Julia Fiedorczuk


Julia Fiedorczuk (b. 1975) is a poet associated with the ecological and biologistic trend in contemporary Polish literature. Julia herself defines her poetry as a turn towards the non-human, the bodily, the materialistic. She developed this thought further in one of her interviews: “What I find ideal is poetry striking a conversation with other disciplines of science (such as biology), poetry, which is hospitable – open to a broad range of beings and emotions, while simultaneously humble, weighing words. Therefore, my masters include not only (numerous!) poets, but also scientists, because they, too, have to look at the world as if they are seeing it for the very first time”. For her debut Listopad nad Narwią (November on the Narew, 2000), the poet was awarded the prize of the Polish Society of Book Publishers. Poems from her book “Bio” (2004), which were also published in German in the manuskripte journal, won her the Austrian Hubert Burda prize (2005).

Psalms – her latest poetry book published in 2017 – speak up for those people who are excluded, but also for the plants, animals, and landscapes. They perform the work of mourning for those who died during the last events of the creeping global war, but also for those species and ecosystems that have become irrevocably lost. Just like the Psalms of David, these are poems sometimes written from the depths of the abyss, in a situation which often seems to be hopeless, and yet they celebrate life in all its dimensions and are full of gratitude. Psalms attempt to put together the Biblical poetics with the languages of our own times (academic language, the jargon of the mass media, and the Internet) and to recover, to renew the meanings of the basic words, following the author’s belief that the current crisis (political, economic, but above all the ecological one) is closely related to the crisis of language.

Along with the poems, the poetry book “Bio” also contains photographs. They show slightly unreal female bodies. Such a body can also be “seen” in some of Julia’s poems – it is transparent and calls itself *negligible/marginal, changeable, and relative. But we are not dealing with biological literality, I would rather define it as magical biologicity. The magic of the body as a part of the chain of secret transformations shines through the poem Fotosynteza (Photosynthesis). The chain of symbolic metamorphoses induced by a sun ray produces the awareness of ceaseless transformations. It gives birth to a woman, a subject talking about its earlier incarnations, about the deep memory of the body determining the perception of the world. To give birth, to be born, to undergo transformations; finally, to clothe the naked body and to reach out, in some form, to the world to tell the story of its past incarnations.

Julia’s subsequent poetry books brought about the development of her biologistic vision of the world, enriched with feminist notes, and additionally, starting with the collection Tlen (Oxygen, 2009) supplemented with – as one of the critics put it – “romantic philosophy understood in a postmodern manner (...), a vision limited to the earthly world which the poet extended to include cosmic landscapes, parallel worlds shown in macro– and micro-optics”. It was slightly earlier, in 2006, that Julia published her book Planeta rzeczy zagubionych (The Planet of Lost Things). The collection tuż-tuż (*close-close/near-near/almost there) published in 2012 is her last book.

Julia Fiedorczuk is also a prose writer, a translator, and a lecturer of American literature. She has translated a collection of John Ashbery’s essays Other Traditions, as well as texts by Wallace Stevens, Forrest Gander, and Laurie Anderson. She has published two books of selected works by Laura (Riding) Jackson. Julia participated too in international literary festivals, and the project Metropoetica: Women Writing Cities. She holds a post-doctoral degree, and works as an associated professor in the department of English studies at the University of Warsaw. Her academic interests include 20th century American poetry, literary theory, ecocriticism, and feminism. She has published the following books in the above area: Złożoność nie jest zbrodnią. Szkice o amerykańskiej poezji modernistycznej i postmodernistycznej (Complexity is not a Problem. Sketches on American Modernist and Postmodern Poetry), Ekopoetyka (Ecopoetics; together with Gerardo Beltrán), and Cyborg w ogrodzie (A Cyborg in the Garden). Julia is a member of ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment) and the editorial board of the ecocritical imprint Lexington Books (Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group). She was nominated for the literary award Nike 2016 for her novel Nieważkość (Weightlessness). Apart from this book, her prose includes Poranek Marii i inne opowiadania (Maria’s Morning and other Stories), Biała Ofelia (White Ophelia, 2011) and Bliskie kraje (Close Countries, 2016).

When analysing the poetry book Oxygen, Jarosław Borowiec turned his attention to the following words: “I put on mascara/ take off my clothes/ put my arms around a man's back/ I collect images of angels/ and lines from poems about love or death/ I search for people who can talk to hedgehogs”. The critic perceives them as a certain synthesis of the lyrics: “Firstly, [they show] the tender female look at the world – a look which is both seductive, and permeated with the awareness of the passing of time, when [the woman] is witnessing the growing up of her own child. Secondly, along with death and loss, [they contain] love and happiness. Ecclesiastes meeting the narrator of the Song of Songs. Thirdly, [there is] the careful listening to the voices of the world, which is told to us not only in the tongues of men and of angels, but also in the language of biology and nature. In these poems, one can hear the rhythm of submarine lands, the music of the cosmos, the rush of blood, and the tune of breath. They contain many open and hidden references to other poets, song lyrics, the language of mass media. These are poems about the inexpressiveness of feelings, an attempt at the understanding of the unending process of dying and return of life, a journey through the land of dreams, borders of language and experience”.

However, I was struck by another fragment of the same book. To me, it seems like the gist of this worldview and style, a combination of the feeling of solidarity with nature and the simultaneous sense of threat, the foreboding of a disaster, and the care of the human beings, of their unstable and unclear place in the chain of beings: “before the day when the sky's dark screen will be furled/ the stars shaken down like burning embers/ I wanted to write/ about ants, hedgehogs, about mushroom spawn/ before the day when the sky's dark screen will be furled/ the stars shaken down like burning embers/ I want to dedicate to you/ (whoever you are/ wherever you dream)/ all the lights/ of nighttime/ and of the city”. The following statement of the poet from an interview with her, greatly corresponds to the above words, and can be considered a punch line of this text: “Necessarily, there comes a question concerning the possibility of the presentation of reality, including the non-human one, with the help of language. Taking into account the utterly catastrophic condition of the natural environment all over the world, the questions asked by ecocriticism are very significant. Can literary texts, and in particular poetic ones, help us develop a better, more real attitude towards the non-human? Can poetry broaden and deepen our imagination in such a way that our ethical reflection is able to cover not only ourselves, but also other creatures, and finally also landscapes, and the Earth itself? After all, poetry originates from primitive rituals, words are not a private property of the poets, and it is the intuition concerning the transformative power of words which lies at the sources of poetry. For me, this relationship between aesthetics and ethics is the key issue. The condition of the world is very poor, and many thinkers believe that the blind obstinacy with which people destroy the Earth testifies to a great crisis of the imagination. I am not able to ignore this problem, when writing or thinking about writing”.

By Karol Maliszewski