Piotr Sommer is a poet, translator, anthology editor and essayist. He regularly gives lectures at American universities and has gained various awards. As well as eight collections of poetry in his own language, from W krześle (1977) to Piosenka pasterska (1999), he has had two collections published in translation: Things to Translate and Other Poems (1991) and Ein freier Tag in April (2002).
Sommer translates from British, Irish and American literature, including works by Allen Ginsberg and Seamus Heaney, and is the main editor of Literatura na Świecie (World Literature), a journal for literature in (Polish) translation.
His anthology of work by the American poet Frank O’Hara is, without a doubt, one of the most important of his translations. This publication appeared in 1987 and led to a small poetical war between the young experimental group of poets influenced by O’Hara, known as “The Barbarians”, and their opponents “The Neo-Classicists”, who defended more traditional Polish poetry.
The American poet John Ashberry has said about Sommer’s poetry, “Piotr Sommer is the great poet of ‘everyday loneliness, contrary to your self, perhaps’”, which is true, but the poems, written in an informal tone with the occasional use of slang and neologisms, also have something ironic about them. That irony is subdued and often a trifle confusing, almost teasing. Despite its lightness of tone, this poetry has a darker side too when dealing with nature and the human body. In ‘Autumn Collection’ the body is “weak”, and in ‘Harvest’ people have to die, after which, in the ironic political poem ‘Monitored’, the flowers lie “rotting” under the ground.
This latter poem deals with a distrust that can be found in a number of Sommer’s poems, although it is normally not of a political nature. Rather, it is based more on curiosity and doubt concerning the reality of the things around him. The poet himself is probably the one who is most surprised by this thoughts and questions: “Strange that you have to think of all this.”
W krześle (1977)
Pamiątki po nas (1980)
Przed snem (1981)
Kolejny świat (1983)
Czynnik liryczny (1986)
Czynnik liryczny i inne wiersze (1988)
Things to Translate and Other Poems (1991)
Nowe stosunki wyrazów. Wiersze z lat siedemdziesiątych i osiemdziesiątych (1997)
Piosenka pasterska (1999)
Ein freier Tag in April (2002)
Rano na ziemi (2009)