Antisemitism, fascism, retrogressivity are again most relevant today. Before the release of Trupa Trupa’s new album »Of the Sun« and their upcoming tour which includes dates in the US, we interview singer and poet Grzegorz Kwiatkowski about Poland, the Shoah, and art in general.
Grzegorz Kwiatkowski, born 1984 in Gdańsk, is a dedicated poet. Besides his work as the singer and guitarist of Trupa Trupa, he writes award-winning poetry, which presumably will be published in German soon as well. In his trilogy »Radosci«, »Spalanie«, »Sowa« (»Joy«, »Combustion«, »Owl«) Kwiatkowski demonstrates his ability to create powerful images with a sober, plain language, while at the same time, shocking and moving the reader to tears. He connects questions of ethics with an aesthetic, that, like here, only emerges in Polish lyric. Historical experiences are the basis of his texts. As in all other projects, it is the experience of suffering, death, hate and fascism that he explores in his poetry. Through his engagement against antisemitism, especially in his home country of Poland, he just appeared in the media with a feature published by CBC, in which he depicts his bizarre discovery of hundreds of thousands of shoes in a forest near the concentration camp Stutthof. These shoes would have remained unfound without his help. Through his activism they are finally getting the attention they deserve – at least a little bit. Now he has released the first single off the new Trupa Trupa album, which will be released as an international cooperation between Glitterbeat Records (Europe & elsewhere), Lovitt Records (USA), Moorworks (Japan) and Antena Krzyku (Poland). Listen and watch here:
Because so much is happening and about to happen, we talked to Kwiatkowski about everything:
skug: Who are you, and when did you start to work with the subject of the Shoah?
Grzgeorz Kwiatkowski: I am a citizen of Gdańsk, the place where the Second World War started, and earlier, Arthur Schopenhauer was born and lived for a while. But also Eichendorff: It’s not a purely Polish city. It was, in the past, German or also multicultural territory. In Gdańsk the solidarity movement was established. Definitely it is an interesting place to live in and to observe. I am a poet and musician. My grandfather on my father’s side was a prisoner of the Stutthof concentration camp. That’s why I am so focused on this part of history. Not only on this part – on human suffering in general.
Have you had any major literary influences that encouraged you to start writing by yourself? Why did you choose the lyrical form? Was it a rational decision?
When I was something like 14/15 years old, I read »Song of the Murdered Jewish People« by Itzhak Katzenelson and it was IT. For me it was a bit familiar because of my grandfather’s camp stories. I chose the lyrical form without choosing. My intuition told me this is it. But I think I was always very connected to music, and I am a musician, so I just chose lyric songs. Because poems are songs. Then I read a lot of German writers: first Herman Hesse and then Thomas Mann, Robert Musil, Herman Broch, Thomas Bernhard etc.
Did you talk to other survivors of the camps? Did you guys even learn in school about the Nazi concentration camps in Poland?
Yes. Me and my bandmate Rafał Wojczal talked a lot to Albin Ossowski, who was prisoner of the Birkenau concentration camp. We made a documentary about him and his camp experience. Of course, we learned about camps in school. Sure.
Some of the poems seem to me like otherwise forgotten memories of survivors. You took them and put them into a timeless shape. Is that correct?
Indeed. I hope I put them into a timeless shape. Generally, my idea is to take this poetry into the domain of fact, while neither leaving the sphere of poetry nor entering the sphere of journalism.
I have to think of Ryszard Kapuściński, whose poetic journalism also works as something timeless.
Ryszard Kapuściński is big, big hero and great writer. Almost as great as Joseph Conrad.
Still, you don’t write prose like they do, but in a lyrical form. Your most recent work, »Sową« from 2017, is the last of a trilogy, next to »Radości«, 2013, and »Spalanie«, 2016. Can you say more about the possibilities of a trilogy?
I just like this trilogy form. I don’t know exactly why. It’s also a rather intuitive process. For sure, I am writing shorter and shorter and the first trilogy „Should not have been born“ was more epic, less lyrical and longer.
How was the echo in Poland to your work so far?
I work with the best polish poetry publishing house, Biuro Literackie, and the reviews are very good. So it’s just fine, but of course it’s very niche.
One can hear a very dedicated voice throughout all your output. How would you describe your approach to art? Do you see your work as a particularly political one?
I don’t know if it’s political. It depends on who is reading it. I like many interpretations.
You recently made a radio feature about a big pile of shoes that you found in a forest near the Stutthof concentration camp near Gdańsk. Please tell us shortly what happened after you found them in 2015?
Me and my friend from Trupa Trupa, Rafał Wojczal, found thousands of shoes from all concentration camps in Europe. Stutthof concentration camp was kind of a repair centre for such stuff. These are artefacts of the Holocaust. Workers of the museum should take care of such things. But they weren’t doing anything for many years. And now they took these shoes, but they want to hide them once more on the territory of the museum. And in my opinion these shoes should be visible and exposed. We never forget. This should be the message. A visual message.
What is the current situation in Poland in general? How does it change the art scene?
We have a right-wing government, right-wing president, but the worse thing is that we don’t have a good left-wing opposition. This is a real tragedy. It’s hard to identify with Polish politics. I think, the art scene in Poland is strong as always, so it didn’t change. Poland is a very strange country. We always have some kind of inner trouble. We are used to it.
Unfortunately, hate speech is a worldwide phenomenon. But in Poland it led to the killing of Pawel Adamovic, the mayor of Gdańsk. What do you do against hate speech, especially with your band Trupa Trupa?
We don’t have any political formula in the way that we have to sing and compose about this and that. Our music is a space of total freedom and we are open to every possibility. But of course, our characters and opinions are inside our music and we’re left-wing at heart. So it’s always visible in some way. I think our biggest power is the use of absurd situations. We very often use absurd figures to show some process. For example, there is a new song called »Remainder«. And the lyrics are: »++«. Well it did not take place. It did not take place. But of course, the meaning is, that it did take place. The horror did take place. Shoah did take place etc. But it’s a denial situation. Someone pretends it didn’t happen. But it happened. Or songs from the »++« album were recorded in a synagogue. One is called »I hate«. It’s a portrait of a psychopath who wishes all of humanity to be murdered, raped etc. So he is shouting, howling, screaming. But in the end, it is absurd. It’s so radical, that it almost becomes funny. Very often we use grotesque and absurd figures to disarm the evil forces. And very often we use lyrics as masks to present figures. Not our voice, but voices of others. For example, we present the voice of a murderer and then the voice of a victim. Of course, we are on the victim’s side, but we want to show the whole landscape. Also, on »++«, there is a song called »Home«. And the lyrics are: »Home, when I was beaten, home, now I love to be beaten« etc. Purely absurd. But, unfortunately, in some way it’s the truth. Dark truth of addiction to bad, humiliating conditions. I think we should all wake up and fight. Goethe said: »More light«. So: More light! We have to shed light on this evil stuff. We should observe every step of our enemy. Of evil. And of course, evil is inside of us, so we should also observe ourselves.
How are you dealing with that in your poetry?
I am doing the same in my poetry. I want to show the landscape of dark forces and to show the mechanism of evil. If we know how it works, then we can protect ourselves and others.
Are you working on anything you want to share with us?
I am working on a new book about the T4 euthanasia project. The book is called: »Karl Heinz M.«.