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This report is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

Letter from New York Gwyneth Lewis
New York is one of the great cities of the Eastern European émigré. A woman who saw me reading Polish poetry on the Fifth Avenue bus one day made me promise that I would take her to hear Czeslaw Milosz read at the 92nd Street Y.M.H.A. It turned out that she had been a contemporary of his in Wilno during the 1930s; to this day she can recite long passages of Pasternak and Pushkin from memory, and she was looking forward to hearing Polish poetry being read aloud. Most of the audience at the reading was American and, to judge by the questions asked after the poetry, knew little about the political situation in Poland. Milosz's poem 'Incantation', which begins


Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it


was applauded out of a generalized enthusiasm for liberty, rather than any precise appreciation of the great obstacles to the triumph of reason in totalitarian states.

I noticed the same combination of political naivety and enthusiasm for speech made free in the reading given by Adam Zagajewski in March, sponsored by the PEN Club. 'Is there censorship in Poland?' one man asked Zagajewski. This is not as foolish a question as it might appear, given that Zagajewski's poetry is less overtly political than, say, that of Stanislaw Barańczak. The fate of his country in recent years ...


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