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“Ten calls since morning about work, each time having to spell my name, letter by letter, each time it it becoming ever more alien to me. Outside the kitchen window the orange flash of a Royal Mail postman’s jacket flies by. A letter! I run to the door, hoping it’s news of a job offer, an invite for interview or at least a decision about single mother benefits. I tear the envelope open and out pops a poetry chapbook. ”
(Notes from an Island, 2013)
Sleepless in Ryde
A void separates me from everything
and so I don’t ever go near its edge.
FRANZ KAFKA, DZIENNIKI / FRANZ KAFKA, JOURNALS 1910 – 1923
A speckled iris – a ginger cat on the window sill,
shiny fur on the edge of air
jumping out of itself just to catch a puff-ball.
An Englishwoman descends from a Victorian tenement
Let the walls forgive her daily cursing.
At night, the void opens up, cracking the temples,
full of a child’s cries and whistling ferries.
More edges. Less words.
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:
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…
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:
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.
March 2012- May 2013