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Gendering Migration and Reading Literature

February 2nd at 5pm

Gendering Migration: Women’s Writing, Displacement and Melancholy: Lecture on Selected Aspects of Polish Contemporary Literature


Urszula Chowaniec

(Language and Culture, UCL SSEES)

Discussant: Ursula Phillips (Honorary Research Associate of UCL SSEES)


AtSt. Antony’s College at University of Oxford lecture within the series of talks within the theme of

 Who are the Poles and where’s Poland? Ethnic, civic, and cultural identities and frontiers in modern Poland

See the details HERE



European Studies Centre, 70 Woodstock Rd, Oxford OX2 6HR



“What will be born, what can be born in Poland, in the souls of a ruined and brutalized people when one day (in the future) the new order that has stifled the old one disappears and nothing follows” – asked Witold Gombrowicz about Poland after communism in his Diary of 1953. This “nothing,” sounding both pessimistic and intriguing, is a time of transition, revolution and transformation. From nothing many things can be created. Indeed, the year of 1989 can be seen as giving Polish prose an unique opportunity to create new characters, new stories that would not conform to any political or ideological standards and expectations. Also, the year of 2004, the beginning of a new Europe with apparently no borders, brought a new notion of freedom, especially for the new migrating writers. Yet, there are fears, disappointments and failures that accompanied this time of hope. How did the post-1989 political and social changes influenced Polish literature? Does gender matter in evaluating these impacts and diagnosing the literary phenomena? If so – how? How did women writing respond to the time of change? And finally, is there anything more to melancholy than the mourning after unspecified loss?


The lecture will focus on the contemporary, post-1989 Polish literature and it will discuss the new understanding of emigration and migration in literary studies, the traces/inscriptions on migration in the texts written by women as well as the gendered aspects of migration and the “power” of melancholy.


See also: about forthcoming book by dr Urszula Chowaniec


Coming Out – Polish Style (6th of November, 2014 at 6.30 SSEES)

  1. Coming Out Polish Style

“Coming Out Polish Style” is a unique documentary by Slawomir Grunberg and Katka Reszke which offers a rare look into the lives of gays and lesbians in contemporary Poland. The documentary explores the issue of gay and lesbian rights in a conservative society, which is undergoing a very dynamic transformation, allowing for more and more successful liberal changes. The documentary investigates the diverse and complex identity struggles involved in the process of ‘coming out.’ The filmmakers turn to Polish celebrities who are openly gay as well as follow young people from small towns who are still in the process of ‘coming out’, Grunberg and Reszke also register an interesting migrating phenomenon of gays and lesbians from peripheries of Poland emigrating to Warsaw as an open and gay-friendly place to live, the issue we would like to take further during our panel discussion at University College London with Dr Richard Mole and Prof Anne White, whilst debating gay and lesbian migration from Poland to the United Kingdom motivated by homophobia.

  1.  Coming Out PS & Floating Skyscrapers as part of Play OUT

This year Play Poland Film Festival welcomes Play OUT (curated and launched by PLAY FULL!

Play OUT has been created to promote queer culture, further discussion about the importance of queer culture in arts and society and issues close toLGBTQ communities. At Play OUT we aim to be inclusive, open and as wonderfully queer as we can and want to!

Given the societal and political situation in Poland, we have chosen to launch our project alongside Play Poland Film Festival in London this year in bid to support Polish LGBTQ filmmakers as well as London based Polish LGBTQ communities, filmmakers and artists!

As part of Play OUT’s programme at Play Poland Film Festival in London this year, we are proud to present two events:

* The screening of the first openly gay feature “Floating Skyscrapers” by Tomasz Wasilewski, award-winning coming out drama about the aspiring swimmer Kuba who, in order to come to terms with his own feelings, needs to break away from confinements of his home and training routine as well as a relationship with his girlfriend, Sylwia. The film is showing as part of OUT at Clapham, a monthly LGBTQ film club at Clapham Picturehouse, on the 30th October at 6.30pm.

* The screening of the extraordinary documentary “Coming Out Polish Style”, exploring gay and lesbian identities in contemporary Poland, from portraits of liberated Warsaw with the prevailing gay-friendly atmosphere and a growing LGBTQ community, through openly gay Polish celebrities to the lives of those in peripheries and their struggles coming out in the  very conservative, Catholic society.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion with Dr Richard Mole and Prof Anne White which will take the issues raised in the film further to include and explore the migration of Polish LGBTQ individuals to the United Kingdom, motivated by homophobia.

With these two events launching Play OUT, we are hoping to embark on many more queer adventures in the future, furthering debates relevant to LGBTQ communities, promoting queer art & culture and creating an open platform for LGBTQ communities to come together!

Polish Summer School – Discussing an Adventure (Friday October 31, 2014 at 4pm)

Why Polish Language? Why Polish Summer School? Why Spend Summer in Poland? 

come for a discussion and sharing experience over a glass of wine

31st of October at 4 pm 

at UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, room 432

16 Taviton Street London WC1H 0BW (Bloomsbury Campus)

Within the program: Presentation by Hannah Phillips (a participant of the 2014 Summer School), discussion and sharing experinces as well as a small reception afterward.

What is Angelus Silesius House (ASH)?

The ASH is a non-governmental education and training centre. It sees itself as a meeting place for personal and professional development as it works with young people from various religious backgrounds, nationalities and cultures. There are many ways in which you can get involved. As an NGO they work locally with young people in Poland that have had a difficult start in life, running short-term and long-term schemes which vary across the year. They also work with foreign students in and out of Poland. Their summer school project aims to promote Polish language and culture whilst breaking down embedded prejudices and stereotypes associated with Poland. Slide01 Their summer school only lasted 10 days this year, so for those of you who are looking for something more long-term they also provide voluntary services. Since 2001 they have taken part in the European Voluntary Service (EVS) programme, which runs projects that can last between 2 to 12 months. In this way, you can develop your language skills, gain insider knowledge on the inner workings of NGOs and gain a new qualification. In all of their projects, including the voluntary service, participants receive free accommodation, food, insurance and pocket money. The only thing you might have to pay is a small part of your travel costs. All of this is on their website. Slide10To best illustrate this organisation’s work and the opportunities it offer, I will guide you through some of the activities they arranged whilst I was participating in their summer school project. (Hannah Phillips)

Opinion of Klaudia Konkolova (a participant of 2014 Summer School):

Between 10th– 20th September, 2014 I had the chance to participate in a wonderful project: Szkoła letnia z Polską II in the beautiful historic city of Wrocław. The project was co-funded by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministerstwo Spraw Zagranicznych) and organised by the Dom Spotkań im. Angelusa Silesiusa. 23 students studying Polish language from different partner universities all over Europe were given the opportunity to discover Polish culture from within and improve their language skills by attending professionally taught language classes and communicating with each other and the Polish organisers in Polish. The language skills improvement is not the only positive achievement we will be bringing home. The visits organised at different important institutions based in Wrocław gave us an insightful look into the contemporary situation in Poland, the lecture by the famous Polish language specialist prof. Jan Miódek made us appreciate more that even though in Europe we speak so many different languages, at the heart we all belong into one Indo-European group*, we visited the vibrant city of Łodź over the weekend, and even got a first-hand experience in film-making! The accommodation and food was provided for. Even up to 70% of the travel expenses were covered by the organisation. It is a pity, we only had ten days for uncovering the marvels of Polish cuisine, which is really savoury and manifold. Personally, I would be up for trying out of a new type of pierogi andzapiekanka every day. Last but not least, the people participating on the project were all very friendly, open, tolerant and keen on meeting new people and getting to know them better and making friends with them was perhaps the most valuable outcome from the whole project. *With the exception of Finnish, Hungarian, and Estonian, which belong to the Finno-Ugric group.

Urszula Chowaniec

Urszula Chowaniec, MA, MA, Ph.D. 

Monika Leszczewicz

Urszula Chowaniec (photo by Monika Leszczewicz, 2014)

A founder and leader of eMigrating Ladscapes Project.

Specialist in Polish literature and language.

She is an Assistant Professor at Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski Kraków University, Poland where she runs the project on Polish Women’s Writing and Notion of Displacement (funded by National Centre for Science), as a result of which she will publish a book on displacement and melancholy in contemporary Polish writing (Cambridge Scholar Publishing, 2015)

She is currently holding the post of Polish Language and Culture Senior Teacher Fellow at University College London School of Slavonic and east European Studies, where she leads the series of seminars and cultural platform of eMigrating Landscapes: the literary and artistic representation of emigration (www.emigratinglanscapes.org).

She has published a lot on women’s writing, literary theory and literary and cultural history (such as edited volumes, e.g. (2012) Women’s  Voices and Feminism in Polish Cultural History ed. Urszula Chowaniec, Ursula Philips. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing; (2012)Philosophy and Literature: Transformation and Generation in Gender and Post-dependency Discourse, a special issue of ARGUMENT: Biannual Philosophical Journal(2012, vol. 2, no. 1) accessible online: http://www.argument-journal.eu/current-issue?lang=en; (2010) Mapping Experience in Polish and Russian Women’s Writing, ed. Urszula Chowaniec, et.al Newscastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing; articles, e.g. (2013) (E)Mingration and Displacement: Melancholy as a Subversive Gesture in Prose by Women in: Literature in Transformation, red. Ursula Phillips, Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2013, ss. 93-113. See the project website: www.emigratinglandscapes.org . She run the blog Cudzoziemki: Women’s Writing Poland (http://cudzoziemki.weebly.com/)

Contact: u.chowaniec@ucl.ac.uk, u.chowaniec@gmail.com

Migrating Poetic Cooperations

On the 7th of February eMigrating Landscapes Project hosted Grzegorz Wróblewski and Friends (Marcus Slease, Adam Zdrodowski and Piotr Gwiazda). The discussion focused on the recent poetry book by Grzegorz on migration, displacement and the experience of being a foreigner – Kopenhaga (translated by Piotr Gwiazda).

It was a final seminar of the 8 seminars planned for the first series of eML seminars run from march 2013 to February 2014. It was an amazing year with a lot of discussions, enthusiasm and energy from all engaged in eML Project. We wish to thank everybody, all the participants, fantastic writers and poets, academics, translators for being there for us. Most of all, we thank all the participants and funs for joining us with this adventure!

Thanks and follow us here, on the wen and of Facebook

On Saturday, 8 February, 2014, we celebrated the year of discussion the “migrating landscapes” at Rix Mix within Steven Fowler project (Wrogowie/Enemies), where 6 pairs of Polish and British poets read their collaborative work. Have a look at the video report at You Tube:

Amy Cutler & Ula Chowaniec http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6LdC442EKk
Angus Sinclair & Laura Elliott http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrH3G34BQ_M
Francesca Listette & Joanna Rzadowska http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZukpdL6Cxk0
Philip Terry & Adam Zdrodowski http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHzymaGAgPQ
Marcus Slease & Grzegorz Wroblewski http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yuRzUnOYXk
Photos at Steven’s account on twitter – https://twitter.com/stevenjfowler

New Europeans: myths, dreams or sort of reality

Seminar with Grazyna Plebanek took place at University College London SSEES on March 20, 2013. The podcast of the event you can find here

New Europeans: myths, dreams or sort of reality

Grażyna Plebanek:

To accept differences, to embrace the fact that we’ll always be different: it’s a hard, fascinating, never ending work of defining and redefining. I’m grateful for it, I need this for myself and my writing…


1. Urszula Chowaniec: Grazyna, you came to London for the seminars which was devoted to your book “Illegal Liaisons” and the book of A.M. Bakalar “Madame Mephisto”, all around the theme of construction of New Europeans, do you in fact believe in the New Europe, this Europe, in the centre of which – in Brussels — you actually live?

GP: Actually I do. Maybe it’s the child in me that says “I do” but I let it speak. I benefited from the bringing together of European nations, a lot of people did, we can travel and work where we want. Obviously, it brings out nationalistic sentiments because the animals in us will always bristle at contact with strangers. But Europe is relatively small and the educated part of the younger generation already feels European.  There is always a question if the blending together of cultures will not deprive us the unique qualities of each individual culture. But life means motion, it’s a natural process, I’m the last person to defend “the old order”.


2. UCH: Let’s talk about “Illegal Liaisons”, your first book in English beautifully published by Stork Press, in a moment, but first I would like to go back to your earlier works. Before “Illegal Liaisons you have written three books. In free translation their titles are “Girls from Portofino” (to be honest my favourite), “Box of Stilettos” and “A girl called Przystupa”. All of them are very important in Polish contemporary literature. They are telling the story of women in Poland, from the times of communism to the transformation into a free-market economy, to the time of Euro-emigration (Przystupa) and the new Europeans — the generation of people who feel in equal part citizens of Europe as of the country they grew up in. Is this an intentional literary project to draw a picture of what happened in Poland in last few decades from the point of view of female characters?

GP: I wrote “The girls from Portofino” because I was fed up by the myth of the Solidarity movement being monopolised by men. That’s why one of the characters smuggles illegal newspapers and distributes leaflets, because women did it too. I wrote the story of political and economic transformation from the perspective of girls and then young women, because we were there too, as active as men. On the other hand, I wanted to recreate a different world, the girly one, with all its quarrels, small intrigues and, above all, friendship. At the end of the day it is friendship that allows my four characters to survive. Girls from the same street in a typical district of blocks of flats survive in a reality dominated, on the one hand, by communist school, and, on the other, by the Catholic Church and the pressure of the traditional upbringing on top of that.  The main character of “Box of Stilettos” Marta, who struggles to make a career in Poland after the transformation, in an era of “wild capitalism”, becomes pregnant and realises that her life doesn’t belong to her any more. Motherhood is not her private matter because as a pregnant woman she belongs to the society more than ever. She is forced to play a role, to fit into an image of the Mother, especially Mother Pole. She feels trapped. At the same time she fights to survive financially and professionally in a reality where women tend to get fired when they get pregnant. In “A Girl Called Przystupa” a twenty year-old woman from a small village leaves Poland to work as a cleaning lady in Europe. The story is written mostly from her point of view, or rather that of the Narrator, who follows her closely, commenting on New Europe’s reality like narrators did in a picaresque. It would be very difficult to write these stories from a male point of view. I felt that they belong to women and they were untold. I wanted to tell them. On the other hand, the main character of “Illegal liaisons” is Jonathan, a writer, a stay- at-home father, a man who fulfils a traditional female role. Women in this novel are strong, they work, earn money, they are successful. Megi, Jonathan’s wife is a lawyer working for an EU institution, but she takes an active part in the upbringing of their kids. Andrea, a journalist and Jonathan’s lover, uses her freedom as a woman; she doesn’t feel obliged to fulfil any traditional roles of wife or mother.

In my next novel I come back to a female perspective. The main character is a European by upbringing (she’s thirty years old, she’s too young to remember communism). She lives in Poland and in Europe, for her it’s not a question of “leaving her country”, it’s more a question of being mobile and following her own needs. Her sense of patriotism is very different from that of the older generations of Poles.

3. UCH: Coming back to “Illegal Liaisons”: this is your first book translated into English. Why did you choose this one?

GP: My English publisher, Stork Press, has chosen this novel because it’s a universal story of love and passion which can be understood everywhere. And it is understood, from what I hear now, a year after “Illegal liaisons” came out in England and last month in USA and Canada. Last week I was a guest of the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, now I have a promotion tour – Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, New York. Readers’ comments are similar to those in Poland, people find their own emotions in this story, they feel strongly about it.

4. UCH: Jonathan is constructed a bit as a background to emphasize the emancipation of women: professionally and economically successful Maggie and sexually liberated Andrea. Jonathan himself seems to be weak, submissive and indecisive (oh, I really did not like this character!) Can you tell me a little why did you decided to make him a protagonist? What was his main function? Perhaps I misread this character?

GP: Several days ago I talked to Lewis DeSoto, a writer who also was the guest at IFOA. We discussed “Illegal Liaisons” and at some point he told me: “Men are a mess!”. I must say that I don’t envy men nowadays. It is a time of transformation for them. Clearly they lost the certainty of what manhood means and they are in the process of defining it again. It’s a very interesting process in the post-feminist world but I believe it must be painful in everyday life. Jonathan is a man in transformation.

5. UCH: It is a spoiler but I disclose that the book has a sort of happy ending: the family stays together. Isn’t that a bit optimistic given that the New Europeans are more likely to end up in divorce than any other generation before, especially because the economic reasons to stay together are less and less important? Also, isn’t the ending a bit in line with a bourgeois morality?

GP: But we are also more attentive parents than we were ever before. In previous generations people had more children and parents didn’t have time to concentrate so much on them. Now kids are in the centre of our attention. Jonathan is one of these fathers who cut the umbilical cord, who is very active in the process of upbringing. Paradoxically, the love affair with Andrea makes him an even better father, it opens him up emotionally. It could also be “the guilt factor” so typical for Poles – a “bad” husband, Jonathan compensates by being a good parent. That’s why he’s not able to take responsibility for destroying his family. It’s not a weakness; it’s the overwhelming sense of responsibility in which we, parents, live nowadays.

6. UCH: One thing about the geography of the book: the new, liberated generation is located in Brussels, which is a symbol of New Europe, but also one of the cities with a big complex of its colonial past. Is this ideological dynamic important for your thinking about what is happening around you? In Illegal Liaisons there are no direct link to post-colonial theory, but there is the idea of Europe above a nation as a direct opposition to colonial ideas. (perhaps New Europe is a result of colonial failure?)

GP: I write about the colonial past and its consequences for daily life in Europe, and especially in Brussels, in my next novel. My main character meets both Belgians and Congolese people. She’s deprived of her “colonial virginity” in a painful way.

7. UCH: I would love you to elaborate a bit on the idea of contemporary writing and being a writer. You write and publish in Polish, hence in the traditional categories you are labelled as a Polish writer, also thematically your novels are linked to Poland, you comment on contemporary Poland etc. But you have been living abroad for years, and – as you explained it – it is your choice, mainly dictated by your curiosity of the world. Does this choice influence your writing?

GP: I react immediately if somebody wants to label me as an émigré writer. I travel because I feel a nomad. And because I like and because I can travel — the transition from communism gave us this precious opportunity, I’m grateful for this. I visit Poland whenever I like. There is no regret, no homesickness, no nostalgia. The same in “Illegal liaisons”, Megi and Jonathan do not miss Poland, because Poland is so close. They didn’t lose their country by leaving it. There is a fundamental difference between the generation of people who entered their adult life after 1989 and the earlier generations. The only influence on my writing manifests itself through a broadening of the subjects that interest me. I meet people from different cultures in Brussels, our contacts are deep enough to inspire me to write more than just about Poles and their mentality. This is the case of my latest novel (to be published in 2014). The question is if leaving our own cultural context makes us credible as storytellers. Musicians, painters and other artists don’t have this problem, writers are judged more strictly.

8. UCH: Do you feel an emigrant or migrant, a contemporary vagabond?

GP: A contemporary vagabond. Full stop.


9. UCH: To be away from your own culture often gives you a certain distance, clearer view: sometime you may find out that you actually do not like your own country and your own countrymen. Is there anything about Poland you particularly don’t like?

GP: Being away from my own culture gave me an important lesson – not to generalise, not slip into stereotypes, always have bigger perspective. Therefore I can say what I don’t like in particular Poles, but not in the whole Poland.

10.  UCH: Ok, is there anything you miss about Poland? Does being abroad make you long for anything Polish (and please, do not refer to Polish cuisine, I do not believe a word about the mythical Polish delicatessen and I am a daughter of a fantastic cook)

GP: Sometimes I’m surprised that my Polish friends feel so strongly about something – politics, behaviour, a film, weather – and I don’t care… This realisation that “I don’t belong there in 100 per cent” brings about a bit of nostalgia. But as a matter-of-fact, without regrets.


11.  UCH: You were a student of Izabela Filipiak, an excellent Polish writer and a very important voice against taboos and bad practices in Polish culture (for example in her columns in various magazines, later published as the Culture of the Offended). Did she influence your way of thinking about writing, the choice of subjects, the way you construct the narrative?

GP: She introduced me to the theory of feminism. I wrote my MA thesis from a feminist perspective when gender studies didn’t exist in Poland. When I joined Filipiak’s group several years later, gender studies were already formed. What I knew instinctively before and I analysed in my MA thesis, I found in the theory books I had to read for Filipiak’s classes. That was reassuring. She liked my first short story, it was important. She was also very supportive when I published my first novel. She was one of these teachers who inspires, triggers something in students. A rare, precious gift.

12.  UCH: Who are your teachers of fiction writing? Who influenced you most?

GP: In June 2013 I published a volume of essays “The Robber Maid’s Daughters” about my teachers of fiction writing. I can add here several more: Nabokov, Calvino, Eco, Marquez, Irving. Polish female writers: Jadwiga Żylińska, Zofia Nałkowska.

13.  UCH: A word for conclusion?

GP: I feel like I “entered Europe” more than decade ago when I moved from Poland to Sweden but only now I feel that I see more of it. I found a space in my mind, in me to understand people from different cultures. To accept differences, to embrace the fact that we’ll always be different: it’s a hard, fascinating, never ending work of defining and redefining. I’m grateful for it, I need this for myself and my writing.

For all the information and calendar of events see: Grazyna’s website


Review: Wioletta Grzegorzewska, Pamięć Smieny (Smena Mamory), Off_Press, London 2011

A woman’s story with no “else” 

1. Starting from someone´s else review….

Let´s start from the motto of the collection: We either live life or we write it (Luigi Pirandello) and from the review of Wioletta Grzegorzewska´s poetry written by the Polish critic, Karol Maliszewski. He disagreed with Pirandello´s quote in his review (published as the afterword of the collection). The critic insists that these two spheres, the need for narration and for live experience, so to speak, can be and should be allied (“Mediation is more my thing, the art of patient synthesis”, says the critic, adding that – according to him – it is also a crucial element of Grzegorzewska´s “poetic focus”). 

The synthesis and mediation, aurea mediocritas, the golden mean, is always a good move, a safe move: you avoid extremes. But is it a good point to make as far as Grzegorzewska’s poetry is concerned? I would choose to disagree and will outline my reasons for doing so in due course.

I have another problem with Karol Maliszewski´s review – its title: A Womans´ Life and Else (of course, the title itself is also an intertext with the second motto of the book: Motto from Stefan Zweig´s short story – 24 godziny z życia kobiety / 24 hours in the life of a woman). This ”else” is also a safe form of play – just in case, when the life of a woman is not enough, somehow too limited, too hermetic, not enough for poetry that seems to be more universal (or a man´s) thing…. My question is: does Grzegorzewska really needs this “else”?

Let us attempt to answer those two questions:

2. Eithers

I started this presentation with a slight deconstruction of the review by Karol Maliszewski. I do not want to argue against it, criticize it, rather wish to use it as a preliminary point, seeing as it is always easy to start with showing the other´s mistakes… Yet, I believe that the above mentioned review somehow overlooked Grzegorzewska´s own “poetic focus”: which – as I see it – is a poetic world that magically transforms reality into verses; names live experiences and closes them into the fascinating building blocks of language, thus keeping the experiences in a poetic timeless space. But this kind of writing requires the giving up of life, along with the locking up in the small space between one´s imagination and the piece of paper (computer screen). Writing requires life´s experiences to come and pass, they need to be behind and only then can one put them into words, and perhaps only then, while named and described, do they become real. If we look for life in Grzegorzewska´s (or any other) poetry, we will find it in memory, and this memory seems to be more complete and cruelly precise then life itself.

Wszystkie wieczory swiata

Pierwszy samotny wieczor na poddaszu,

Niewyrazny jak biala cerkiew za oknem.

W podbrzuszu niose przezroczyste kielki

I strach, ktory trzeba uciszyc postinorem.


We either live or write, we either feel or name, we either let go or keep everything that life brings in the exact and harsh reality of language. 

And these “eithers”, rather than the synthesis, are true in Grzegorzewska’s case!

She takes us back to the memories of her childhood, travelling, friendship, emigrations, and they all appear to be locked in magical lexicons, distancing us from life, naming emotions, exposing circumstances and revealing secrets that can never be captured in life, because they require time for reflections. I believe that Grzegorzewska’s quoting of Piradello was intended to stress this distance, the reflections which separate life and writing, which make creation such a solitary pursuit, and not a work of synthesis. Mainly because this form of synthesis is in essence impossible…

3. Else?

Another thing which also occurs to me while reading Maliszewski´s review is the following: why does a woman´s life require something “else” for it to be worthwhile? Is it because the “shopping, looking for a place to live and putting kids to sleep” is not enough? Does a woman´s poetry need something else, just as a woman needs ¨from time to time” the poetic salvation from her world (a woman´s 24/7s)? Is it because poetic moments cannot be constantly present in a woman´s mundane life, that they come as something “else”, a little magic extra? Don´t they seem like an unexpected guest, perhaps like a prince on the white horse? This “else¨ frankly sounds like a man´s blessing (syllogism here works as follows: this poetry is all about a woman´s experience but it is good anyway, since it is good, it has to be about something else. As if only this “else” can make it worthy).

And again, forgive me my maliciousness, it is a rhetorical device –  just for the sake of argument, but…

I believe that Grzegorzewska´s poetry needs no else. Smena´s memory is a complete work of poetry; it is all about a woman´s memory, a woman´s experience.  It is “woman´s” not in the essentialist understanding of this word but woman´s because the author happens to be a woman, she was brought up as a woman, treated as a woman, thought to be one…. She sees the world as a daughter, a girl, a girlfriend, amother, a lover to a man… and these make her poetry multidimensional, exciting, fascinating and ultimately complete. 

4. To write is to retreat from life towards the land of memory…

The collection we are presented with today is about memory – memory kept by the old camera, a Soviet Smena, and memory kept by a woman, a girl, a daughter, a mother, the poetic persona, Grzegorzewska inscribed in the verses.  And the lyrical persona, Grzegorzewska from the book, takes us on an amazing journey via the world of a provincial childhood. Here I enumerate a few elements of the poetic landscape of this book:

Polish provinces;

The communist period in Polish history;

Experiences of emigration;

Alienations from the family;

And many other… 

Grzegorzewska possesses the ability to see things in such a sharp way that it leaves the reader astonished by the accuracy and innovation of associations. Grzegorzewska is ironic, humorous, sarcastic and lyrical: sometimes cruel in exposing the facts of life, sometimes funny and whimsical, always inventive in her linguistic choices, but overall profoundly successful in juxtaposing the grey and poetic elements of every day’s life with the painstakingly particular naming and sketching of her poetic landscape.


 Urszula Chowaniec

March 2012- May 2013