Jakobe Mansztajn

- Poland -

Jakobe Mansztajn (born 1982) – Polish poet and blogger. Creator of the blog Make Life Harder. Author of the book of poetry Wiedeński high life (Vienna high life, 2009), awarded the 2010 Silesius Wrocław Poetry Award for the “Debut of the Year” and also nominated for the Gdynia Literary Prize. Winner of the Gazeta Wyborcza competition Sztorm Roku 2010 in literature.  In 2010 a nominee for the City of Gdańsk Award for Young Artists. Between 2009-2012 he was assistant editor of the literary quarterly Korespondencja z ojcem (Correspondence with father). Initiator of the Zjednoczenie Czytelnicze initiative to promote Polish readership.  In December 2014 his second book Studium przypadku (Case Study, 2014) was published, for which he was nominated for the 2014 Splendor Gedanesis Award and the Wisława Szymborska Poetry Award.

He has been translated, among others, into English, German, French and Hebrew. He lives in Gdańsk.


Jakobe Mansztajn was born in 1982 and made his debut with the volume of poetry Vienna High Life in 2009, which was acclaimed by critics and won appreciation from many prize juries. He won the 2010 Wrocław Silesius Poetry Award, was nominated for the Gdynia Literary Prize and took third place in the All-Poland ‘Golden Point of Poetry’ Festival in 2010. He was a prize winner in Gazeta Wyborcza’s 2010 poll for the ‘Storm of the Year’ in literature. In 2010 Wiedeński high life [Vienna High Life] was nominated for the Young Artist Award of the City of Gdańsk.

His debut captivated readers and critics with its evocative image of the process of growing up and the clash between boyhood dreams and the conditions of adult life. The poet called the first part of the anthology “Friends from Immortality Backyard”. Firstly, there is a sensation of omnipotence and the certainty of immortality. It is under such banners that childhood passes. Although the laconic and dense ballads on childhood resound with anxiety, this is successfully stifled by the exciting adventures of the backyard gang. Playing with bottle caps or in a sandpit, powdered orangeade, a mythical tree in the centre of the backyard cosmos, making your way through branches to the other side. And in fact, it is only with our first funeral that we are truly faced with the ‘other side’. Here the tale of The Paul Street Boys is transformed into a mythical story. The oversensitive hero even reminds us of Nemecsek, who has survived and is now writing verse. It records the fate of a community. A disintegrating community. One which “came. legs akimbo before the entrance”, looks like death. It takes the boys one by one. They all deserve a story, recorded at lightning speed in a poem. For instance, the one who needs to be written about is the one whose “ubiquitous blood/seeps into the surface of the pavement”. It couldn’t have been otherwise since he has just jumped from the tenth floor.

This tale of backyard initiation grows colder and murkier. The mercilessly mocked dream of immortality (including the abdication of God) affects the manner of maturity. “Death is the master of our backyard” the hero could repeat after Dariusz Suska. It is not only death which causes the disintegration of the first community. In fact, only two characters remain faithful to the community - Siwy and Poet. It is they who relish the “Vienna high life” as they sit in front of the local kiosk. The others are absorbed with more serious matters such as making money and conformity. After outgrowing Nemecsek’s clothes, there comes a time for eschatological shock. Death becomes tangible and literal. The hero mourns the death of Marcin, which is reminiscent of the elegiac tone in some poems by Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn Dycki which mourn Leszek. Even the melody of the poem is similar: “you cannot satisfy things that consume the body of a boy”. The immortality of backyard rituals in conflict with funereal vigour gives rise to an interesting quality which awaits something like a coda. Part three, entitled “Pink Duracell Bunny” harmonises all the previous tones, and appears to be a synthesis of melancholy, sarcasm and gallows humour. After the lesson in darkness, one looks for the merest trace of light and makes a heroic attempt to “opt for happiness”. And it might also be the case that love has something to do with it. The hero is not totally convinced, knowing as he does that behind the lucid image of love there lurks longing and pain. However, he has nothing left but to incessantly ensure that “which hurts, the pebble caught/between toes in a shoe, still feels like some reward”.

December 2014 saw the publication of Mansztajn’s second book entitled Studium przypadku [Case Study]. To a certain degree it continues the themes from the debut volume and speaks of being torn between the spontaneity of youth and the need to live up to the obligations of adult life. At times this choice is put on a razor edge, with the theme of suicide obsessively developed by “shooting, as Inez Okólska claims, the second season of a series about a young suicide, where the centre of gravity is shifted towards the family of the deceased, his father and brother. How they felt, how they reacted, how they carried on living afterwards and what their life was like […]. So many viewpoints, so many possibilities and only one corpse. A poetic economics of death”.  On the other hand, Marcin Włodarski has drawn attention to the specific aura in the Gdańsk poet’s new poems, the irony underlying each statement and the toying with ostensible gravity and melancholy: “Mansztajn’s new volume of poetry is an ironic provocation, a tale floating in the fumes of the absurd, of suicide victims, death and hideous corpses crashing about amongst the living and peeping at us. The greatest strength of this book is precisely this light and ironic tone given to the macabre. In a world where everything has already been mocked and where the most absurd ideas are taken seriously,  Jakobe Mansztajn has come to the conclusion that the language of irony is the most appropriate one”. The author himself, in a conversation with Borys Kossakowski, stressed this saturation of each utterance with irony, that is so characteristic of our time: “I don’t know myself where irony begins with me. It seeps into your blood, language or sense of humour. I agree that my new book can be described as a funny macabre. The new poems are in fact laments but they take on the right weight only when they’re not served directly but with some grotesque or cabaret thrown in. They are paradoxically a lot sadder when they try to be funny”.

Mansztajn’s new poems have yet again moved critics and readers, with the volume Studium przypadku being nominated for the Splendor Gedanesis Award and the 2015 Wisława Szymborska Award. 


Karol Maliszewski

Translated by Magda Moran, Sean Moran