Małgorzata Lebda

Poland

Małgorzata Lebda (b.1985) grew up in Żelaźnikowa Wielka, a village in the Beskid Mountains. Ultra marathon runner, mountaineer and photographer, she holds a PhD in Literary Theory and Audiovisual Arts and works as an academic lecturer in Kraków. She has five volumes of poetry to her name. Matecznik (Queen Cells, 2016) has won the title of the Kraków Book of the Month, Stanisław Barańczak Fellowship (the Poznań Literary Award) and ‘Orpheus’, the Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński Prize. Sny uckermärkerów (Dreams of the Uckermärker, 2018) was shortlisted for the Silesius Prize and won the prestigious Gdynia Literary Prize in 2019. English translations of her poems have appeared in Past SimpleEnvoi and Poetry Wales.


Małgorzata Lebda was born in Nowy Sącz in 1985. She is a poet, photographer, ultramarathon runner and mountaineer, living and working (as an assistant professor at the University of Pedagogy) in Cracow. She spent her childhood in the village of Żeleźnikowa Wielka in the Beskid Mountains, to which she often refers in her poems. Małgorzata Lebda debuted with a book of poems entitled Otwarta na 77 stronie [Opened up on Page 77] (Kraków 2006), which remained utterly unnoticed by the critics. It was only several years later that the subsequent book, Tropy [Tracks] (Gniezno 2009), earned her their attention. At the time, I wrote: “In the sea of poetic fashions and manners, in the space of young poetry correctness, at last something different. To move, to draw in, to be about something and in favour of something – these are the intentions of the poet in building her tangible, credible world, following some footsteps and coming to the rescue, indicating the tracks left casually by our life”. Poems from this book also won over Józef Baran, who praised their true-to-life authenticity and truth, calling the author “one of the most interesting Polish poets of the young generation”. In his review, Wojciech Brzoska turned attention to the magical and mythical creation of space, combined with the child-like insight into the world.

Published four years later, Granica lasu [Border of the Forest] (Poznań 2013) inspired not only more reviews, but also first award shortlistings, including one for the Orpheus –Gałczyński Poetry Award and the Krystyna and Czesław Bednarczyk Poetry Award. Asked in a radio programme what the book is about, I said: “Of course it is about death. Just like all the others, it is about the loss of childhood and the leaving of the garden by the Father, and then by the other important dear ones. You are left on your own and you have to be able to live with this madness. You have to find words for it. How could we know that all the trees father grafted would ultimately bear noble fruit? I speak about it, because it is also my problem, because such literature interests me – its strongly hammered nails”. Published three years later, Matecznik [Queen Cell] (Poznań 2016) seems to be the crowning of the Cracow author’s attitude and poetics. Such was the conclusion of the jury of the Orpheus – Gałczyński Poetry Award, who granted the award to the poet in 2017. At that time, Lebda also received the Stanisław Barańczak stipend as a part of the Poznan Literary Award. 

The protagonist of the poems comprising the Queen Cell is a female dweller of a village, lingering in its mythical landscape and talking about life in this specifically seen space. The book is entitled Queen Cell, but it should probably be called King Cell – so intensely does it immerse in brooding on the father‘s being. I wanted to write – his former being – but it would be inconsistent with the spirit of the poems, which do everything they can to revive the dead father, and to make his being a thing of the present, so strong that it would not yield to the sense of loss. It has been long since anyone expressed love between the daughter and the father so beautifully and strongly, carefully suppressing banalities that can be uttered so easily. What takes place is a quiet work in blood – family blood, historical blood, but also biological, literal blood – painful memories are penetrated, remaining however within the boundaries of the decrees, without questioning the principles ruling nature. Everything happens naturally, from the father cutting himself on the hand (a penknife came in useful to take out the splinter) to his death, a quiet sleep on the bottom of the coffin (the penknife slipped in by his daughter came in useful again). This happens in compliance with the rhythm of nature, among other facts of this type pertaining to animal, plant and human beings. And this is the queen cell that marks Lebda’s poetry, queen cell understood as the whole of the cooperating, co-breathing things. There is no stepping beyond its order, its decrees. But the daughter may save her father in her memory at all the poetic cost – hence in the last poem, Queen Cell, she  r e a d s what her father left behind, she reads the dispersed book of his life, coming across in this mess upon her own, earlier book of poetry, which smells of Klubowe cigarettes, with some embarrassing traces of the fatherly reading still surviving on the paper. The father read the daughter… The awareness of this now becomes a part of her reading. But she discards the book – also as a source of misunderstanding, as the local priest, quoting something from it during the funeral mass, changes the message. He simply read (understood) it in his own way.

The poet devoted her subsequent book (Sny uckermärkerów [Dreams of the Uckermärkers], Poznań 2018, the 2019 GDYNIA Literary Award and shortlisted for the Silesius Poetry Award) to her sisters, their freedom associated with wildness and something definitely stepping beyond the Catholic cultural order. The latter does characterise what happens at Żeleźnikowa Wielka, but it seems to be only a suggestion of a certain correctness. What buzzes under the guise of this form is a pagan life structured according to mysterious, as if shamanic, girlish rituals. This is why every poem in this book contains in the title the word “close-up” – one really looks much closer, descends further down, not trusting the customary surface. We can see the sisters move away from the official church (“stuck up their (…) tongues at holy mary”), spontaneously erecting their own church based on a compassionate feeling of the pain of the killed animals. This perhaps can be the main reason behind their moving away from the official church, which in this sense (natural empathy) has become dead. According to the sisters, what takes place in it are liturgies of pride rather than compassion. The new church, one born between people and animals or plants, shall be founded on humility – and on the fear of what happens inside the hearts of the killed animals, in the heads of the uckermärkers lying about by the slaughterhouse. The question of the animals’ dreams is a question of the human being, the names of animals taken from people. The sisters’ special oversensitivity is related to the ever-present pain filling the forests, the meadows and the countryside – the animals’ terror that is not noticed on a daily basis. Opening up to it, taking it as one’s own – is a task some present-day female poets challenge themselves with, thus joining the “ecopoetic” perspective. The poet herself is conscious of the above, as she confessed when interviewed by Aleksandra Byrska and Piotr Jemioła: “the ecopoetics project and the related belief in the rescuing role of the imagination containing mindfulness and empathy, shaped with the help of literature, is particularly close to me”.