFF_PRESS this year. We are focusing on reissuing our back catalogue in digital format for the next twelve months. Beyond that, who knows? And, what’s equally important, who cares who knows?
 
Marek Kazmierski,
 
founder editor
 
Useful links:
 
Truth About Killing – YouTube
 
The Three Percent website

 
 
hells_angels_first_edition_hunter_s_thompson 

Death of a Bookman # 05 / Iceland rules, Denmark draw, Poland yet to be seen…

 
 
 
Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.
 
 

 
And so, eMigrating Landscapes, a series of events OFF_PRESS has helped organise, comes to a pause – poets, writers and artists from Denmark, Israel, Poland, United States, and of course Great Britain, spread across numerous events in numerous UK venues, all dicing with the idea of migration from a literary perspective. My, we have been busy.
 
But so what? Next?
 
This evening, at RichMix, thanks to Steven Fowler, we saw many nations united under the Danish / Polish banners reading – in English, of course. But the place was only half full.
 
How the hell?
 
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of filming an Icelandic poetry event, also organised by Steven and his Maintenant crew, in the same venue. The place was totally packed. Something does not add up. How many Icelanders in London? How many Danes? And just how many Poles? What is it Polish Poetry London, that you didn’t show in any sort of numbers?
 
The night before last night, Grzegorz Wroblewski hinted at an answer. Among many of the controversial, and frankly fierce, things he said during the Migrating Poetry event at SSEES (full house, actually), he claimed nothing of real impact had happened in Polish poetry since the Brulion Magazine generation of immediately post-communist days.
 
That is some twenty years of stagnation… I want to extend that thought here. I want to suggest things with poetry in Poland are worse than that.
 
What if not only has nothing like as powerful and influential been made to happen within a nation that has to its name two Nobel prize winning poets and over two thousand new volumes of poetry published each year, but that it has gone backwards?
 
Instead of pushing beyond the influence of Podsiadlo, Swietlicki, Wroblewski (only men poets?), they have gone back to the territory occupied by Literatura Na Swiecie (World Literature) and the poets of the previous century – American, French, English, Irish… All equally dead, or as good as (by comparison, see 18 year-old Danish Palestinian poet sell 100,000 copies of his recent book, as mentioned by Wroblewski).
 
Brulion helped launch the careers of the likes of Filipiak, Gretkowska, Stasiuk, Tokarczuk – the true greats of a now getting to be a bygone age. But where to next, Polish publishing? Have we taken all the steps forward we could? Is it time for some sort of reverse revolution? And what if the problem is evidently not one of talent or resources, but of political scenery? We simply don’t see nothing left to write against?
 
Answers on a postcard to Dziad Borowy, the only poet in Poland I know of still kicking out the jams.
 
 
Marek Kazmierski
 
founder editor
 
 
References
 
RichMix Enemies
 
Icelandic Poetry
 
SSEES
 
Brulion
 
Cunt Crumbs
 
Yahya Hassan
 
 
 
dead-man

Death of a Bookman # 4 / The Master, a bust hand and one thousand and one mysteries

 
Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.
 

 

A couple of nights ago, Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead from a suspected drugs overdose. Last night, I almost broke my left hand fighting with my brother. And today Facebook is celebrating its 10th birthday.
 
Going in sequence, let’s deal with the collapse of a superstar first.
 
Why are weeping? Why the massive outpouring of public grief? I guess we feel heartbroken in the way you can only feel when someone you care about lets you down (as opposed to when someone who you know was no good does you no good).
 
We didn’t mind this amazing “everyman” actor suffering for us on screen, we just didn’t want him to do it in real life. His death has blown the illusion of our collective illusion – suspension of disbelief is a bummer when it turns out to be hiding something darker, not lighter, than unreal life.
 
We do not want to wake up. We want people we care about to be happy, successful, free. We wanted Hoffman to serve up his soul on celluloid, then go home to his wife and three kids and not suffer off-set. But suffer he did, like so many tragic beauties before him (Monroe, Dean, Elvis, Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix, Jackson, Winehouse, Ledger, et al), breaking our hearts in the process.
 
The same goes for our families. Even when there is no more falsity to be passed around, when truths shower us like meteorite storms, we don’t know how to face real music. We want to keep on dreaming. That we love each other. That we know each other. That we care, even when everything tells us to run and hide. We panic, attack, deny, even when we share the same blood, the same histories, live under the same roofs, when everything tells us – wake up and work this shit out before it kills you. Stop drinking, start meditating. Stop talking, start working. Stop fighting, start therapy.
 
I recently had to ban my own mother from my Facebook account. No point going into detail as to why here. We all have the same troubles and the same imaginations. But it got me thinking about online relationships.
 
Today, its 10th birthday, Facebook tells me I have a total of a 1000+ Friends in my life. This is a lie. In the past few days, it just so happens I have been talking to a lot of writer and poet friends about this. About how many of them have been trolled, cancelled their FB accounts, or changed their FB names to hide from enemies. These are real friends of mine. Excellent artists. Lovely human beings. Victims of the evil that is trolling.
 
And yet, this isn’t what makes me truly sad. Almost every day I haunt the pages of Friends I have lost. Ghost Friends, who have not unfriended me, but who I no longer see, call or meet. Every day I am grateful for the friends I have and will yet have. But I also weep for those who are virtually lost. Be it artists I will never have the chance to meet, family members with an excessive appetite for destruction, or friends lost through projects we tried to make work and failed at.
 
People are always surprised at just how much conflict exists between creative people. But why would there not? We invest so much of ourselves in our lives, and our art, of course we are going to overextend, bend beyond reason, even destroy things we love in the process.
 
I work with many artists who have experienced trauma through either migration, psycho-emotional illness or imprisonment.
 
I keep underlining to them that creativity always also involves some form of destruction.
 
Art is a coin with two sides. To want to say, show, move something, you have to want to change that which is, a process which is difficult, painful at times. To make a film, write a story or perform in front of audiences takes hard work and serious guts. If it fails, people often laugh. If it works, people often lash out out of envy. It all costs. Sometimes, too much.
 
Hoffman’s genius will live on his films. My sprained hand will heal by itself, though my family won’t. As for the next ten years of Facebook? How many loves will be lost in the grey-blue domain? Real art is real life. Both involve destruction and creation. Can we ever balance the two so that the price we pay is, in the end, worth the prize?
 
That is the million FB Friend question…
 
Marek Kazmierski,
 
founder editor

 
 
 

Photo by Bogdan Frymorgen
Photo by Bogdan Frymorgen

Death of a Bookman # 03 / Polish women winning the 21st century, but then the 22nd?

 

 

Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.

 

 

 dob_sexmission-1984-1

 

 

 
Back in the dark, grey, Communist 80’s, Poland produced a sci-fi film called Seksmisja (Sexmission). Being of its time, the comedy had little to do with space adventures and nothing at all to do with erotica. Presenting an allegorical scenario of a future devastated by male-made wars, in which only women remained alive in subterranean tunnels, it was a very funny, if often very primitive, morality tale about oppressive regimes and gender stereotypes.
 
Ah, yes… that G word.
 
In 2013, Poland went mad over the issue of gender, even if most debating it had no idea, and no interest in the idea, of what it means. See Sierakowski’s recent piece about it in the NYT. There is no doubt, looking at publishing and equalities statistics, that women have been ill-served by Polish history. But do they continue to suffer their suffragette fore-sisters’ fate today?
 
When I presented a lecture on 20th century Polish migrant writing at Calvert 22 a couple of years back, it was an all-male map. Giedroyc, Gombrowicz, Herbert, Hlasko, Kapuscinski, Kosinski, Milosz, Mrozek, Stachura, Tuwim, Tyrmand, to name but a few. It seemed Polish women writers stayed at home, even if their successes did travel the world, in exceptions such as Lipska, Szymborska and Tokarczuk.
 
Now that I am keenly awaiting Dr Urszula Chowaniec soon-to-be-published book on writing by women in post-communist Poland, which deals in part with modern migration and its gender contexts, I thought about our new century. And how well Polish women are doing in animating culture in the UK.
 
In fact, about how the Polish cultural scene in the UK is not just dominated by women, but completely possessed by them.
 
The heads of the Polish Cultural Institute in London are all women. The Polish department at School of Slavonic and East European Studies is staffed solely by women. Polish Deconstruction, the most effective indie organisation promoting Polish artists in the UK, was set up by two women. It was followed by the Deconstruction Project a few years later, set up by three more women. It has been followed by organisations such as Lynx Contemporary (visual), Arts Territory (conceptual and music), Play Full (film), PAiL (performing), all set up and run by women. Polish artists active in the UK – Malgorzata Dawidek-Gryglicka, Joanna Rajkowska, Goshka Macuga… all women. Polish writers active in the UK – Maria Jastrzebska, Wioletta Grzegorzewska… all women. Polish cultural commentators in the UK – Agata Pyzik, Anna Blasiak, Kinga Burger… all women. Polish translators – Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Anna Hyde, Danusia Stok… all women. Stork Press, the only publisher of Polish origin in the UK worthy of the name – set up by Asia Zgadzaj, a recently arrived woman.
 
With notable exception of the filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski and a couple of photographer friends of mine, no Polish man, since the cruelly long-forgotten Feliks Topolski, seems able to provide an exception to the above rule.
 
Back in Poland, it is women who are driving cultural development forward – Sylwia Chutnik (writer, cultural activist, founder member of the MaMa Foundation), Justyna Czechowska (journalist, translator, founder member of the Association of Literary Translators), Monika Sznajderman (founder director of the Czarne/Black publishing houses) and Bogna Świątkowska (founder director of New Culture Foundation Bęc Zmiana) are taking arts animation in previously undreamt-of directions.
 
However, having read the recent draft of Dr Chowaniec’s book and spoken to many of the women named above, I wonder about the nature of this success. Churchill is reputed to have said, in private, that Poland is great at winning wars, but also great at losing the peace.
 
So, women have reclaimed the cultural territory in the UK, but at what cost? Are the media ready to acknowledge their success? Are employers and institutions willing to support them with inevitable childcare arrangements? Are the male minions who still dominate public and private sectors willing to evolve and make room for equal partners of the opposite sex?
 
How hard is it still, in 2014, for a woman to establish herself in a creative, entrepreneurial, academic capacity, without being made to pay a high premium for inclusion?
 
Questions to ponder as we wait for new books, events, lectures and initiatives, by all of the above. And the relaunch of Dr Chowaniec’s Women’s Writing Online project, coming soon to (gender non-specific) internet near you.
 
Marek Kazmierski

Founder Editor
 

Useful links
 

Polish Cultural Institute

School of Slavonic and East European Studies

Lynx Contemporary

Arts Territory

Play Full

PAiL

Stork Press

Fundacja MaMa

Stowarzyszenie Tłumaczy Literatury

Black Publishing

Fundacja BEC Zmiana
 
 
 
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