Natalia Malek

- Poland -

Natalia Malek (b. 1988) is a poet, a curator of literary events, a translator, and a graduate of English studies (specialism: US studies). She was the youngest author presented in the volume Solistki. Antologia poezji kobiet 1989–2009[Soloists. An Anthology of Women’s Poetry 1989-2009]. She published her poems and texts on art in Polish and international cultural periodicals. For several years now she has been co-creating a cycle of seminars entitled Wspólny Pokój [Common Room] in Staromiejski Dom Kultury in Warsaw; she conducts meetings on Anglo-Saxon literature and the relationships between literature and the visual arts. She lives in Warsaw.

Natalia debuted in 2010 with a book Pracowite popołudnia [Busy Afternoons], described as a sort of a juvenile journal heralding the birth of [the poet’s] own language. Kamila Pawluś stressed that “despite a certain overproduction of senses and images, this debuting book deserves attention, since it does not contain a single poem which would be barren or empty. Each of them leaves at least one depiction which remains in our memory”. Maciej Topolski indicated what he found a successful combination of juvenile fascinations to do with bodyliness and literature: “A new expression places the sense of being moved at the same level as de-empowerment. She leads passionand coldnesshand in hand. She places [words] longitudinally, symmetrically, in parallel. Without the inferiority of feelings in relation to contemplation and without searching for the adequate equivalent. With simultaneous intermingling of knowledge and feelings, with uncovering the inexpressible and the covering of the expressible. A new expression is the composition of the ordered and the chaotic elements. It is love and the reading of Spinoza. It is correlation”.

         The second book, Szaber[Plundering] (2014) won the author a nomination for the Gdynia Literary Award. The critics commenting on the book concluded that the voice of the young poet clarified itself, taking on a specific tone based on restraint and irony. Paweł Kozioł went so far as to use the words “ironical minimalism”, turning our attention to the fact that the poet builds her short works from other people’s voices she had heard: “Poems sometimes look as if they were composed from other author’s ready sentences, as if stolen from reality, which were simultaneously clarified many times. However, the most important things take place at their junction”. The snapshot-like quality and brevity of this poetry intrigued Maciej Woźniak. When looking for an answer to the question about the meaning of these traits, he wrote: “Malek’s poems want to mean less and be more, they do not insist that the poet has to mean something, but when at last they handle the meaning, then the fact and situations strike rapidly as in television news”.

        As a part of the thus-constructed poetics, Malek constructed meanings from the crash of her observations, supplemented with all the street and media noises heard around her. Some readers felt the effect was hyper-realistic, while others found it decisively surrealistic, mocking or even satirical. For the poet herself, this kind of gesture was a gesture of the only available freedom, and she spoke about it in the following way in one of her interviews: “What is most important to me in writing as well as in the reading of well-written poems, is the freedom which is unachievable in other spheres of life, or achievable only to a precious few people. Unhampered expression – is one of the meanings of the word. However, the second one, the one which is more important, is voluntariness. A willing, unenforced contact between the writing and the reading party – a rare thing in the world of numerous economic, religious and legal constraints”. In yet another interview, she revealed her inspirations influencing her own ironical and restrained poetics, indicating works by Emily Dickinson, “the mistress of ellipsis and ruthless montage, the crash of words; the crash of naked words free from any context, or, to put it more precisely, dragging very distant contexts to a very short poem”, and Charles Reznikoff and his “objectivist phrase”.

        2017 saw the poet win an important Adam Włodek Award, and the publishing house of the Regional Public Library and Culture Animation Centre in Poznan published her book Kord[Dirk], soon nominated for the Wisława Szymborska Award. Mariusz Grzebalski, a poet and editor admitting the book for print, was drawn to Malek’s works since “perhaps the most interesting thing about them is the fact that they do not care about our reading habits. We drop into them all of a sudden, immediately – someone speaks to us in various ways and about different things, sometimes concretely, and sometimes not. Language entangles and meanders, wanders through various registers, but it does not stop intriguing for a moment. Many beautiful sentences and even more rarely used words”. From among several critical analyses devoted to this collection, Sonia Nowacka’s one is particularly special. The critic stressed the important role of Anna Grzelewska’s disturbing photographs included in the book, which together with the poems create an intersemiotic space with a much richer message than one that could be provided only through words. Apart from this, these photographs brought out the “reistic circle” of the poet’s inspirations, being closely linked to what the poet said on the writing stimuluses coming from the daily life in one of her interviews. According to her, they are: “All those untypical, abnormal situations which happen every day. Objects – especially the ones, which – already as an adult – I am getting familiar with for the very first time. Guides – bees, naval ships, porcelain. Catalogues of exhibitions and exhibitions themselves. Family and social relations. Scribblings on the walls. Ladies from the library, car park men, flower sellers”. Sonia Nowacka places these observations and the accompanying notes in the feminist perspective: “Balancing on the edge of irony and absolute seriousness makes it possible for Malek to tackle more provocatively issues related to the cultural role of the woman in society, which she tries to place in various models – one opposite to the man, or one taking over his role. Owing to the unbroken suspension between the seriousness and mockery, the image and the poem, the book reopens the question concerning the creation of the autonomous space of the poem and manners in which its content is produced”.

        When asked about her further plans, the poet says that she has been working on another book of poetry tentatively entitled “R.ż.”, which is to document one (thirtieth) year of her life from four perspectives: personal, family, civic, and artistic.


By Karol Maliszewski


Translated by Anna Moroz-Darska