Krystyna Dąbrowska


Krystyna Dąbrowska (born in 1979) studied graphic art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She translates poetry from English (including the work of W.C. Williams, W.B. Yeats, Thomas Hardy and Thom Gunn) and writes radio plays. She has produced three collections of poetry, Biuro podróży (“Travel Agency” 2006), Białe krzesła (“White Chairs”, 2012) and Czas i przesłona (“Time and Aperture”, 2014), for the second of which she and Łukasz Jarosz were jointly awarded the Wisława Szymborska Prize. The same collection also prompted the jury at the Kościelski Foundation to award Dąbrowska their annual prize for emerging writers in 2013. In their justification for their decision they emphasized that here we have “poetry that is sensitive to ephemeral aspects of our everyday life and to intensely felt emotions, and that pinpoints everything about our existence that is left unsaid, passed over in silence, or involves an inexpressible search for its hidden meanings”.

Not without reason, the first key word in this poetry was podróż, meaning “travel” or “journey”. This poetry may owe a great deal to experiences brought back from journeys to Alexandria (in the footsteps of Constantine Cavafy), Spain, Cairo and Jerusalem. Most of the poems in both collections are the result of observations made while travelling, a talent for getting to the bottom of foreign situations, and a gift for yielding to their sibilant languages. This form of surrender is just the first step towards finding her own words, then syntax, and then to outline possible mediation between a static object and the images that are nervously flashing by. This is a rare example of an unshakable voice and of unswerving certainty about the nature of existence in the world and in language. And so it was from the start, “something more important was viewed through pictures”, as Piotr Matywiecki put it in his note on the cover of her first book – memory had light shone through it, in a search for meaningful places and situations. Like an ornithologist, Dąbrowska focuses her gaze on the “brood patch” of memory, and blows on “bare skin coated in feathers”. The reader of the first book was looking through a sketchpad: solids, patches, spots, refractions of light, and the texture of vibrations. What was it aiming to do? To describe amazement that all this is as it is; to shyly stress one’s presence in the mysterious space between waking and dreaming, between the world of the living and the world of the dead, between an arrangement of patches, sounds and shapes and the thought that is becoming clearer (thanks to the poem). To hang onto that thought; to stay like that in the corner of the picture – quite imperceptibly. “To steal a hair. To hear a pulse. / To touch a buckle, a button, to inhale warmth. / To run ahead, to be carried away / by people as they wait”. And the title poem cast poetry in the role of a “travel agency”, locating it at the crossroads of what may not be an entirely fictional service at all: its job was to pass on the voices, acting as a transmitter between the dead demanding to be heard and the living having dreams about them.


“When we travel on our own, it is not just the surrounding foreignness that we see in sharper focus, but also things that are close to us, our own everyday existence. The person disappears, but the roaming eye remains,” as Dąbrowska said in a radio interview with Dorota Gacek, going on to add: “And on a journey with another person the main thing we get to know is our companion. Who we are with becomes more important than where we are going.” A similar impression accompanies the reader of some of the poems in the second book too, and no longer just the feature described by the critic Krzysztof Lisowski as follows: “If we regard these poems as works of art, like paintings, it would be possible to arrange them in three or four thematic cycles: portraits of others, self portraits, still lives, and cold cityscapes (with a leitmotif of revolving doors, porters, and bars, which for the anonymous passer-by represent a substitute for home)”. For here we have everything all together, in a simultaneity that keeps on bursting forth. Phrases like Szymborska’s, perhaps Cavafy’s too (e.g. “So many points of view, yet I’m stuck at a dead point”), unite voices “asking for a poem” with an intimate need for historical, family, or amorous expression, “warmth with cold, faith with doubt”. A much more crucial tone appears of a yearning, formerly hidden but now finally fulfilled, to become complete in the presence of another, to be reflected in somebody else’s eyes. This moment brought true self-discovery, for which all the variously understood journeys and the sketches derived from them seem to be trial runs. From this breakthrough point Dąbrowska’s mature poems began to sing and became rhythmical, surrendering to a harmonious wave of non-intrusive rhymes and feet. As Matywiecki stated in his note on the first book’s cover, they no longer need “to sacrifice easy beauty in order to convey everyday situations”. They still photograph-and-create the world (there is a lasting illusion of non-stop reporting from various complicated trouble spots) with a passion for detail, but a tender shadow has been laid across the photographs, a previously unknown touch of warmth, a sense of physical intimacy, the manifold beauty of life and of ways to depict it. Thus it is not the manifesto of non-involvement – i.e. the poem “White Chairs”, instructing us what to do to make “everyday life in poetry” a temporary thing, “removable at any moment” – but the love poem “Relief” that offers the conceivable continuation of this intriguing poetry, still “curious to know where its own freedom will lead it”. In conclusion, to these words of Piotr Matywiecki’s we could add his latest comment from the book Myśli do słów (“Thoughts To Accompany Words”): “It is no accident that in talking about either of Dąbrowska’s collections one cannot help mentioning the simplest of simple literary forms, the elementary forms: description and storytelling. The profundity and vivacity of these poems relies on the fact that their author is able to energize her world from these particular basic attributes – from description and storytelling. These are the simplest and deepest virtues of genuine writing. They are the hardest to achieve. They restore one’s faith in literature.”


by Karol Maliszewski, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones