Michał Sobol

- Poland -

Poet Michał Sobol was born in 1970. Since 1998 he has been living at Zabierzów Bocheński on the edge of the Niepołomice Forest, and he now works several times a week at the library in a monastery. He is a graduate of philosophy and the history of the Church. He debuted in his thirties with the book Lamentacje (Lamentations) for which he received the Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna Award for the best book debut in 2001. He subsequently published Działania i chwile (Actions and Moments, 2007) and Naturalia (Naturals, 2010). The interest of critics and readers alike increased along with the publication of the book Pulsary (Pulsars, 2013), for which the poet obtained the Literary Award of the Town of Radom and in 2014 was nominated for the Wisława Szymborska Poetry Award, and the Gdynia Literary Award.

What are Michał Sobol’s poems about? According to Michał Kieżun, a critic, “anyone who is aware of his biography, even very vaguely, knows that they rarely move beyond the poet’s personal experience. We can easily identify scenes from the secondary technical school of forestry, in which Michał studied as a teenager, the Jodłowa (Fir) Forest praised by Stefan Żeromski, in which the poet served his practical training, philosophy and history of the Church classes at the Papal Academy of Theology in Cracow, and pictures from the life of the village in which Michał lives and from which he commutes to Cracow to work in a monastery library during weekdays. Michał’s memories of his childhood are also featured frequently, including those of his elder brother, friends, family, animals, or special moments such as the day of the disaster of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl”.

The pulsation of objects and people in the poem opening the book Pulsars is experienced with the mind rather than with the senses. One should draw the essence from the realistic snapshots, the leaves, meadows and trees, and make a metaphysical pattern – in other words, one should fit the Self into something greater. Therefore, the spring wind does not only announce the forthcoming change, it can also be an unpredictable symbol of the permanent order, which the brain attempts to play with lightly and in a problem-free manner; having memory at its disposal among other things – “the fist pushing last year’s hay/ into the open mouth of the meadow”. “The necessity to turn back, to constantly change direction” determines one of the poles of the ceaselessly created process. On the other hand, the constant rhythm is determined by “the sleep and the awakening” (winter and spring, death and life), which affect the repeatability of the returns. One finds the cosmic rhythms of existence in oneself, in the body, which “is to watch over as a policeman and disregard/ the possibility of being run over”. Impulses flow from something which could be called a nature-culture – one controlling the process of being-cognition. For the poet, this logos of a kind is “someone,/ who checks and, if necessary, will break upon the announcement/ of the sentence”.

“The distinguishing sign of this poetry is a long sentence filling the entire poem. This is because Michał Sobol is a poet of reflection originating from observation; hence, the sentence has to carry both the content of his observation, and its interpretation (…). Since reflection is continuously born from observation, since language inherently longs for expressing the experienced, the poet does not give up, looking for new possibilities”, says Wojciech Bonowicz. It seems to me that the power of the poems lies in their rooting – however, there can be no question of the “small realism”. If there is realism, then it is of a form asking about Reality, about the transcendent conditions of the earthly life. It does not do it too forcefully, and luckily we are not dealing with bigotry. The shade of sainthood delicately covers the daily problems, the hustle and bustle, and arrivals by vehicles and on foot. The little town and the nearby villages with their people coping with things and looking for words, seem to be a part of a larger tale, while the protagonist of these poems seem to be someone who has managed to escape the control of a super-author to live his own life. The illusion of one’s own life is related to the primacy of one’s own tale. It follows many tracks, which interconnect in a surprising way, without causing a disaster of the draft of thoughts and images which travel along them. And it is probably the autobiographic-rustic track of expression which has the strongest impact: a village life shown in short, pulsating flashes, gradually begins to reveal something resembling a Secret: not moral piquancies, although these are not to be forgotten either, but something greater, something which can already be read from the book of life which is leafed anew. What is significant in this area of the book are the texts subtitled “From the father and son cycle”. But other cycles are equally important, as they testify to the cyclicality, repeatability, the spherical order of time and the revealed things. The titles of these autobiographical poems sound like spells. Reconstruction shows the adopted principle of mimesis, but let us not treat it literally. Turns refer us to the operation of a winnower, again recalling, in a micro-image, the dialectics of a cyclical movement as a suggestion of a philosophical principle. Czaty (In Wait) talks about the things which can be seen when one is appropriately focused on the world around rather than on oneself. Foundations recall scenes from the construction of a house, of throwing field stones (called “Scandinavians” as “they were trailed here by some ice sheet”) into the freshly cast foundations, of fishing, of raising pigs, of the childhood fear of an aggressive cockerel, of collecting insects, of going for small trees to the market in town... these facts are, indeed, a pretext, albeit one deeply rooted in life, a signal of a metonymic gesture, which, in a flash, is to uncover something from the momentary experience of a chance truth. And here, rather than being “a pushing fist”, the memory is a slender hand gently touching the strings. The readers must finish the tune (interpretation) for themselves.

Michał’s latest book of poetry, Schrony (Shelters), was published in the same year in which he obtained the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award, i.e. in 2016. In his poems from this collection, as Anna Spólna writes about Shelters, the author “focuses on human efforts to step beyond one’s own condition or escape from the inevitable fate. In the fifth collection of his poems, Michał describes, with his singular insight, how – trying to save the feeling of sense – we undertake a fight to understand the world or to impose our own order on reality. Finally, if these solutions fail (and they fail all the time), we move away and, crouching in our hiding places, await the blow”.

It is for this book that Michał Sobol was granted the 2017 Gdynia Literary Award in the category of poetry.

By Karol Maliszewski