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Piotr Siwecki talks with Marek Kazmierski about OFF_PRESS, his book, the state of literature and more.


MAREK KAŹMIERSKI: Like so many memorable things in the world, OFF_ was born of bad blood. Marcin Piniak and myself (Marcin writing in Polish, I in English) met writing for Nowy Czas, a newspaper printed in London which had ambitions of being the highbrow choice for the emigre Polish community in the UK. Too bad it didn't happen. We both quit the paper and kept on drinking, moaning, dreaming. But that gets tiresome after a while, so this time last year Marcin, Kinga Pilich (a young publishing student) and myself set up OFF_Magazine, an on-line bilingual literary journal. It was meant to tell as many stories in as many languages (literal, visual, multi-sensory) as we could find, but such big nets are hard to handle. We got submissions from all over the world, some great stuff, some worse than woeful. Then we decided to run an international writing competition, then publish an anthology of the short-listed writers, then make a film to go with it, then run some literary events to publicise the whole shebang... By the end of 2009, the wheels had come off. So, in 2010, we decided to relaunch as OFF_PRESS, focusing on contemporary Polish writing in translation – our aim to put out one good book, DVD of the film we made last year attached, and only then move on to publish more, still focusing on the translation business. Whereas in most EU countries anything between 10-30% of all new literature being published is in translation, in the UK it's two, maybe three. OFF_, focusing on translating the most interesting voices in contemporary Polish writing, both in Poland and from abroad, will hopefully help close that gap... Looking at the start of 2010, we're not doing too bad. Daily injections of ambitious literature, in the planet's most accessible language, are a healthy thing. I've studied linguistics, visual arts, psychology, dance, comparative religion, fighting techniques, acting and sales. There's far more languages surrounding us than we care to acknowledge. Ignoring that fact is deadly, as seen by the state of the British publishing industry, which is staffed by lovely Oxbridge types who... let's just say they don't teach marketing or boxing in either town. Which hurts the business. Books will sell for a few decades more, before being almost exclusively replaced with i-Pods. The dinosaurs which move the quickest will survive longest.

PS: OFF_people...

MK: I rely on the opinions of those who are better at judging quality than me. Justyna Daniluk, Pawel Gawronski, Kinga Stanczuk, to name but a few. They feed me recommendations, I get converting.

PS: Plans...

MK: Promoting books needs effort, needs people to put miles on the clock. We want to come back to Poland in 2010, bring more books, shoot more film, see the friends we made in October, Gdansk to Krakow, from Poland, Australia, France, the States... I know both Lilian Tietjen and Sam Taradash liked Polska well enough, for different reasons. We have to come back, for us as people, and for us as OFF_People... Then we plan to film in Ukraine and the USA, for future OFF_ projects.

PS: Translation...

MK: For a writer there is nothing harder to face than an empty page – translating literature you know is good, often already published, is an addictive pleasure, and relatively easy with contemporary translations. I haven't yet tackled the classics of Polish poetry and prose. And won't... Not enough years in one life to wrestle with the rhymes of Mickiewicz.

PS: Your novel...

MK: I finished it in 2002. But it wasn't very good, so no agent picked it up. I'm now working on a rewrite, as I believe the story is fine enough – a middle aged writer of graphic novels falls in love for the first time and the experience kills him. But before that happens, he creates an illuminated book of poems based on the works of William Blake. Meets a few people while researching the book, all around Britain, has a few warped adventures... If it ever gets printed, the book will also have a copy of said illuminated works attached. 

PS: Painting, film making, writing...

MK: I painted a lot when I was younger, then took it up again a few years back, needing props for a film I was making about a young Polish painter living in London. The film never got finished, though I did sell quite a few pictures... But writing is the hardest and the most enjoyable thing I do. Static visuals are a limited language. Film is far richer. But there's nothing like the freedom and the pain writing has in store for those who still choose to bother.

PS: Emigration...

MK: I'm a quantum migrant. Both an outsider and a native. I left communist Poland at 12, came to England with my family, got political asylum. There's no way to cut a person into segments, weigh which one is more from here than there, but I am a cross-breed. OFF_ is like that - a project borne out of one language which has to reconfigure itself into another, but then will hopefully go on to be even more complex, more rich in dimensions. Film production, live events, arts centres, translations from other than Polish, all sorts of things are possible.

PS: Polish literature...

MK: We met mostly young writers on our recent journey across Poland, but they all said the same things – we don't care about fame, don't care about being widely read. The world is changing quickly, too quickly to grasp with big statements. They only care about their own, local Poland. Own visions, own experiences, own streets. That's where miracles happen every day, away from the world of business, of politics, of media. Some of it is pose, but I think they care about language, care about people, and about beauty, and in that respect are post-post-modern. Pop culture, nihilism, etc, all sorts of movements sort of missed them, and even if influenced by some of the world writing which was banned from Poland for a long time, they have developed their own, wild voice. I like experiencing it, dwelling in it, and then reproducing it in English... For the benefit of those who want to go beyond Chopin and Conrad and Communism.


















piątek, 05 marca 2010, themerson

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