- 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
She counts on sex / Ona liczy na seks
The Church persists that corpses be buried
explaining that Christ himself wanted to be
buried. Sure, I was going to
be resurrected, and not be reborn
from ashes like a phoenix, says Christ,
but it doesn’t mean that others can’t
be reborn from ashes like a phoenix,
says Christ and He’s really
pissed off at this stupid Church.
Like a phoenix. In four hours
I’ll see you, whatever
happens, I’ll see you
in three hours.© translated by Katarzyna Szuster
About a girl who’ll burn in hell / O dziewczynie, która spłonie w piekle
In the wonderment part of our program
a girl capable of the greatest cruelty,
of tarring a dog, of sleeping with three
boys at the same time, including one in her head,
is burning in hell.
When you’re pressing the button, please, remember
that no one has ever loved you as much as I have
and no one wanted to be free in your presence as much
as I did. I simply had
my limitations.© translated by Katarzyna Szuster
It’s none of these sweet watermelons / To nie jest żaden z tych słodkich arbuzów
That’s him. That isn’t. Can you see that woman?
I see her, too, but from within. You, Agfa, who loves scarlet,
look with me at that woman whom I see from within
while I slowly get used to the thought that there aren’t many women
like that and with another thought, quite similar, that there are millions of women like that.
Look at me, Agfa, while I can still turn around
without having to be better than the previous me, because it’s always
me, because he wouldn’t touch anyone who weren't me,
in this, past and future life. Actually, I think
that I gave birth to him, Agfa, I actually think that I could have.© translated by Katarzyna Szuster
An adventure / Przygoda
Was the Big Bang only about sex? A generic
mistake, a tremor due to other tremors? Oh,
captain, you wouldn’t like to swim in the scalding
basin of this poem, and having entered
its harbor, you wouldn’t go to bed with any
girl lurking for you in its slimy
alleys. Let the choir confirm
the energetic audit: here a clock
has no hands. A snake has a hand
instead of a head, but it curls up into a ball.
Girls of fatal proportions
throw these balls from heights into the night.© translated by Katarzyna Szuster
A project to change all the photo frames / Projekt wymiany ramek we wszystkich obrazkach
On a long summer day lawnmowers can work from dusk to dawn.
You can wake up and fall asleep to their whirr,
to the story you don’t understand, but one day you'll have to
face that phenomenon. And then, farewell, marvelous world,
where anise candy is lascivious simply due to its content
of the letter s.
Since then, you’ve carried your ration yourself, without taking turns, for with whom.
You see butterflies or rainbows appearing out of the blue
for what they really are – harbingers of a sudden death,
yours or your kind's for many generations on all possible sides.© translated by Katarzyna Szuster
In a word / Jednym słowem
I’m asking, have they sent off that goddamn corpse,
or not. They write me that they have,
the delay might have been due to the weather
and that I should drop them a line next Wednesday
whether I was going to complain or if I wanted another corpse instead.
I don’t really know, I have time till Wednesday
to think this over. A worm betrayed another worm
and now it writhes, both in dreams, and everywhere.
Whereas in the light from the school’s library windows
it seems that my child’s turned into stone
and it says: don’t cry, woman, if I’m not crying.
Come on, close up, nothin’ to see here, nothin’ to see.© translated by Katarzyna Szuster
A beautiful milleress / Piękna młynarka
Yesterday I was walking across the desert,
already in the dark, and something
growled at me quietly. A sensation
not just any, of warmth, M.
The fear like from an old book: she’s afraid that she can become a panther
and she’s not turned on by it at all, because what does a panther do? Can a panther
not close her mouth for a picture, can she go to bed in her new shoes?
When a panther looks at bread, it goes stale, that’s her gift.
A milleress also has a cool gift, to reanimate meat.
But she’d like to have one thing from a panther: when someone comes and says
a train that exists only on schedule has just left, she'd like to be able
to say oh, has it? and not try to eat the sun to stop it from setting.© translated by Katarzyna Szuster
A coffee with an imprinter / Kawa z imprinterką
So you've been nowhere? I have,
but not nowhere. It could've been Abkhazia,
the land of first letters, where men
lay railways at night, upwind, and then
they're surprised. In map cases they keep a photo of that
pink with blue pin-up girl,
other sacred pictures they set against the walls.
They throw stones at pigeons, angry
that a pigeon swings and soars, and then gets
over it as if nothing happened, not worried
that it won't like itself any more.
They're set shallowly in skin, then more deeply
in canvas and in the end that pin-up
shows up anyway, flicks off and there's no trace.© translated by Katarzyna Szuster
A series of minor wounds / Seria drobnych okaleczeń
A girl disappears in the underpass
escaping a man who cries after her.
When my earthly life comes to an end, she thinks,
I'll go to Italy and while away my days
squabbling with neighbours across the balcony, until then
I need to think small, I need to think: Alexandria,
a light seeped through lemon essence.
I said it once aloud on the bus.
Do they have caskets there big enough to fit
a bus and the rest of Greek lacrimosa jars? And the hawthorn
smelled beautiful. How finely do you have to crush me
to get the dye you're after?© translated by Katarzyna Szuster
Salt with Fire / Sól i ogień
Do you know how you feel? Some discs
get recorded louder than other discs,
that's just how it is, but can you hear your voice?
I can't hear mine though I can hear yours.
Unless I'm at the bottom of an ocean. But not one of today's
just the one my son talks of sadly, pointing
to the school playground – once
all this was water, those stupid continents
divided it. Then he says, Mama
do you remember when we didn't need eyes?
Little man, how could I forget,
of the thousand adventures of my immortal soul
that was the best.© translated by Maria Jastrzebska (Poetry Wales, Winter 2015, 50.3)
The dog's eating your hat / Pies ci je kapelusz
Honestly? I think you don't know what yearning is.
Has your daughter ever told you
fifty three times in a row that the dog's eating your hat?
Let it, I said. I don't know if it was even once. Your emails
aren't emails, they're caresses. Tonight I'll go to sleep with you,
the email says to me. No, email, tonight you'll go to sleep with your wife,
and I'll go to sleep with my husband. Nevertheless no later than tomorrow
I plan to rid the world of all vessels,
those for drinking, peeing in, storing loved ones' ashes,
for collecting our Saviour's blood, and I will be the last
vessel in the world. And, let's be clear,
our Saviour's blood and I, only we two know
what yearning is.© translated by Maria Jastrzębska
Cotton field / Pole bawełny
It must have been the day of Corpus Christi. An older woman
dragged a shapely girl with Down's behind her: little girl, my little girl
when I die, what will become of you? But I couldn't,
older woman, promise you that we won't eat her, I don't exactly know
the habits of my kind, not exactly enough.
I often see us stopping on street corners,
we take out pictures from our wallets of buildings covered with golden domes
to show each other, men and women,
young and old, but whether from longing or as threats, I don't know.
It must have been that day, along the tracks
or at the edge of the park that a man in a brown jacket was walking,
he carried a football table, tiny heads upside down
and there's nothing I can do about it, but the sun was tilting to the west.© translated by Maria Jastrzębska
Different Rose / Inna róża
I gave birth to an incredibly beautiful daughter, her teeth,
her hair as though from the Song of Songs. And I
felt beautiful myself, thank you. Whereas she -
that's a completely different beauty,
that's beauty I want to protect.
If I had some sort of beauty I'd blush,
anyhow I probably do have some, guys
wouldn't chase after me as much if I didn't,
but I don't like my beauty, because guys
chase after it. My daughter's beauty, so I believe,
is the only hope
for this world.© translated by Maria Jastrzębska
Belated Novena to Saint Rita / Spóźniona nowenna do świętej Rity
I really didn't want to die then.
I'd only just learnt to fold
my hands in prayer as though
I held something in them, only just
learnt to negotiate.
With charm. Even standing waist deep
in a sea of flames. I learnt to negotiate
everything, describing it with adjectives
which sound good translated into English.
I folded my hands in prayer
as though I was hiding something more than stone
and I liked this trick.
This image looked like a triptich
but it wouldn't close.
I thought it was a bunch of chrysanthemums
but it was a child's head.
I thought it was a garden parasol
but it was the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
If I'd prayed the way you're supposed to,
with my hands in the air, I'd still be alive.© translated by Maria Jastrzębska
Tenement / Kamienica
I'm annoyed by the windows in the house on the opposite shore
of the foaming street below. For hours on end I peek
into what's cooking at my neighbours', as they boil the tiny hearts
of sparrows – that's what dad called chitterlings when we were kids,
in other words when cats vanished and returned
with the next phase of the moon, ears torn. Not to me
anymore now – the windows on the ground floor
what a bordello, fliers of women in the letterbox, as grown up as I
could never be, even if I went on my knees
over broken glass from kitchen to bedroom.
Upstairs a man with a dog's muzzle, or maybe
a dog with a human face, I never know, lowers down
a glass eye on his fishing rod and peeps at the women below.
I'm annoyed by their windows. They've gone over the top
with this life, as though they didn't know, you don't need to at all.© translated by Maria Jastrzębska
Two mirrors, one of which magnifies / Dwa lusterka, w tym jedno powiększające
Fire-queen writes a letter: run, people, cars.
I think I know best what I find degrading.
If I killed our children and drove with them round town
I’d find that degrading. If I did what I do
to get by as a fashion statement I’d find that
degrading. The correct equation never threatens love.
The correct equation in which faith
can be substituted without any loss for longing – a language
in which I could have been so painlessly saved
which you were supposed to invent for me, but didn’t –
I’d find that degrading.
I’m not enclosing hugs, I don’t send kisses, I wage
war on all fronts. Write back to me asap.© translated by Maria Jastrzebska (Modern Poetry in Translation, No. 3 2013)
To Chloris / Do Chloris
If it’s true, Chloris, that you love me
then forgive me but I have no idea what to do
about issues like world hunger
or the Pope not allowing Blacks to use
condoms, the screen shutting down
and by shutting down revealing it’s no door.
About photographers who kill themselves
over photographs they’ve taken.
Though the light was amazing, they kill themselves.
If it’s true, Chloris, that you love me
then I don’t even know what to do with this sea
which by parting swallows unruly dogs,
unplanned children, ships and their captains,
cities, countries, worlds. I swim in this sea
as long as I swim towards you, Chloris. If
you love me tell me what to do
once I realise I’m swimming but I no longer love you.© translated by Maria Jastrzebska (Modern Poetry in Translation, No. 3 2013)
A Woman Announces Their Master’s Death to the Bees and Ties a Black Ribbon Round the Hive / Kobieta obwieszcza pszczołom śmierć pana domu i zakłada czarną wstążkę na ulu
It’s incredible what one burst pipe could do.
It’s incredible what one man and one woman could do.
The doors close behind the waiter, but they close behind you
just like all doors closing.
I’ve grieved with the bees over our parting
now I will try to enjoy what occurs before it
right up to the moment when I no longer know
what to do with the time I have left
and so I go to sleep and someone stands over me saying:
snakes sleep like this, curled in a ball like kittens or small children,
see, for this is the position in which you’re taken to heaven.© translated by Maria Jastrzebska (Modern Poetry in Translation, No. 3 2013)