- Poland -
Adam Pluszka (b. 1976) – poet, author, film and literature critic. Author of few volumes of poems (z prawa z lewa, Zwroty, Trip, French love) and prose (Łapu capu, Flauta). In 2003 he was nominated to „Paszport POLITYKI” Prize, and in 2015 – for his collection of poems Zestaw do besztań – to Silesius Poetry Prize and Gdynia Literary Prize. Lives in Warsaw.
Adam Pluszka was born in Zabrze in 1976. He is a poet, prose writer and translator as well as a film and literary critic. He currently works as editor for the ‘Marginesy’ publishing house. In 1998 he received the Rafał Wojaczek Award and the Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński Award the following year, which resulted in the publication of his volume z prawa z lewa [From Right From Left]. Nominated by Henryk Bereza for the Polityka Passport Award. Winner of the Second Tychy Poetry Winter (2002), which led to the publication of the volume Zwroty.
Critics have described Pluszka’s poetic beginnings as ludic and in-group, while drawing attention to the wealth of detail concerning literary life in Silesia, and the facts and news from young literary circles evident in the poems. Pluszka often returned to memories of childhood in order to relive its rituals - school, class, neighbourhood friends, a stay at a summer camp, digressions on his granddad’s favourite foal, or fantasies on subjects suggested by sepia photographs. All these images have been juxtaposed against the shadow of deaths, funerals, and stately patriarchal deaths affirmed by family tradition. Illnesses, health centres, hospitals, and hospital visits celebrated with plum compote in a plastic bag. The lessons the hero learned through numerous wakes, and his participation in them, have not gone to waste. There is no lamentation in these poems but rather, apart from stoicism, mockery, rippling idiom, cheerfulness and emphasis on the ridiculousness of tragedy. Pluszka is incredible in his metaphysical fluency, in the lightness of a desperate individual able to mock poetry in general (life and death as a whole, and the fullest gamut of exultations imaginable) and its stuntman stance in particular. I have written about his earlier volumes, pointing to the paradigmatic nature of the figure behind those poems: “A 21st-century penman, slightly narcissistic (with the various combinations of mirrors evoked with coquettish self-consciousness), at times “voyeuristic” (in the perfectly captured dialectic of the relationship between the observer and the observed), a pastel-coloured cynic playing along the lines of ‘a good boy receives a shock and nothing happens to him and now he’s bravely penning this poem’. A touch of the author of descriptive and in-group lyrical verse, where an important role is played by generational flavours and argots, whether Silesian, literary-party, or now even literary-internet in character. At times a bard of the home and of the hallway: his hero is still a bachelor, more than one scenario of poetic events is set against the walls of a warm home, the walls of his own room where, at times, he feels unwanted, like a broken Furby.”
If in his debut book he seemed somewhat immersed in the Silesian tradition of realistic poetic reportage and was closer to Siwczyk, Melecki or Podgórnik, then in his second, Zwroty (in Polish: turns / phrases / forms of address), he comes across as a parodist who owes a great deal to the poetics of Wiedemann, Foks or Jaworski. The ambiguous title might be understood as “addressing the recipient”, with its many references to the aforementioned poetics or specific poems by the aforementioned authors. The title can also be explained in terms of “phrasemes”, as Pluszka’s poems are filled with living speech absorbingly intertwined within a given situation and endowed with all the benefits of its diverse fixed phrases. All the same, who knows if the most important thing is not just the direct manner used to address the many genuine figures, often well-known literary names, with whom the poet is familiar. The kaleidoscope of surnames, first names, nicknames and quotations all creates the atmosphere of a curious poetic bazaar, a kind of village fair of poetry, a folklore of in-group codes and mores. Pluszka’s poem may be spatially structured, based on the diversely employed stylistics of in-group jargon: deftly used fragments of others’ utterances overlap, giving way to a new context and interesting, albeit extremely general, semantic shades. All this is done under the slogan “All phrases are ours” and I just use them, stick them together and join them to create piquant, witty or derisive text collages. This results in poems which are kind of letters to friends and acquaintances, neighbours or family, which seem to be a well-conceived and sublime means of providing an answer to real life situations and conversations. This very private poetic practice goes hand in hand with the masterful use of the idioms of fashionable poetic speech and results in something of a mocking game, a parodic grand ice show. Here simultaneity is merely an expression of this strategy. Because the represented world is characterised by glimmer and an overabundance of themes, references and allusions. The hero, assaulted by information, gossip, news or reports, tries to focus his statements around permanent reference points. As I have already said, these are often events or incidents from peer literary life, and facts or experiences connected with poet friends. In some way this dictates his inner life, brings order to stylistic distraction and places him within the framework of a peer group.
Subsequent volumes give rise to themes connected with the gradual departure from the group: escape, journey, relocation or break-up. While the “dramatic poem” entitled “Siedem narzeczonych dla siódmego brata” [“Seven Brides for the Seventh Brother”] might have seemed a continuation of the “jest and mockery” strategy, then the volumes Trip (2005) and French Love (2006) signal a shift to other positions. Ludicity does not cease to be important but the carefree comicality is pushed to a further plane. The “game”, in the widest sense of the word, has begun to occupy an increasingly wide expanse of our present time and simultaneously to relate to the multiple varieties of language with which we describe it. Tomasz Charnas writes that French Love is “a palimpsest stripped of foreign texture” and the lyrical I in the poems “strives to experience metaphysics in a polemical amble through French incarnations of postmodernism, which is steeped in discursive thinking”.
After a break of several years writing prose and translating, Pluszka returned to poetry in 2014 with a new volume Zestaw do besztań [Scolding Kit] well received by critics and readers alike, and a year later was nominated for the Gdynia Literary Prize and the Wrocław Silesius Poetry Award.
translated by Magda Moran, Sean Moran
Love Gog, for he is good / Kochaj Goga, bo jest dobry
Auntie had a great big pot, and in it she kept air
by turns with soup and potatoes for the pigs. She also had
hens for eggs and chicken soup. Her husband kept pigeons, whose
necks he sometimes wrung to grill them – granny plucked, she had
the knack, many a quilt in the village was her handiwork
– on the barbecue. He’d say: “Cos I didn’t need them.”
Both of them had booming voices and the same fluffy down
on their faces. When auntie fell flat on her back
amid the geese and ducks and her feet stopped kicking,
they quickly buried her, and a second auntie appeared.
She has golden teeth, moving her lips she smelts them into golden
words. If not for the fact that they’re nice words, and she has
a kindly face, you might think she knows where it’s taking
us, from where there is no news. Or maybe that is why.Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (with thanks to Karolina Iwaszkiewicz)
Pickling gherkins / Przy kiszeniu ogórków
Now, as the gherkins marinate, I have a while
to myself. What was supposed to terminate
germinated long ago, it has buried itself. It could have been better,
it’s just as you might have guessed. Naturally.
Expectations fail to meet an ovation. While standing
at most you can kneel down in spirit.
Today I addressed my little girl. She’s big, she
understands more than she knows. I put drops in her
eyes (she suffers from exudates, it’s chronic
conjunctivitis), and sat her on my knees. She likes it,
though she simply can’t sit still, there’s too much going on:
“Once you learn to speak, my baby,
you’ll see there’s nothing to talk about. And once
you learn to listen, child, listen,
sometimes it hurts, especially with understanding.”
It was going to rain, it didn’t. Pectin sticks to
the windows. It might have been worse. It may be.Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (with thanks to Karolina Iwaszkiewicz)
A simple landscape when thoughts are like smoke / Prosty landszaft, kiedy myśli jak dym
The languid minutes drift across from boring
objects to some other boring
objects. A day of transition, when
there’s absolutely nothing going on.
A pause between yesterday’s ringing of the bells,
and tomorrow’s who knows what of what.
Silence pervades the empty room, a lazy
cigarette and some failed smoke rings, blown
through the nose today for a change.
A simple emotional landscape, a total lack of yearning
or desire for change. Stillness. Maybe tomorrow
something different will appear, maybe
the day after, maybe the day of transition will
continue, maybe Mum will come and say:
Adam, you have to go to work.
It’s true. Without work there are no platitudes.
The languid minutes like a washed out
water colour are veiling various things,
simple things. We all know which.Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (with thanks to Karolina Iwaszkiewicz)
Droplet of chocolate / Kadzie po czekoladzie
At the bus stop a lone woman puts her handbag to her mouth
and takes a long slug from a brown bottle neck. She doesn’t look
around, why should she. She glances at the murky sky. In a while
she screws on the cap, fondly puts the handbag on her knees, closes her eyes
and breathes in – my God – obscenely breathes in a mighty gasp
of air sticky with chocolate from the nearby factory.
A fag end in between the pavement slabs
smoulders on, just as the meagre hope still smoulders
that we’ll come out of it unharmed. I don’t know out of what,
I wasn’t at that lesson. The point is it’s still smouldering.
“In a year it’ll vanish for roughly a decade”.
The doctor leaned over my little girl and gently
smiled. “Please don’t be worried. She isn’t
going to lose her eye”. He looked at me, at her, at me.
He stroked her hair. “At least not for this reason”.Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (with thanks to Karolina Iwaszkiewicz)
My best friend / Mój przyjaciel
A genuine friend should be able to read in
my thoughts my selection of
extracts and contexts in order to
untie Gordias’s little knots.
And he should talk like a sort of Miłosz,
but less bombastically.
He should be virtuous, a small touch dissolute
and subtle, when the situation calls for it.
And on top of that he must be lifeless,
so he won’t demand any words
And he should be warm for hugging,
compacted and expanded.
exactly like me and totally different.© translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
It happened / Stało się
I’ve lived through as much as three first graders,
an equal baggage of experiences, an equal measure
of values, multiplied by three and a far more
cynical look at the very same playthings.
I’d like nothing to have changed,
so that I could meet this woman again,
just like in the movie, and squeeze her by the hand
firmly during the closing titles.
So that I could have textbook model
friends and non-existent enemies.
But most of all I’d like to live merely in order
to die in an armchair, quietly at night before
the TV set, holding my dead wife’s hand,
with the cigarette still smouldering.© translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Cheers / Cześć, cześć
Four years and five months on I ran into
a girlfriend, whom I’d effectively managed
to avoid until then – she lives a long way off.
If it weren’t for the glasses that she’d never worn
before, I wouldn’t have recognized her.
Courtesy slickly bedded down between us and the sort of
questions you answer without a second thought.
She scanned me as a daytime student looks at the poorly
earning evening students and inquired
what’s the news from my, so they say, artistic soul.
Just before Chorzów Batory she declared:
writing poetry is so unmanly.
I’ll never think of a better punchline.© translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Out of nowhere / Spod ziemi
There’s this fence along a certain street
and there’s rust, and dirt, and grass that’s gone brown,
and lots of cars spew exhaust fumes there;
between a church and a booth with a sign that says
ENLARGEMENT bindweed’s growing.
Today the elderly lady at the kiosk where
we usually buy our breakfast was wanting
a coca cola ice cream. She was disappointed,
she puffed – bending – over the low refrigerator.
Her voice trembled, her speckled hands quivered gently.
She took a Cactus. The ice had to be juicy.
On the church notice board a crumbling little note
about escorting our loved ones’ remains, an eternal offer
at the cobbler’s, two heels for the price of one.
Or maybe three for two, I can’t remember.
To someone it probably makes a difference.© translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
All hands on dreck / Wszystkie ręce na ochłap
So much life: from the small square below the windows
come shouts (the afternoon), screams (the evening),
and swearwords (at dusk). There’s music,
for finally someone across the way has set out their
speakers on the windowsill. There are dogs, and children,
their older siblings. Cars go roaring by,
brakes are squealing (“Stooooop, Angela!”).
A dog chimes in with the mother, a big one, judging by the timbre.
(“Heel, boy! You too, Angela”). This time
it’s over without a thump, a wail, and a siren. Maybe
one day soon – it cannot be prevented.
And here on our windowsill a broadcast is beginning:
pigeons fly down. The cats are watching. Quivering
of tails, chattering, and pricking up of ears.
Only the black flashes of swifts still cut across
something that’s impossible to touch.© translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Little golden flies above my uncle’s body / Złote muszki nad ciałem wujka
Short sharp deaths within four walls, four volleys
from a rifle, yellow bullets and white ones, orange too.
Naturally, made of plastic. Everything’s made of plastic.
And uncle’s only sleeping too, so better go on tiptoes.
And better not be scared, it’s simply sleep apnoea
and Pickwick syndrome. If he wakes up, he’ll have a bite to eat.
These deaths by three quarters, passing through
without an echo, without consequences. These deaths
are not infectious. You can lick yourself clean of them.
You just have to go outside, exit the room
immediately, leave the pellets be, not sniff the flowers.© translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
The depths of the season / Głębia sezonu
Here stood a wall, now the wind is blowing.
Listen. Silence so deep that you can hear it
bouncing off your ear. In your ears a bakelite
telephone rings, it’s them all right.
Once I used to live there, my buddies
used to live there, afterwards
they went away, they studied foreign tongues,
including ones that no one understands. Ones
you catch onto later, but there’s no one to
chat to. In the courtyard the trash bins
and dry flowerbeds put on airs. In our
window there’s a void. In the courtyard the echo
of a song rebounds from deep inside a cellar.
In our courtyard, when the sun is shining,
there stands a machine for making death.
The picture’s peeling, starting to flake. It’s good
to sweep it aside with the ashes. We each have the sort of Pompeii
we’ve made for ourselves to lie in.© translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Being and having / Byt i manie
A little bit of patience and gudgeons appear,
they’re going to nibble at my toes. Beside me the bushes
are chirping. On the bank a lizard crawls
under the stones (it’s small and brown). From the bank
a wind blows, the conversation carries from the footbridge.
In it there’s talk of world order: “If I
had six fingers on one hand then I’d
have to cut one off”. And the fish keep on nibbling away
as if it were all they’d ever done.© translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Choo choo / Ciu, ciu
Starlings flock into a ball and roll sonorously along a line of
trees. Above them seagulls wheel and airplanes, below them
pigeons fight for space. And down in the cellar, to
which you descend in your mother’s stilettos, ’cos it’s flooded,
’cos the water’s inches deep, ’cos they’re red,
the best of the best are picking the sprouts off potatoes,
cutting yard-long cigarettes into shorter ones from sackfuls
and sinking their teeth into candied pears that are shut in jars.
Amusements fit for many a courtyard. And they’re bickering.
While the second has gold, the first has foam escaping from his gob.
Well yes. There are things you never grow out of. Even if you don’t
know how much yeast, meat or butter to shovel down your throat.© translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Yesterday / Wczoraj
Once I was a child.
I didn’t know the things that I know now,
but I did know what is good;
I swam along on the surface and
it was so terribly shallow by the shore
that cannot now be seen.
You were sitting on the shore staring so hard
at your fingers.
Years will pass before you understand how
meaningful that silence was.© translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Nee-naw! / Ejo!
You don’t know if it’s a thunderstorm or a plastic bicycle
in unbelievable colours: red, yellow and black. It rumbles
on grey cobblestones.
You don’t know what he’s saying, because he screams to himself,
so how could you know his thoughts when he’s pedaling ahead at breakneck
speed and swallows the air. He screams: ‘Nee-naw! nee-naw!’
But not to you, all what is heard is a drone and rattle
(grass, sand, heat, a cross street)
from the edge of the pavement to the middle of the pavement.
He screams: ‘Nee-naw! nee-naw!’ He calls an ambulance and he is one.
Sudden silence. And he says: ‘Oh, it’s too late again, it’s already too late.
Good night, sir.’ And he drives away without the siren blaring.Translated by Karolina Iwaszkiewicz, Szymon Żuchowski and Adam Pluszka
Breathe, do not breathe / Oddychaj, nie oddychaj
There are only few things more dangerous
than children’s games. It’s a miracle or a blind chance
that most of us are still alive.
This one’s away, that one is dead, and those have gone astray
while their black-flowered handkerchief decayed to their dismay.
A droplet of blood. When I say ‘do not breathe,’
it doesn’t mean ‘draw the lungful of air.’
A cold stethoscope taps on the ribs,
the stiff smock arouses fear. It means ‘suddenly
Obey me, child. ‘Do not breathe.’Translated by Karolina Iwaszkiewicz, Szymon Żuchowski and Adam Pluszka
Quiet sleep / Cichy sen
From the other room a gentle rustling, do you hear? It’s your dream
creeping out from under the pillow. And it’s you, turning from side
to back right now. Outside the window some life goes on,
someone’s running, something’s driving, something is happening. Not our business.
From the room a gentle rustling again. Tonight you’re going to
dream an opera about Italian politics. There’s always something happening,
someone screams, runs away, falls down, and talks, talks, talks.
Look how everything’s swinging, it’s enough to whirl a little
and your labyrinth goes crazy, to jump for a while and neuron tails
get longer. It’s insanely easy.
It’s easier than a happy ending: the three mice
see how they run, sighted and with tails again.
Thirty seven point eight / Trzydzieści siedem i osiem
First snow and dry wind, leaves are chasing each other in the middle
of the street. Frost has nipped lush lawns. That’s what can be seen
through the window, it’s nice from the warm side of the aquarium;
the honey glow of the only street lamp, the nightlong
sunset. And the frost.
It’s better to see than to tell: on the wall
a black-and-orange shadow play
of carnivorous fishes torn out of paper
and athletic octopus tentacles, ghosts
of the birds, camels, small mammals; toys
for the moments of macabre.
Steely night. Frosting licked off a vitamin pill,
underneath bitter and not better.© translated by Karolina Iwaszkiewicz, Szymon Żuchowski and Adam Pluszka
24:59 / 24:59
Opposite to this place a blanket is heating up
with a pack wrapped in fur. Outside the window kites
are nose-diving. Behind us lives a dog. Not ours.
Behind us lives a dog that slobbers. Opposite to
this place corridors are mooning around and lead
to places we haven’t been dreaming about yet. Enter the
code – it’s the hour which doesn’t exist –
and the door will open by itself:
Treetops say who more, smudges above
them say the same. The kites – that there’s only
one way, the one from the string to plus finiteness.
There our whimpering buds will grow.© translated by Karolina Iwaszkiewicz, Szymon Żuchowski and Adam Pluszka