ICOA Celebrates the Life and Work of Polish Poet, Czeslaw Milosz

Ithaca City of Asylum recently co-sponsored two events characterized as “Memories of Milosz” to celebrate the life and work of the Nobel Prize winning poet, Czeslaw Milosz. Milosz lived for many years in the United States while he was in exile from Poland. His work is a powerful example of what would be lost to the world if there were no places of refuge for writers unable to work freely in their native countries—the kind of refuge provided by ICOA.

Czeslaw Milosz in 1986

The first event, which runs from March 2 through April 15, is a photographic exhibit at the Tompkins County Public Library. The exhibit is a photographic record of Nobel poet laureate Czeslaw Milosz’s historic return to Poland in 1981 after 30 years of exile in the United States.

The second event was a reading of selected poems written by Milosz, presented by members of the local Polish and poetry communities in the Borg Warner Community Room of TCPL on Sunday, April 1. The reading inaugurated Tompkins County’s observation of National Poetry Month.  During this event, hosted by the library and ICOA, David Ost, Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges spoke briefly about the importance of Milosz in Polish politics and society, and Pawel Bakowski, owner of the photos and books on display at the library, gave a short account of the story behind his collection. There was an opportunity after the event  for attendees to silkscreen and take home a copy of one of Milosz’s poems.

Milosz’s work was banned in Poland until 1980 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize.  During that time,  Bakowski and other friends in the underground publishing business, known as NOWA, began printing and distributing his work.  NOWA members faced political persecution for their actions, but kept Milosz’s work available throughout the country. The library exhibit includes some of the books published by the press during those years, on loan from Bakowski, who is currently employed by the Cornell Institute for European Studies through a community outreach grant funded by the European Union.

Both events are co-sponsored by Ithaca City of Asylum, the Tompkins County Public Library, the Cornell Institute for European Studies, Biblioteka Narodowa (National Library of Poland in Warsaw), and with funding from the European Union Commission to the USA, through the Getting to Know the New Europe outreach project.

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