Poland’s Adam Zagajewski, who died aged 75 in Krakow yesterday, was known for poems and essays laced with history and humor and for his shyness.
Zagajewski divided his time between Poland and the United States, where he taught literature at the University of Chicago and is known as “the poet of 9/11.”
He earned the moniker after the New Yorker magazine selected one of his poems – “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” – for the final page of its special issue on the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Many of his poems were published also in Hebrew, translated by Rafi Weichert. His last book Asymmetry was published in Hebrew on 2017 in an event in Jerusalem in which Zagajewski participated.
Zagajewski’s poems and essays were laced with history but also humor, and he was known for shunning the limelight and poking fun at himself.
“You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere, you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully,” reads the poem he wrote months before the Twin Towers fell.
He was a prominent member of the Polish New Wave literary movement and moved to Paris in 1982. By the time he returned to Krakow in 2002, he had earned several awards and honors, including the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Prix de la Liberte, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Henryk Wozniakowski, head of Poland’s respected Znak publishing house, once described him as a man of “subtle” intelligence and humor who was “also shy, just like the late Wislawa Szymborska, another Krakow poet, and the 1996 Nobel literature laureate.”