Wisława Szymborska - film talk » JP2 & the artist
JP2 & the artist
Wisława Szymborska - film talk

Wisława Szymborska - film talk

Conversation between Wislawa Szymborska and Judyta Papp accompanied by Jan Pawel Gawlik

Wisława Szymborska - Polish poet, essayist, literary critic, translator, columnist. Szymborska is considered one of the most accomplished European poets of the second half of the twentieth century. Her unsurpassed popularity in her native Poland evolved into international recognition in 1996 with her receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

JP: You took part in the film called 'Life is bearable sometimes'. How did they manage to convince you to do that? It is widely known that you are very reluctant to appear in public; colloquially speaking, how did they manage to drag you in?

WS: Oh, please Miss Judyta! (laugh)

JP: I’ve seen a fragment of it on TV. How did they manage to convince you?

WS: I just couldn't say no to Kasia Kolenda... Just imagine; we were going everywhere by car, Kasia was with the operator and only sometime later did it turn out that they were filming all the time.

JP: And they couldn't stop?

WS: Yes. Anyway, the operator. - I don’t know whether you know him, Jablonowski..

JP: No, I only know Kasia...

WS: We had been calling him Mortadella all the time because in Italy, unless he was busy with something, he was eating huge bread rolls with thick slices of mortadella. He was eating it all the time, so eventually I bought some as well and then I concluded that he was right!

JP: Is it tasty?

WS: Yes, delicious. I also remember a funny anecdote. At the end of our stay in Italy, we were talking about what some of us will be doing when they end up in hell; after all, we will have to do something there as punishment, for example ironing men’s shirts… And Mortadella said he would be filming Szymborska, who would constantly be turning around back to the camera in her old customary manner.

JP: I have heard this interesting story about your acquaintance with Woody Allen, who is fascinated by your poems. Do you keep in touch?

WS: No, Woody Allen said in some interview that he knows all my poems and he is my big fan. This is when it all started..

JP: Do you contact each other?

WS: No.

JP: But those stories make it seem as if you do..

WS: No, Miss Judyta, my terrible weakness is that I don't know English - I don't know this language and I will never learn it. I have no talent for languages whatsoever. You know, if you can't even talk and joke with someone, what kind of friendship would that be..

JP: It's not the same with a translator..

WS: Exactly. However, it was obvious that he had read my poems. Some volumes in English, translated by Baranczak, naturally.

JP: I am curious: from whom?

WS: From Elzbieta Czyzewska. I found out that she gave him a volume of my poetry as a gift and that's why he was so familiar with it.

JP: You publish mostly in Znak, right?

WS: But it is not because I am religious. No, I am not religious, and Znak won't help me with it. I have my works published by Znak and Kryniccy.

JP: What about Wydawnictwo Literackie?

WS: Oh, that's a different story. They publish my poetry volumes, also translated into foreign languages. I also have always published the 'Lektury nadobowiązkowe' and 'Nowe Lektury' there. They specialize in that kind of books. Sometimes I publish my poetry in Znak and sometimes in Kryniccy Publishing House A5. Kryniccy have published only little number of books.

JP: Same as Milosz, who only published in Znak and WL in Poland.

WS: I will give you one of my volumes, have already given to Kasia, but you have never got it.


JP: Thank you very much. I remember that, when Milosz's wife, Carol, was in hospital in America, Agnieszka Kosinska, the assistant, had asked me to look after Milosz because she was supposed to go for her vacation which she had been planning for long time. Milosz's dream was to learn how to use a laptop so he could send emails to his sick wife himself. The very first sentence he wrote was: 'If it could only be possible to say a word so Princess Judyta would turn into a frog' (both ladies laughing).

WS: Nice, very nice. Have you got this written down on paper?

JP: No, it was only a sample email.

WS: Oh, Czeslaw was a wonderful person.

JP: I remember this situation when I said: ‘Mr. Czeslaw, I am heading off, I'm leaving the computer on, please do not do anything by yourself because you might delete something.’ He promised he would not. The next day I discovered in the browser history that he made some unassisted attempts. So I grabbed his hand and helped him with navigating the mouse. I could feel it in his palm that he was suffering a lot, that losing his independence and having to rely on others was making him very uncomfortable.

WS: Yes, I know. I didn't visit him in those last weeks, because I thought he wanted to be a tough man, he didn't want people to feel sorry for him. He was suffering a lot and he did not wish anyone to see him in that state. He would only let other men see him.

JP: And kids maybe.

WS: Maybe kids as well.

JP: Can I ask you something? A friend of mine, who you probably know - Piotr Najsztub, asked me to ask you gently whether you would accept his invitation for an interview? I ask you something? A friend of mine, who you probably know - Piotr Najsztub, asked me to ask you gently, whether you would accept his invitation for an interview?

WS: Ms. Judyta, although I really like and respect Mr. Najsztub, I feel uncomfortable during interviews and I get really angry when I read them later. I am always unhappy because I think I should have said things in a different way. Please say hi to him and say that I appreciate and like him a lot, but I don't feel comfortable being interviewed.

JP: And when someone is lucky enough to conduct an interview, can they ask you for authorization before publication?

WS: Yes, but it's not my role. What I have to say, I should express in a poem, not in interviews.

JP: People love and respect you as an authority, that's why.

WS: I have given several interviews so far, but I think all this is worth nothing.

JP: I'm also giving regards from my father.

WS: Please thank your dad from the bottom of my heart. Pretty please ... I remember him driving me to Calvary. You'll get a book with a dedication from me.

JP: Wow! It will be a great honor for me and my dad.

WS: You're a beautiful woman, a photographer full of energy who had photographed me. And where are you living now? Were you born in Cracow?

JP: Yes, in Cracow. I lived 10 years in Warsaw, I came back and I just live in Krakow. I photograph less, unfortunately.

WS: Little?

JP: Yes, very little. Currently, there is no good market, photography has become ordinary, it is no longer such a value as it once was, and besides, I have a lot of other activities and commitments. But your photographs...

WS: (laughs). But.. No.. I'm not at the right age to be photographed.

JP: I do not agree, I'm sorry, you have strong features, but you do not like being photographed. I understand it; well, I do not like it, either... I know my faults, but a lot depends on the setting, the angle, and the light. Then everything can be shown in a positive light, and it is amazing.

(John Paul Gawlik appeared)

WS: I'm talking with Ms. Judyta at the moment.

JP: Good morning..

WS: She wouldn’t drink even a drop of alcohol.

JP: I'm doing sports, but maybe you would like to drink?

WS: Janek, first of all, undress.

JPG: Unfortunately, I cannot drink anymore because I already drank a bottle of beer 10 minutes ago. Besides, I've just learnt that I have to send a text to print today. It is unfortunate, but I have to. Are you a photographer?

WS: Who once photographed me.

JPG: Do you know how many years ago it was? And are you still involved in photography?

JP: Now less. I'm currently dealing with a variety of things, including graphic designs, but also economic analyzes. Photography is my passion, but also a serious work. Please, take a look at this cover.

JPG: And this is your work! Ho, ho, ho!

JP: Thank you..

JPG: Very nice picture. Is this Czeslaw Milosz?

JP: Yes, Czeslaw Milosz. A cover for Harper Collins publishing house.

JPG: Great! You know, it's your testimony to be a photographer.

JP: And Mrs. Wislawa does not allow to be photographed.

JPG: You are surprised?

JP: Very! I'm surprised, but I respect this... I'm not a pushy photographer.

(all laugh)

JPG: Nice. But it's a great artistic work!

JP: I prefer photography to film; it is a shorter form, less wordy.

JPG: You're a visual artist, and a film is a plot, an action.

JP: But it's also an imposition of interpretation. A book always stimulates the imagination of a photographer. I love photography, but in Poland it is very underestimated.

JPG: And what is your education?

JP: Mostly artistic. I am a photographer and a self-taught person. Workaholic and self-taught in various fields.

JPG: Because I graduated at the faculty...

JP: Of photography?

JPG: Back when I was still in Lviv...

JP: My first professional publications began when I was 17 years old.

JPG: So you've been an artist since childhood. And what cameras do you use?

JP: Nikon FM2, Canon A1, analog, because I do not like digital photography.

JPG: Wislawa does not agree to being photographed?

JP: She used to agree, but sometimes she was embarrassed, today she does not allow and it's a pity.

JPG: Not nowadays. She is strict, you know...

JP: And I cannot influence her, I don't know how to persuade people.

WS: Here you are.. (while giving a volume)

JP: Oh, thank you, I will read the inscription at home. It's a kind of magic..

WS: Yes, the inscription should not be read.

JP: Maybe you can help me and we will persuade Ms. Wislawa to a photo session?

WS: No.

JPG: I have such a bad notion, perhaps not exactly a notion... I lack words. How is it called? I do not persuade women, I'm not pushy.

JP: Me neither.

JPG: You know, she is really wrong, I can tell you that, but I will not urge her this time.

JP: I would love to, of course, because that would be a special session.

WS: Why, not! You have wasted a lot of time and energy for me anyway...

JP: I have always been asked how it happened that Mr. Czeslaw agreed on a photo session. Everyone thought that someone had arranged the session with Czeslaw for me. Also journalists thought so and asked how I'd managed to do this. But I just called, introduced myself and said that I had to take photos for 'Polityka' weekly magazine, that it would take a while - and that's it.

JPG: You do not have to explain to us why Czeslaw agreed, it is obvious.

JP: I came to his house, he was alone then, and I did our first session. These works are being published even today.

WS: These are very good photographs, Milosz looks very young in them.

JP: After the first photo session, Mr. Czesław was looking for these photographs in all editorial offices, and finally I brought him blow-ups - black and white photographs, and this is how our further cooperation began.

JPG: That's great!

JP: And this I how we learned to work together; when I was taking photos, he did not see me. I was writing and I was sitting beside him; I don't like posed pictures; it must be a natural impression.

WS: Do I have Ms. Judyta's phone number?

JPG: Yes.

WS: I do not think I do..

(Exchange phone numbers - goodbye)





Photos: Judyta Papp ©



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