Justyna Bargielska

- Poland -

Justyna Bargielska (1977) was born and lives in Warsaw. Poet and writer. Laureate of the Rainer Maria Rilke Poetry Competition (2001) and the Jacek Bierezina Special Award (2002). Has twice received the Gdynia Literary Award (2010 and 2011). Nominated for the Wisława Szymborska and Nike Awards.

Her debut was the volume "Dating sessions" (2003), on whose cover I wrote that we are dealing with an exceptional phenomenon: "I am captured by the artistry of her texts, the instinctive and light leaning towards an unknown side of the poem and of the world". It is with great mastery that she revealed the emptiness hidden behind the label "feminine poetry" and in a very unfeminine and unconventional way, she showed what it means today when a poem is written by a young woman. If in the first volume she still made attempts to avoid disappointing conventions and to make sure there was no upsetting of the senses, unhinging of the faculties of judgment, smashing of the hierarchy of the importance of observations, reflections and rules, in the second, "China shipping" (2005), she allowed herself more. Critic Anna Kałuża says: "Bargielska is undoubtedly looking for a language of proper nouns, a language that is eccentric in its capability of naming the only one, only one way, once. Her curiosity of different words, an exceptional collector’s passion, seems endless. She does not allow herself to go with the flow, but instead ties her poems with the rigor of repetition, subjects her vocabulary to limited choices, and the entire collage-like world remains under her thumb. The energy of the word, the flickering of what we see and what we understand, the hallucinatory metamorphoses of images make “China shipping” a great read. It offers us significantly more than the desert-like reality is capable of: practically everything."


Interest in her work grew with the issue of the Dwa fiaty ["Two Fiats"] (2009) collection as well as her book of prose, Obsoletki (2010). Piotr Śliwiński, chairman of the Gdynia Literary Award jury said, "Bargielska, a naturally original poet, has a good chance at becoming popular without any effort. It would be wonderful if acknowledging her went hand in hand with her readership, and then if the readership of her poems went hand in hand with the readership of poetry in general." Critics emphasized her immersion in the daily life search for exotic, witty language, as if the poet did everything possible to push to the background, to reduce to a pathetic or laughable minimum, the banal that gushes from all manner of media, by using conventional reflection and emotion. Thus two worlds emerge: so-called realness, apparently universally comprehensible, and so-called contemporary poetry (i.e. a language strained to the limits), apparently universally incomprehensible. In the middle of this stylized chaos, going in circles, is a young woman who is equally dedicated to cooking, motherhood and her family as she is to poetic syntax, sublime metaphor and untamed imagination. According to poet and critic Agnieszka Wolny-Hamakło, "the tensions in the new poems of Justyna Bargielska result not only from a disturbed, fractured syntax, which disrupts our linguistic routines. It is also the dissonance in the world of children’s stories, a different (childish? surreal?) way of perceiving reality and grim images – stripped stubble, a coarse hand, a grave – all lined with death". The author’s prose however was a continuation of poetry, it surprised us with an unusual capturing of life as was happening, to the rhythm of games with form, the subject, language, the psychology of creation, but also with the world, conventionalized similarly to literature. A world of specified social roles and predictable behaviours, a world that is unbearably ritualized. She writes almost effortlessly about the biggest problems people have: being with each other, being a woman, a wife, a mother, being a family, etc. and finally, just being at all. We are having great fun together with the author in the haze of the linguistic absurd, we are having fun with this not-adhering of language to the most sacred problems and taboos (a woman’s body, menstruation, birth, breastfeeding, sexuality), this vision of interpersonal relations, responsibilities and rituals amuses us, we are enjoying the spoiled, laidback language, but of course we know very well that beneath the surface the game is serious, demands reflection and gives food for thought on humanity, on forms of being as units or as part of a herd. The most important issue of this narrative, aside from the mockery of the convention of life and writing, is the ephemerality of existence and the careless and random suspension between life and death.


In subsequent years she published the volume Bach for my baby (2012) and a retrospective collection called Szybko przez wszystko ["Quickly through everything"] (2013) as well as another work of prose called Małe lisy ["Small foxes"] with which she ascertained her position in the young literature market. Critic Justyna Sobolewska has this to say about Bach for my baby: "In her new volume, Bargielska creates a distinct language of love as loss. The flames here are firing up not only the queen; all of these poems, which are exceptionally suggestive, entire verses remain in our memory. Despite a sharpness and ruthlessness, an understanding embraces all those who’ve suffered in love: The signs tell me: poor her, poor him, poor everyone". Poet Radosław Kobierski turned our attention to the mysteriousness of the title, which "on the one hand refers us to a Bach album released five years earlier under the same name (one of the biggest Polish chain stores markets the album as created especially for children) and to the child; on the other it emphasizes the word baby used colloquially to designate an adult. The musical clue seems significant, in the end compositions have their own rhythm, like a unique heartbeat".


The poet’s latest book is called Nudelman (2014) and it contains dark and upsetting poetry, far from the old playfulness and lightness. The publisher (Biuro Literackie), in an advertisement for the book on its website, makes the following statement: "In her book, Bargielska takes on a new, stronger, at times brutal yet still poetic story. She reminds us that man is not invincible but rather breakable. And nothing gives comfort, not God, not religion, not sex, not another person. The world is actually a hostile place and so are other people. There is not consolation, there is death."


by Karol Maliszewski, translated by Zuzanna Ananiew