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Postreproduction Man

“The Plains”
A 1954 Poem by Tadeusz Rozewicz
Paul Bruner’s 1967 artist book project as a graphic poem
Photographic newspaper cuts and handset typography
Courtesy of O’Bannon Publishing Co, Corydon, Indiana

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Acknowledgement Page

In the summer of 1967 Paul Bruner was in Corydon, Indiana, staying with his parents. His mother was dying of cancer. Paul had been living in New York since his return from Poland, two years earlier. Now he was “home,” feeling an urgent need to personalize, person, place, and event (Mother, Corydon, and Death). He had recently read the Polish poet Tadeusz Różewicz’s 1954 poem, “The Plains.” Rozewicz lived through wartime Poland and its concentration camps, but he was not an inmate like the poets Tadeusz Borowki and Primo Levi. He visited the Auschwitz Museum in 1948, writing two poems. Paul had visited Auschwitz’s museum in 1965. The personalization Paul found in “The Plains,” was about fear and death in small town Poland. Nazism, like Cancer, was Death. Paul understood that this required poetic language, not logic or rhetoric. Paul realized that he was a visual artist, not a poet. He felt he had to adopt Rozewicz’s language to adapt—personalize—his feelings for his mother—and his great sense of grief facing her death.

Różewicz was born in 1921 in Radomsko, Poland. Radomsko, like Corydon, is a small town, and in “The Plains,” there is a sense of death and fear, even on Zabia Street. Paul’s house on Oak Street was a block away from O’Bannon Publishing, where the weekly newspaper, The Corydon Democrat, had been published since 1855. While in high school, Paul had done occasional cleaning for the publisher, Robert O’Bannon. While staying almost literally across the street for the summer, Paul was given permission to use the letterpress, hand-set type fonts, and the archive of photoengravings that numbered in the thousands. In “The Plains,” too long have I gazed on the faces of the dead, in Paul’s artist-book shows the Polish faces of the dead—once living, as newsworthy local people from Corydon or the rural farm communities written about in the weekly newspaper. This was the beginning of Paul’s grief process. His sense is that the expression of grief is the the truest form of love. On his brief visit to the Auschwitz Museum, in February 1965, he realized that the expression of grief is impossible when there is a question of guilt, among the living.