Poet Adam Zagajewski on Houston, exile and his love of music

Adam Zagajewski is Poland’s most famous living poet, nominated in 2010 for the Nobel Prize in Literature. After two decades spent living in Europe and the United States—including Houston—during the Soviet era, Zagajewski returned to Krakow in 2002. His journey and his longtime collaboration with Da Camera founder Sarah Rothenberg inform a unique program of music and poetry, “Exile and Return,” presented in collaboration with Inprint. The performances on April 30 and May 1 will feature Zagajewski reading from an array of his past works alongside Rothenberg on piano at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH).

You lived in Houston as a visiting professor at the University of Houston’s creative writing program. Are you looking forward to returning to the city? What was your impression of Houston’s cultural life?

Yes, I do look forward to returning to Houston. It’s a part of my life; if you add up all the time I spent here it amounts to four years or so. I always enjoyed the cultural richness of the city—though I also liked just sitting in my room reading and listening to music.

How is the title of the program—Exile and Return—reflected in the works you’ve chosen to perform?

Exile and Return are a major pattern in my life. It’s easy for me to choose poems that talk about that. I lived for many years in Paris and then returned to Poland, to Cracow. I could write a treatise on the subject.

How does the introduction of music affect the impact or delivery of your poetry?

Music is a very big part of my life. It’s an unrequited love — I don’t play an instrument and when I sing it hurts the ears of people with a very good ear. So reading in the company of music is a delight for me (I won’t sing).

You have a long history of collaborating with Sarah Rothenberg—can you tell us how your instincts as creatives inform each other, and what it’s like to perform together?

We are friends, we have known each other for a very long time. I dare say we understand each other very well. So performing with Sarah has always been a feast. Her music makes everything more present, more alive.

What do you hope or expect audiences to take away from these innovative performances?

I hope people in the audience—and there will be many friends among them, I’m sure—will be able to reach a state of a real concentration, attention. What can be better than that?


Da Camera presents “Poetry and Music: Exile and Return” featuring Sarah Rothenberg and poet Adam Zagajewski, on Monday, April 30, 2018, and Tuesday, May 1, 2018, at 7:30 p.m. at MATCH: Midtown Arts and Theater Center. Tickets start at $60 and can be purchased online or by calling 713-524-5050.