Tomasz Bąk

Poland

Tomasz Bąk(b. 1991) is a poet living in Łódź. Even his very first poetry-writing attempts were recognised and nominated for the main award of the Jacek Berezin National Poetry Competition (15th edition in 2009, and 16th edition in 2010). In 2011, he was presented an award in the Klemens Janicki Poetry Competition for his collection of poems Kanada. A year later, the book received the SilesiusWrocław Poetry Award in the category “debut of the year”.


      When initially writing about Bąk’s debut, I discussed the issue of so-called “involvement”. It seemed to me that the poetry opens up a new chapter in this type of political expression, since it is filled with a fascination with the standard model and, simultaneously, its mocking repression, “breaking sneer”. One can see a struggle (or its appearances) between the being in the already banal forms and a deprecation of such being. The market – the incessant babble of transfers and transactions, with all the accompanying media chutzpah – becomes the symbol of one reality, while the protagonist creates the other reality himself by literally ripping it out with his claws from the elementary sensations of an adventurer as a part of the available freedom. All these tiny places, like Pilsko and Magurka, Mikuszowice, Kłodzko and Leszczyna are not just ornaments here, they are not featured solely as interesting sounds. Rather, they are bright signs of the possible choice, pieces of real land in the sea of illusion, true entries from a journal kept by a wanderer wandering through the mountain corners of southern Poland. Questions concerning the truth and the sense of reality keep moving him despite their apparent blurring and invalidation in the kaleidoscopic madness of words. They all boil down to a single thing: what keeps me (us)? One of the possible answers could “sound like the truth” – next to indignation one can increasingly feel a melting mood. What keeps us then, is something incalculably singular and intimate. And it is from such sources that doubt comes – doubt concerning the power of the generalisation of a lyrical gesture and the possibility of its real involvement. The new tone originates from this discord, fitting in this way into the “distortion”, the effect of a hesitation over whether it is worthwhile to give someone another slap on the face and whom this may be important for.

The answers provided in the poems from the second book (“[beep] Generation”, 2016)  seem to be already clear – slapping the “system” on the face again may be very important for the contemporary reader. When commenting the nomination of the book for the Wisława Szymborska Literary Award (2017), Mariusz Grzebalski said that “Tomasz Bąk writes poems which are not easy to grasp when using an accidental key of interpretation. That he remorselessly laughs at the economy, in particular capitalism, the language of the media, and community myths. And that he does it in an exceptionally intelligent and unpredictable way, using various registers of the Polish language – from youth slang and quotations from newspapers to academic jargon”.

For Karolina Felberg-Sendecka, the voice of this poet is the voice of a generation: “just freshly entering adulthood, the beepgeneration does not agree with the world in the form it has encountered, and in this it naturally refers to the attitude of the Beat Generation. However, the beep generation(...) is unable to express its own condition otherwise than in the language of negation, self-criticism and obscene abuse. As a result, with each word and gesture, the beep generationdeepens its alienation and thus excludes itself (deletes, censors itself) from the social space”. According to the literary critic, the poet has managed to express the feelings of his generation (those born in the 1990s and perhaps even late 1980s), which is currently settling accounts with their parents, school, culture, lifestyle and the “international capital”. Polish poetic tradition is also criticised – the leading figure in the book, with his vulgar and provocative alias, in some way refers to the personal symbol of the older type of poetry – Mr. Cogito. “Is the man-cunta distinct update of Mr. Cogito? Yes, he is. However, he is no longer the Herbertian persona struggling with the reality, but just a mask hiding, similarly to the nickname, a dwarfed human being (or maybe even a troll) embarrassed by his own (im)possibilities”. Paweł Kaczmarski wrote in a similar tone, calling Bąk “the poet of vulgarity”. Zuzanna Sala added: “However, it would be difficult to prove that he is – following Kopyt’s fashion – a poet of a fuck out. He finally presents us with the protagonists, who could get mad, but they favour the rope. There is more frustration than anger here, if we assume that anger is a drive of death directed externally, frustration being the same thing, but with the opposite direction”.

The poet’s latest book entitled Utylizacja. Pęta miast(2018) has already stirred much interest in readers and critics. The poems it contains are a sequence of further perverse and passionate tales on a disagreement with the unfair world.  

“We are again dealing – says Mariusz Grzebalski – with poetry which is not indifferent, which has many voices, which is excellent in the technical sense. What has changed is just one thing – the temperature of emotions it gives a voice to. They are as hot as they can be. Capital, economy, ownership, contemporary Poland, his home-city Łódź, and Tomaszów Mazowiecki, from which he comes, all get their share of criticism. These poems are brimming with disagreement with the current state of things, and sometimes with unhampered wrath. The poet’s love poems deserve separate attention – they are basically a farewell to love. They are almost lyrical, but in a rough, sometimes even brutal sort of way”.

        So far, the most enthusiastic words concerning the poet’s third book have been uttered by Paweł Kaczmarski, who described the collection as one produced by a genius – also because of the undertaken risk: the risk of making editorial and political matter a convincing poetic substance. “However, the poet handles the task admirably, very soon making it obvious that his poetry reads equally well on a short- and on a long-run, that he can submit large (in terms of the genre as well as topics) forms to such compositional discipline, which becomes interesting itself and is used for the generation of new meanings”. In this sense, the best achievement of the book would be related to the (at last!) successful and satisfied poetic “involvement”, an accurate and sharp description of the Polish (as well as global) present day. Utylizacja. Pęta miastis a tale of love, parting, and an attempt to come back; about a city which can suddenly make one depressed, and which is simultaneously full of literary potential; about a country which simply cannot be not ridiculed, but about which one cannot finally think without a certain tenderness (obviously, streaked with, if not paternalism, then irony). And all this is thrown against the background of daily life in late capitalism, with all its nonsense and with all its iron logic, with the tinfoil of quasi-luxuries and a very tangible brutality”.

 

Karol Maliszewski

 

Translated by Anna Moroz-Darska