Barbara Klicka

- Poland -

Barbara Klicka was born in Płock (1981) where she made her debut in 2000 with the volume Wrażliwiec. She is currently living in Warsaw. Co-author of lyrics and member of the band Pochwalone on the album Czarny war. Apart from this, she is one of few Yiddish specialists in Poland, and editor of Cwiszn, a Jewish quarterly about literature and art. Her subsequent volume of poetry was published 12 years later. Entitled same same (Mikołów 2012), it attracted the attention of literary critics and the jury of the Wrocław ‘Silesius’ Poetry Award 2013 who nominated it in the ‘Book of the Year’ category. However, the poet had been noticed before, by the Biuro Literackie in Wrocław and invited, as one of the more interesting talents, to take part in the project ‘Odsiecz’ (Succour), whose title signalled the generational change of guard.

At the time, critics wrote about the surprising development of the young author and about the fact that her poetry is disturbing, uncomfortable and inspiring, and that it had become more vivid and clearly unique. As a critic who accompanied ‘Odsiecz’ I wrote: “By brushing up against the powerful idioms of the past decade − Siwczyk-Sendecki on the one hand and Bargielska-Podgórnik on the other, she somehow breaks even. … The persiflage atmosphere of the text, and its subsequent reception, is connected with the fact that the author deconstructs the convention of disclosure and confession, imbuing it with so many ironic intrusions that it is unable to carry off its typical atmosphere of melancholy and gravity”. While her debut volume passed totally unnoticed, critics showed a bit more heart for the volume same same. Julia Fiedorczuk wrote that it was “a delightful book, sensual, painful and uncompromisingly, one-hundred per cent feminine”, and that some of the poems “mapped out a painful and delightful space where the adventures of body and language take place”, related by “a girl who does not give her consent to gravity”.  

Two years later, Klicka publishes another book, instantly noticed and commented on, and as a result nominated for important awards. The book in question is the volume entitled nice (Poznań 2015), which won the Wrocław ‘Silesius’ Poetry Award in 2016 as well as the  Gdynia Literary Prize. While summing up her impressions on having read the volume, Anna Kałuża remarked that “Barbara Klicka is a master of mood; I know this may sound bad today but it is the mood of Picnic at Hanging Rock. We invest in the uncertainty and secrets of Klicka’s heroines. In nice they somehow manage to stay on the surface of life and in its permanent forms but they are all the time tempted by dissipation, they are forms ready for metamorphoses. Klicka weaves her intro-tales, lets a little surrealist air into a poem but the world she shows us does not vanish in the form of a dream of a fairy tale, it is a world where no one cares about the heroines’ losing”. The author herself spoke of the volume during one meeting that in the book there is “an on-going conversation, the constructing of oneself in a dialogue, the negotiation of one’s positions through a dialogue. This is to me the closest form of establishing things in the world. The necessity to conduct a dialogue imposes a different way of carrying out the narrative”.

As nice is so far the most recent of the poet’s books, I will allow myself a longer deliberation on the subject. In my opinion, it begins with a play on words and goes much further than planned. There’s the astonishing dexterity with words, the mastery of combinatorics, the all-encompassing game of irony, it is very much for something and about something. Of course, it is enough to string words and phrases together, to make them overlap and surprise one another; their very melody being so captivating. One may remain with this music, having reached the conclusion that in amongst many ironic poems, an entire wave of them, Klicka’s voice will be audible anyway. But this time it’s much more than that. Some fragility has been cast onto the scales, a weakness has been worked out. Let’s call it by its name: pain. Maybe one cannot ever tell the difference between staged and real pain because the latter remains outside literature and happens without words. We therefore remain within the theatre of suffering. The performance directed by Klicka grabs me by its restraint. You can tell that it speaks out as a last resort. And it taking the floor, as a last resort, is the most moving of all. She fulfils the duty of an ironic word-monger in a masculine way, leaving a dark lyrical residue at the bottom of the reader’s soul. The precise word mechanisms have set an unplanned empathy in motion. We suffer together with her, admiring her elegance of expression. Double work. But isn’t it what we most appreciate poetry for?

And now for the scenery characteristic of this poetry: sea, going away, length of stay, spa, therapy, residence, season, months and dates; despite the despair, what is being cultivated is belief in a burst of light, a flash or a path which leads out of the trap. Two classic poems which precede the series of poetic prose consistently explore this subject. To use the language of old tales, it is about the clash and overlap of two archetypes (Eros and Thanatos). The hero possesses a suicidal tendency which is instantly defied by the will to live. As if there were two people in one body. The more one of them wants to succumb to illness, the more the other craves life, offering images of possible solutions, also those of possible pregnancy and birth. A child would fuse the two fractured halves of “I” and would, note well, “run away in some other direction”. This is how hopes are designed to become disentangled from this binary, bi-polar set-up, to emerge from the deadlock. It is with the potential life happening in a different way (afresh) that the thoughts go to the “flash”, the sanctity of a sudden light in the dark or to the ray which marks out the path.   

Aren’t we dealing with a passionate prayer (never mind that it’s to some Other One hidden inside the first one)? Is something being asked for? The two poems which start the volume not only establish the voice and the reader’s expectations but through their organic fusion they also point to a basic obsession or longing. This is to do with a sense of inner fusion, with an even one-off experience of oneness, in the flash, “the holy flash”. This way, Reader: “one wanted life/ so one has it”, with everything that goes with it, with the sea of words in the background, in the “postcard from a spa”. At times one can fish something out of it, with the pain turning it upside down, mocking and being ironic. It does so almost by the way. And from this emerges a way i.e. a form. In any case, violence breeds violence. The theatre of violence out of which Klicka’s poetry emerges clean, as if this whole war never happened, as if a great deal could be crossed off in a notebook. What we get is a series of refreshing flashes.


Karol Maliszewski

Translated from Polish by Magda Moran, Sean Moran