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Alicja Przybylska

Barbarians take control – introduction to contemporary Polish poetry.

'If poetry is capable of creating strong emotions - even those lasting for a moment - if it can capture soul, impose on thoughts, then all subsequent relations with it are special, marked with anticipation or even some histery, those relations are biased.'
Piotr Śliwiński

It has been ages since poems of the greatest Masters of Polish poetry, like Szymborska, Milosz, Herbert and Rozewicz were bringing extreme emotions to the readers. Old Masters became still monuments, their classical style, well established position and decades of literary output earned them immortal position in world's literature (only to mention literary Noble Prizes for Milosz and Szymborska). They are still very important but it is quite different type of poets who bring out controversy and stir in Polish contemporary poetry. Poets like Podsiadlo or Swietlicki - loved by some, hated by others – are the ones I will be looking at in this article.

Among many modern Polish authors one person seems to be the most expressive artistic individualist – Marcin Swietlicki. His early poems like the ones published in: 'Zimne Kraje' ('Cold Lands'), 'Piesni Profana' ('Profaner's Songs') were inspired by the New York school of poets of Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery. An alien cult poet, he is by his own definition someone who has 'never really or completely been in the mainstream'. Swietlicki's output can not leave anybody indifferent – the public eagerly buys up new editions of his books, critics still analize his poems, young people identify with his message, which can be linked to a fact that he is also a leader of a rock group called Swietliki. Usually he is seen as an outsider and what is more he intentionally has chosen to be exile from the spheres of official culture. However his being outsider is not only limited to being neutral, indifferent, dispirited or harsh, Swietlicki also can be watchful, paying attention to false reality, critic of manners, ironic and sarcastic.
In his strong lines he included contents from the outside - he perfectly understood and described transformation of the 90's in Poland, he stimulated mood of the individualism as well as he narrated about problems which romantic individual can encounter in the completely unromantic age. He whispered about love and death. Lyrical subject - the poet himself was craggy and ubiquitus.
In another volume of poems 'Czynny Do Odwolania' ('Open To Appeal') which has been awarded prestigeous Nike Award in 2002, he choose to transform poem into the existential act. He deepened autobiographical tendencies and made his poems similar to personal script.
The collection of poems is carefully thoughtful and consistent, bringing questions of maturity which, according to Swietlicki, is choosing between safety and freedom.
He still turns between pop and high culture, lyrical commentary and clear poetry. He avoids anything stable - both triumphs and failures. According to him life is motion, action, so inactivity is not an escape from pointless activities, it is death.
His writing in 'Czynny Do Odwolania' resemble songs rather than poems in order to be more functional and casual and to correspond well with the subject.
In the latest volume 'Muzyka Srodka' ('Middle-Of-The-Road Music') Swietlicki observes his own self from the past like it would be someone else. He feels like returning from far away into his own place. He is returning from the past, which was time of disintegration. He strongly feels world around him - the world is unfriendly, hostile, frightening and full of opressions. Author's apprehention and aversion facing the order of reality in which we have to live. Thinking or even dream about some important change, about another beginning is strongly repeated in the 'Muzyka Srodka'.
'Muzyka Srodka' is an account-settling volume, in which poet ceases to use many qualities of his older poetry. There is none of that characteristic mixture of cheek, defiance, fooling around, clownish rebellion. The gesture of opposition loses its power.

The other equally interesting modern Polish poet is Jacek Podsiadlo. His debut had place when everything was breaking down both political system and beliefs. There was desire to talk about things and have them off one's chest, to make poetry free at last not only from censorship but also from old conventions either related to the customs, formal or literary. So Podsiadlo's artistic style had been formed as an actually lack of style, conscious rejection of style. There was not a word or a concept he would hesitate to use. No subject or idea was as important as the process of writing down the thougths and associations itself.
It seems that he is more interested in writing about rather simple life than the exotic or extravagant. Everyday experience, affierming of privacy but on the other hand distance from institutions and rituals of public life - this is the main sphere of the poet's inspiration. This is his power. He is master of natural, clear language, discretion of metafores.
Love, the Way, places, memories of childhood and youth are the most important subjects of his output. Podsiadlo embodies romantic myth of being outsider, living on the Way, who is in conflict with world of make-believes, elegant suits or limousines.
Podsiadlo is known for his commited involvement in conservation movements - in the 1980s, he cooperated with the pacifistic and ecological Freedom and Peace movement. Poems published in 'I Ja Pobiegłem W Te Mgle' ('And I Ran Throught The Mist') are great exemple how important nature is for him and how he can use it to express himself.
Nevertheless in his latest volume of poems 'Kry' ('Ice Flows') Podsiadlo writing about completely new experience, about his new role – paternity, he has been forced to develop new literary strategy. He is no longer young rebelious boy, he became a man. Now he has to pretend to be heroic and brave. He hides his fears and obsessions under the cover of puns, prim rhymes and situation jokes. In effect he created congenial and nice poems where demons await under the quiet surface. Leitmotif of 'Kry' is maturation as a process in its final phase. One can find here kind of summary of poet's hitherto existing, balance of his mistakes. He miss about a constancy, he is looking for the God.
Simplicity and beauty of language of his poems are bewitching. What is more the poet not only reports the most important events of his life but also comes to universal reflections in general. Podsiadlo has matured indeed.

For many years, Marcin Swietlicki and Jacek Podsiadlo have been the unquestioned heroes of the poetic scene, confirming their great talent with each new book. Familiar with controversy or scandal they very often were shaking the very foundations of cultural establishment. Nevertheless they are becoming more and more a part of it, bringing their freshness and originality to the rather stiff and still world of poetry. Emotions they bring with their poetry are the very essence of what poetry should be, the living word that touches soul.