Kapuściński ... the poet?


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By his own count, the late Ryszard Kapuściński covered 27 incidents of revolution, war and upheaval around the world -- and recorded much of it in such books as ‘The Soccer War,’ ‘The Shadow of the Sun’ and ‘Imperium’before he died on Jan. 23, 2007. Many of his fans may be surprised to learn that the Polish journalist also wrote poetry -- although one might wonder when he possibly found the time.

Although there was much fanfare around the appearance of Kapuściński’s final book, ‘Travels With Herodotus,’ which was published not long after his death, it’s disappointing that ‘I Wrote Stone,’ now published in English for the first time by Biblioasis, has come out with not so much as a single trumpet sounding.


Translated by Diana Kuprel and Marek Kusiba, this slim volume gathers poetry Kapuściński wrote over 40 years. Slim, yes, but hardly insubstantial.

Big events -- such as the murder of the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba -- may have been treated lyrically in his prose, but Kapuściński’s translators note that he believed poetry could ‘illuminate dimensions of human experience that otherwise would remain unknowable.’ These poems capture the moments between crises, impressions that carry a book-length argument in a few lines. ‘Magellan Reaches Tierra Del Fuego,’ for example, ends on this note of despair:

They stand gazing —
they hope for paradise
and the caravel reaches the shore
and they see sand, stone and cliffs

a dead horizon

‘I Wrote Stone’ shows us a chronicler of chaos in one of those moments when he has turned off his journalistic processes and given himself up to something else. If only he were still alive, I might ask him whether the book’s final poem, ‘In Lieu of a Prayer,’ is about someone in his life or about the ideals that led him to his vocation. It is haunting:

I raise you on high
I raise you above the clouds
I raise you to the stars


You are so near the sun
its rays blind me
I can no longer see you

I close my eyes
darkness enfolds me
loneliness and fear engulf me

Why did I raise you up so high
that I can no longer behold you?

Nick Owchar