Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies

2010 Citation Recipient

Clare Cavanagh

The Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies (formerly the Orbis Book Prize), established in 1996 and sponsored by the Kulczycki family, former owners of the Orbis Books Ltd. of London, England, is awarded annually for the best book in any discipline, on any aspect of Polish affairs, published in the previous calendar year.

Co-Winner: Clare Cavanagh
Title: Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West (Yale University Press)

Clare Cavanagh’s Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics is an outstanding scholarly work with a broad critical agenda. An overview of modern East European poetry, specifically Russian and Polish, it is also a comparative study of modern poetry on both the Eastern and Western side of the great political divide, known as “the iron curtain,” as well as a polemic with Western postmodern philosophical theories from French structuralism and deconstructivism to American cultural criticism and New Historicism. Cavanagh manages to do justice to all three endeavors, but it is the polemical aspect of her study that is of particular interest. The book provides a new perspective on recent critical discussions of the lyric as politically and socially irrelevant. It offers a welcome “Slavic corrective” to the narrow and myopic approach to the problem by American critics. Cavanagh demonstrates how the practice of personal lyric in totalitarian states such as Poland and Russia, far from being escapist, was a bold political statement and a costly act. She shows how “intensely private” poems were often an expression of values shared by the collectivity, thus performing “a public service.” In the context of programmatic collectivism, the personal lyric reverberates with a special singularity, and it was not the odes to Stalin but love poems that carried political weight and sent their authors to gulags or reduced them to silence. By including in her narrative the stories of often tragic fates of poets, Cavanagh makes her critical argument even more poignant. Cavanagh’s selection of poets is judicious. Whitman, Yeats, Mayakovski, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Brodsky, Milosz, Herbert, Szymborska, Zagajewski –these are the names that define the 20th-century lyric while they represent an array of different poetic schools, styles, and philosophies. this book is a master work that will richly reward readers from all disciplines.

Co-Winner: Neal Pease