Aleksander Wat

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Aleksander Wat (1900-1967) was a poet, translator, critic, and co-founder of the Polish Futurism movement.

Born Aleksander Chwat in Warsaw into an assimilated Jewish family which had interests in Polish literature and drama. After a brief service with the Polish Army he graduated from the Faculty of Philology of the Warsaw University, where he studied philosophy, psychology, and logic.

In 1919 he was among the young poets to proclaim the advent of new, futuristic poetry. In 1920 he published the first set of his poems JA z jednej strony i JA z drugiej strony mego mopsożelaznego piecyka [ME from One Side and ME from the Other Side of My Pug Iron Stove], which gained much popularity among the supporters of the new trends in literature of the epoch. Until 1922 he was one of the creators of the Nowa Sztuka monthly, and then Almanachy Nowej Sztuki and Miesięcznik literacki, disseminating the work of Mayakovsky and the futurists in Poland, before forming an allegiance with the Communist Party. Until 1931 he was one of the main journalists of the Marxist Tygodnik literacki. Until the outbreak of World War II he was also the literary director of Gebethner i Wolff, the biggest and the most renown Polish printing house of the time.

After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 he moved to Lwów, then under Soviet occupation. Despite his sympathy for Communism, he was arrested by the NKVD and, together with his wife Paulina (Ola Watowa [1]) and his 9 years old son Andrzej, exiled to Kazakhstan. Set free in 1946, he was allowed to return to Poland. He became one of the chiefs of the Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy. However, his seven years spent in the Soviet Union cured his Communist sympathies and Wat was considered not reliable enough by the Soviet-sponsored Communist authorities of Poland to allow him to publish his own works. Instead, he devoted most of his time to translating of several classical pieces of English, French, German and Russian literature to Polish. From the 1950s on, he suffered from a debilitating neurological illness (diagnosed as Wallenberg's syndrome) that also significantly impeded his writing. In 1959 he emigrated to France, where he lived until his suicide in 1967.

In 1963-1964 Wat had a visiting appointment at the University of California, Berkeley, where he collaborated with Czesław Miłosz to record his memoirs. Edited by Milosz, these were published posthumously as Mój wiek (My Century). Wat continued to write prose and poetry in his later years. Much of this later writing was published posthumously, including Dziennik bez samogłosek [Diary Without Vowels].


By Wat (Polish)
  • JA z jednej strony i JA z drugiej strony mego mopsożelaznego piecyka, 1920. Poems. [2]
  • with Anatol Stern, Gga. Pierwszy polski almanach poezji futurystycznej, Warsaw, 1920. [3]
  • Bezrobotny Lucyfer, Warsaw: F. Hoesick, 1927.
    • Lucifer Unemployed, trans. Lillian Vallee, Evanstan, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1990.
  • Ucieczka Lotha, 1949; repr. as Pisma wybrane, Vol. 3: Ucieczka Lotha. Proza, 1988.
  • Wiersze, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1957. Poems.
  • Wiersze śródziemnomorskie, 1962. Poems.
    • Mediterranean Poems, ed. & trans. Czesław Miłosz, Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1977.
  • Mój wiek. Pamiętnik mówiony, London: Polonia, 1977; Warsaw, 1990.
  • Ciemne świecidło, 1968. Poems.
  • Pisma wybrane, Vol. 1: Świat na haku i pod kluczem. Eseje, 1985.
  • Pisma wybrane, Vol. 2: Dziennik bez samogłosek, 1986.
  • Wiersze wybrane [Selected Poems], 1987.
On Wat
  • Tomas Venclova, Aleksander Wat: Life of an Iconoclast, 1996.
  • Aleksander Wat. Obrazoburca, trans. J. Goślicki, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1997. (Polish)
  • Wojciech Kaliszewski, "Aleksander Wat",, 2006. (Polish)
  • Further bibliography

See also[edit]