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Poland's Herbert Literary Award goes to Lithuanian poet

22.08.2023 22:00
Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova has won the 2023 Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award, which is named after one of the greatest 20th-century Polish poets.
Zbigniew Herbert
Zbigniew HerbertPAP/Andrzej Rybczyński

US writer Edward Hirsch, chairman of the Herbert Award jury, has told the media that Venclova "has devoted his life to literature and the struggle against the totalitarian system."

Hirsch said that Venclova is “the greatest living Lithuanian poet and a leading East European writer" and "one of the last links in the chain formed by Herbert, [Czesław] Miłosz and [Josif] Brodsky."

American author and academic Ellen Hinsey, the editor and co-translator of Venclova’s poems into English, has described the Lithuanian poet as “one of the last poets of the generation of the great European tradition,” according to Hirsch.

Katarzyna Herbert, Herbert’s widow and the founder of the Herbert Foundation, welcomed the fact that the 2023 Herbert Award went to an outstanding poet whose work Herbert knew and praised.

An awards ceremony is set to be held in Warsaw on September 13.

Born in Lithuania in 1937, Venclova was an anticommunist dissident and founder of Lithuania’s Helsinki Group. He left the Soviet Union and Lithuania in 1977 and settled in the United States, where he lectured on Slavic literature at Yale University.

It was Polish Nobel Prize-winning poet Czesław Miłosz who, in the 1970s, introduced Venclova’s poetry to Polish audiences by publishing a translation of his Winter Dialogue in the Paris-based Polish émigré monthly Kultura.

In later years, Venclova’s numerous collections of verse and essays, as well as his correspondence with Miłosz, appeared in a Polish translation.

In the 1980s, Venclova maintained close contacts with Polish émigré writers. He translated the work of Polish poets into Lithuanian, including those by Herbert, Miłosz, Wisława Szymborska and Cyprian Kamil Norwid.

After the fall of the Soviet Union he became involved in Lithuania’s cultural life. He also worked together with Miłosz on building a rapprochement between Lithuania and Poland.

The Herbert Foundation writes on its website: “Not unlike Zbigniew Herbert, Venclova often draws on classical history in his work, but above all else he opposes cruelty and injustice. Whilst not shunning difficult subjects, he imposes no answers, rather encourages courageous thought.”

Zbigniew Herbert, 1963 r. Zbigniew Herbert, pictured in 1963. Photo: PAP/Cezary Langda

The Herbert Literary Award was launched in 2013.

Born in 1924, Herbert was one of the most influential 20th-century Polish poets, essayists and moralists. His works have been translated into almost 40 languages. He died in 1998.