Urszula Honek

- Poland -

Urszula Honek (b. 1987) comes from Racławice near Gorlice. She is the author of three poetry books: Sporysz (Ergot, 2015), Pod wezwaniem (Dedicated to, 2018) and Zimowanie (Wintering, 2021) and a collection of short stories Białe noce (White nights, 2022). 


Her debut Sporysz got to the final of the K.I. Gałczyński Orfeusz Poetry Award (2016) and was shortlisted for the “Złoty Środek Poezji” National Literary Competition for the best book debut of 2015. Honek won the Grand Prix of the Rainer Maria Rilke Poetry Competition (2013), the Adam Włodek Award (2021) and the Stanisław Barańczak Award. In 2022, Zimowanie was shortlisted for the Gdynia Literary Award. 


Honek currently lives in Kraków. She loves dogs.

Urszula Honek (b. 1987) is a Polish poet and prose writer from Racławice who currently lives in Kraków. She is the author of three poetry books: Sporysz (Ergot, 2015), Pod wezwaniem (Dedicated to, 2018) and Zimowanie (Wintering, 2021) published by the Regional Public Library and Culture Animation Center (WBPiCAK) in Poznań. Often shortlisted for national poetry awards, she received many such distinctions. In 2013, Honek won the Grand Prix of the 9th Rainer Maria Rilke Poetry Competition. Her debut got to the final of the K.I. Gałczyński Orfeusz Poetry Award and was shortlisted for the “Złoty Środek Poezji” National Literary Competition. Her second poetry book gave her the Kraków Book of the Month award and another nomination for the Orfeusz Award. For her third volume, Honek received the Stanisław Barańczak Award-Scholarship (part of the Poznań Literary Award), her third Orfeusz Award nomination and a Gdynia Literary Award nomination. She held scholarships from the Maria Anna Siemieńska Grazella Foundation (2016) and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (2017). Honek also received the Kraków UNESCO City of Literature Prize (2020) and the Adam Włodek Prize (2021). In 2022, she made her prose debut with a collection of short stories, Białe noce (White nights, publ. by Wydawnictwo Czarne).


The ergot from Honek’s debut volume is a spore of a parasitic fungus that infects cereals. When milled with the grain and ingested, it can cause poisoning and/or hallucinations. The title already seems to suggest the nebulous, quasi-hallucinogenic atmosphere of the volume, as Paweł Kozioł wrote in his review. Despite steering clear of complex metaphors, there are times when the book seems obscure or – as Aleksandra Byrska noted in her interview with Honek – even hermetic. Sporysz is only seemingly easy to read, revealing its meanings through terminology related to the rural countryside, animals, old folk beliefs and rituals, as well as nature, which can be either deadly or life-giving (depending on the whim). Yet it is not just the vocabulary that creates meanings here, as it goes beyond broadly understood nature, enabling the readers to at least partially release themselves from the ergot’s influence and find comfort in what they know. Honek’s debut relies on a measure (described by Kozioł) of pushing what is known and clear into the background, of blurring it to highlight the very things that do not fit this blurred image. Apart from the poisonous fumes created by the author, readers are left with an immaterial fear, a sense of terror and uncertainty of further existence. In the volume, the latter concerns both humans and the animals accompanying them, often shown as equals.


Reviewers of Honek’s second volume agree that Pod wezwaniem further develops the author’s cruel, brutal vision of the world. It is portrayed using sparse phrases, with the stories mostly unfolding in the poet’s native village. Critics also highlighted the importance of role and mask lyrics for the author’s increasingly mature poetics. Using this poetic method enables the subject of Pod wezwaniem – as Stanisław Burkot writes – to not just narrate events, but also take part in them or witness them, entering the role of people of various sex, age and background, who react differently to their respective experiences. The role of women in Honek’s poetry also attracts considerable attention. According to Agata Pyzik, in this volume, it has the potential to produce feelings that range from terror to a hypnotising daze.


Urszula Honek’s third book, composed of extremely short, mostly one-line poems, is described in connection with the title “wintering”, understood as survival, waiting something out, gathering strength. Like in her previous books, the world created by the author is still full of death, which – as Wojciech Bonowicz writes – provokes a feeling of loss and absence, yet does not lead to a void that would be impossible to fill. To further quote the reviewer, each space left empty by a dead creature is subsequently populated by animals. In what is Honek’s last poetry book to date, the world is described as a place ultimately meant to serve each of the extremely diverse creatures inhabiting the Earth.


The author transposed her trademark literary voice to a recently published prose book, Białe noce, which met with considerable interest from the critics. The plot of Honek’s prose debut is created through individual stories, leaving room for the narratives of their human and animal protagonists. As Maciej Libich concluded, this book – like the previous ones – is accompanied by an obsession with death discovered by the protagonists from their earliest childhood. The critic also notes the ambiguous position of animals in Białe noce. Several reviews point out how Honek blurs the boundary between people and animals, but Libich introduces an important distinction, mentioned by the author herself. Namely, that the human–animals relationship will never be symmetrical.


Urszula Honek consciously and consistently broadens the image of nature, death and the periphery, with all their vital distinctions. She takes part in many festivals and literary endeavours. In the coming years, her public may expect further reading thrills from the poet.


Author: Weronika Janeczko

Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska