California’s greatest poet wrote in Polish

Joe Mathews at the VC Star:

Want to become a signature voice of your nation? Try a decades-long exile in California.

It worked for Czeslaw Milosz, who entered the pantheon of Polish poets thanks to works he wrote mostly in Berkeley.

The poet’s story — told by scholar Cynthia L. Haven in a thought-provoking book, “Czeslaw Milosz: A California Life” — demonstrates how our state allows people to move both further from and closer to home, often at the same time.

Milosz, while famous in Poland and among poets (Joseph Brodsky called him the greatest poet of our times), is unfamiliar to most Californians. But he remains the only faculty member of the University of California to win a Nobel Prize in literature.

“The irony,” writes Haven, “is that the greatest California poet — and certainly one of America’s greatest poets too — could well be a Pole who wrote a single poem in English.”

More here.