Krzysztof Siwczyk

Poland

Krzysztof Siwczyk was born in 1977. He read Cultural Studies at the University of Silesia in Katowice. He is a columnist and a reviewer, and has published two books of literary criticism. In 1999, he played the lead role in Lech Majewski’s feature film about the suicidal poet Rafał Wojaczek (nominated for the European Film Awards, Paris 2000). Other films he played in include Bluesmani (“Bluesmen”), the multi-generational project Czuję głód (“I Feel Hunger”) or Wydalony (“Expelled”) – a film based on motifs from Beckett, which Siwczyk co-produced with Adam Sikora and in which, again, he was the lead actor. Since 2000, he has been a member of the European Film Academy, Polish Writers’ Association and Pen Club.


Krzysztof Siwczyk was born in 1977. He read Cultural Studies at the University of Silesia in Katowice. He is a columnist and a reviewer, and has published two books of literary criticism. In 1999, he played the lead role in Lech Majewski’s feature film about the suicidal poet Rafał Wojaczek (nominated for the European Film Awards, Paris 2000). Other films he played in include Bluesmani (“Bluesmen”), the multi-generational project Czuję głód (“I Feel Hunger”) or Wydalony (“Expelled”) – a film based on motifs from Beckett, which Siwczyk co-produced with Adam Sikora and in which, again, he was the lead actor. Since 2000, he has been a member of the European Film Academy, Polish Writers’ Association and Pen Club.

 

Krzysztof Siwczyk is, above all else, a poet. His collection Dzikie dzieci (“Wild Children”, 1995) was awarded the “Czas Kultury” Prize and the Jacek Bierezin Prize for the year’s best debut poetry collection. It was Siwczyk’s attempt at writing a poetic novel in instalments about his childhood spent in a four-storeyed block of flats in Gliwice. Sandboxes, monkey bars, lawns full of dog shit, climbing onto carpet beating racks, falling on his testicles, the subsequent scars, asphalt football pitches and stairwells that smell “like an empty bottle of nail polish remover”. All this marked the poet’s childhood landscape, so painstakingly recreated, poem by poem. That “block-realism” catches our attention with particular facts and remarks, with precious reminiscences and metaphorical masterstrokes that offer a compelling view of an adolescent’s life under certain conditions: inside the experimental-socialist cages, the living space so severely rationed, ugly and ill-disposed towards human beings.

 

Siwczyk’s next volume, Emil i my  (“Emil and Us”), published in 1999, surprised both his readers and his critics. The poet abandoned the linguistic simplicity and the obsessive autobiographism which he described as youthful narcissism years later. He turned to an in-depth exploration of language, a move continued in his subsequent collections titled Dane dni (“Given Days”, 2001), Wiersze dla palących (“Poems for Smokers”, 2001), Zdania z treścią (“Sentences with Content”, 2003), W państwie środka (“In the Middle Country”, 2004). These collections mainly revolve around concepts such as barriers, borders, finite dimensions, or the nightmarish repetition of words, actions and gestures. The poet does not mince his words when he analyses everyday life from its “vexatious side”, highlighting nonsense, futility, emptiness and alienation. The predominant tone is that of a journalistic report, the coldness and dryness of the message from the front line, from the field of everyday battle for a particle of intimacy, for one’s own face. One hears a characteristic note of resistance, anger and irony in response to that peculiar formalisation of the image of life, or to the portrait of modern man who is subject to media manipulation. Though given, these data about days do not have to be taken at face value. We should persist in doubting, restraint and subtle criticism. Subtle, in the sense that it can use the resources of the “given” language while twisting, parodying and caricaturing it. The person depicted, the third one, is described as twitching and spasmatic, caught in the nervous mechanics of everyday forms or in “a dance around one’s axis with one’s slippers on”. Yet it might turn out in this context that, in fact, he is doing all he can to free himself from this oppression, and that his subtle act of sabotage begins with the language itself. Which is why Siwczyk seemed incomprehensible and hermetic to some after he had undergone his transformation; when he had boarded a language hitherto unknown to him only to discredit it from the inside. He is trying to express something that the language is not easily inclined to. Hence the programmed slips of the tongue, bizarre forms and grotesque phrases which are hard to follow, but which communicate rage and protest, mockery and games. The civilization of haste and appearances values simplicity and is not fond of the trouble makers who, like Siwczyk, demystify its apparent order.

 

In 2005, the volume List otwarty (“Open Letter”) appeared and established Siwczyk as the youngest post-war Polish poet to have published his collected poems. The book reinforced his position as a restless “formalist” of whom I once wrote that “he has travelled the way from a juvenile narcissism to a variety of essential practices”, carrying out a years-long experiment on himself and his form in the name of something more important than the desire to become a classic before thirty. This has been reaffirmed in his later collections: Centrum likwidacji szkód (“Claim Adjustment Centre”, 2008), Koncentrat (“Concentrate”, 2010), Gdzie indziej jest teraz (“Somewhere Else is Now”, 2011). Writing about Siwczyk’s volume Gody (“Mating”), published in 2012, the critic Marek Olszewski notes that “it reveals a critical, hard-hitting potential of his work. The poet pulls to pieces various kinds of ideologies, possibly the most repulsive of them being the patchwork of consumerism and religion. Ever excellent in his technique, he takes aim at the hollow religious idiom and sets a ravenous language against it. Under such pressure, clerical paraphernalia fall into confusion. Deprived of the signified, they resemble dirty, forlorn bus stops with blurred timetables”.

 

An even more radical attempt at diagnosing the crisis of poetic language was made in Siwczyk’s latest collection, the long poem Dokąd bądź (“Whichever way”, 2014). As the poet admitted in a radio talk, “there’s some of the sensual, confessional and anarchist poetics symptomatic of my early poems. But I didn’t give up on my formal experiments either. What I meant was a certain way of developing sentences which would mirror our way of thinking: non-linear, anecdotal, distracted”. The critic Piotr Kępiński even goes as far as to say: “I have no doubt that the book is a breakthrough. And not only for Siwczyk and his work. I have the impression that it might involve a specific segment of contemporary Polish poetry. Revaluation? I do not know. I would prefer not to abuse the term. However, what we are dealing with in this poem is an attempt to sum up, organise, evaluate, and to look anew not only at poetry but also at real life and the life in words. A poet who has already written quite a few books (and not just poetry books) now begins to browse through himself. A poet who has already received many significant awards now begins to notice other orders which had thus far remained tangential to his interests”.

 

The Jury of the Kościelski Prize reached a similar conclusion when they named Krzysztof Siwczyk this year’s winner. Justifying their decision, the jury pointed to “a new quality in the work of a poet of established literary merit, one recognized not only as the author of two decades’ worth of poetry collections and labeled as ‘the voice of the MTV generation’, but also as a literary critic, a cultural activist, a publisher, and even an actor”. They also praised the long poem Dokąd bądź for being an excellent testimony to the intensity of a poetic imagination, a mature project that spans the boundaries of literature and life.

 

by Karol Maliszewski, translated by Renata Senktas