Travelling in space

Aleksandra Urbańczyk: Before we talk about your work and activity, I would like to ask you about your definition of an artist.
Małgorzata Południak: In contemporary art, definitions are an illusion. Perhaps being an artist is also an illusion. And seriously, I do not know anything about definitions. However, it seems to me that being an individualist, someone who does not change their views, wherever the wind blows from, gives me a sense of distinctness. Distinctness could be a starting point for being an artist. In creation, the artist is alone. Him and his work. The rest are ornaments, ego-feeding, pretending. Art comes from reluctance, from obsession, from loss. R.G. Collingwood, in his book The Principles of Art, explains the difference between art and craftsmanship. Of course, philosophy is only a medium for statements and proving theories.
Thanks to the fact that each one of us fulfills his or her function in life, we simply have a job and decide what is important to us and what is not. I once took everything very personally and analysed it thoroughly, because I am The Highly Sensitive Person (I like the uncomplicated multiplicity of expressions of emotionality in English). Today, I don't think about it anymore as a rebel, I simply allow myself to be. I am filled with doubts, so I read what people connected with art have to say. Collingwood wrote that "the beginning of creation of a poem is the poet's experience, requiring poetic expression. However, it is false to regard an unwritten poem as an objective, and the poet's technique as means. It would suggest that the poet, before writing a poem, already knows what it is supposed to look like, just as the carpenter knows what the table he intends to make will look like. This is always the case with a craftsman. This also applies to artists whose artwork is also a work of craftsmanship. However, this is absolutely not the case of those artists whose work is not craftsmanship, such as poets improvising their stanzas, sculptors playing with clay, etc. In such cases (which are nevertheless examples of art, albeit on a modest level), the artist does not know what experience is demanding an expression, until it has been expressed. What they would like to say is not an objective, for which adequate medium needs to be found. It becomes clear only when the poem takes shape in their mind or clay under their fingers”. That is why there are so many craftsmen around us, not artists. When a person is completely alone and is able to express this desire resulting from an obsession, then, in my opinion, the creative process begins. I think that by rejecting everything we have learned in life, we are able to understand the essence of art and to be an artist.

In your definition of an artist, you used the word "distinctness". We understand it as "individualism, independence, personality, style, exceptional character". Of course, you have these attributes (in a sense, poets are also the "odd numbers"). But at the same time, when one wants to describe your activity, the word "distinctness" does not necessarily seem appropriate. “Distinctness" also means elitism. In general, it is believed that the artist's profession entails the need to isolate and “to endure solitary creative torment". Such an image does not suit you at all. You are not a solitary artist. On the contrary, you are a culture animator, a poet, a columnist, an editor-in-chief of an artistic and literary magazine. You search for artists, you engage in dialogue with them, you participate in vernissages (sometimes on-line), you share the work of others. A lot of artists lock themselves up in their “distinctness", but not you. And I do not only mean interpersonal contacts, but also your creativity and inspiration. Obviously, you need to be in touch with other artists. You once said that the artists need to observe each other....
I am not a culture animator. Someone once wrote it about me, but I don't feel it that way. It is possible that, when looking at my activities, a large number of which actually concern various kinds of actions connected with art, they can be seen as such - as a kind of culture animation activities, and yet, I do not identify myself with a group of people involved in culture animation in a professional way, working in community centers, in foundations and, therefore, performing all these activities within the predefined framework, in accordance with the approved plan. I feel a certain distinctness, freedom. Let us be clear in this definition.
Enduring solitary creative torment - I think it is a stereotype. I am a friend of many artists and none of them creates in pain. That is a misunderstanding. Perhaps it's a joke that suits the way many people think. I talk about emotions, pleasure and satisfaction, I don't feel anguish. I guarantee that my close ones, who create, find many expressions to call the emotions from which the creative process begins, but there is not a bit of pain. It is possible that somebody suffers from back or elbow ache, then alright, that is a true torment at the time of creation, but it results from a different cause, the physical pain. Anyway, loneliness is a privilege. And precisely, I am a loner. I don't know where this belief, that I need to be in touch with people, is coming from. In order to observe myself, I don't need to have an artist facing me, it is enough for me to see their painting, sculpture, artwork, and I was referring to it when talking about reciprocity. I don't need conversations to be close to someone else, letters and awareness that the person, who inspires me, thinks the same way is enough. Increasingly often, I feel that I have nothing to say socially. Writing a blog, where people leave their observations in comments, is another kind of communication. It is not direct and it suits me right. The contact is in writing and a face-to-face happens only once in a while; it's a huge effort for me anyway, although it's also a great pleasure, and the effort is a result of stage-fright. I love to remain silent. I haven’t had a TV at home for thirteen years. I often sit in silence, read, work and my family does it too. And I keep in touch with similar people. Formulas, constructions to which the people are used to.... Is this really important? All this noise, meetings, networking, activity - I was no longer interested in that. And don't look at my wall on Facebook, there, I only gather inspiration and follow other people. Once I wanted to belong to some group, I longed for acceptance, I wanted to be close, because I wanted to understand the phenomenon of others’ activities, to interrupt them a bit and to arouse creative ferment. Unfortunately, I bounced off the wall. With time, I understood that we were divided by a sense of aesthetics, social needs and interests. I realised that my imagination and my hunger for cognition is something completely different, and in formal terms, I moved away from them consciously and without regret. Is isolation necessary? It just turned out to be. However, it is not essential, as, in general, I should be grateful to those who have had an influence on this, because it is thanks to their attitude that I rejected the entire cultural industry, which doesn’t really offer much, mostly, only a false image of success. I care about readers, relatives and friends (although in my case my relatives and friends are the same people). That is why I focused on my blog and “sZAFa”. And sharing art.... who would I be if I hid the beauty in drawers?
Alright then, let’s leave the big words. In fact, we are not talking about festivals and nationwide events, we are talking about encouraging people to make creative efforts, to cooperate in creating "sZAFA", to share works of poets, painters and graphic designers. You don't have to take part in meetings to influence people. Let us not call this "animation", let it be "an open attitude" and "inspiration".
I deliberately asked about the "need to endure solitary creative torment" - and I already meant it as the most obvious stereotype! Our conversation is the best example of what a difficult matter the word is and how precisely one needs to use it in order not to be misunderstood. The word is the poet's tool and material. He or she must express its mood and thought (internal world) and at the same time has to reflect the outside world. What does this process look like for you? How do you “mix paint” - how do you look for words to say what is necessary? Is this a conscious process?
Yes. I can agree with the open attitude and inspiration. As far as writing is concerned, we must be able to penetrate the essence of the tool we use, which is the language - to understand grammatical, stylistic and punctuation relationships. Moreover, without the knowledge of theory, reading classics and a sensible approach to the very structure of the word, writing is just a game, that does not bring anything significant. You will not write a musical composition without knowledge of notes or pure form, without certain skills, know-how and talent. The topic of writing will never be exhausted, because this is something theorists and researchers argue about. In my case, I can only say that poetry has always been troublesome for me. These are still only attempts to abandon the learned forms. To overthrow dialectic concepts that everyone has become accustomed to and to constantly get to know myself. Because, in my opinion, poetry does not have to do anything. For me, this is an area of great variety of interests and obsessions. Of course, I am not saying it is like that for everybody else. My cognitive abilities, emotionality, tension.... Continuous questions and answers, functioning here and now, searching and using the timeless wisdom of the classics... I can write to order, but this is the craftsmanship I mentioned at the beginning, in the quotation from Collingwood. Poetry, however, is not the same as columns or essays on art. Poetry comes and does not disappear, it stays in my mind and sometimes I accept this choice. Then I embed my way of expression, which can be quite hermetic, in the word. But thanks to that, I remain in harmony with myself. In the area I chose. This is the sum of my sensitivity, intelligence and interests. When it comes to vividity.... Look at people around you and tell me who interests you. What is attractive about them? Who would you like to face and get to know their taste? Words serve a specific purpose, and what is or will be the purpose? There are so many things. Without knowing who I am, what the world is for me, history as the cradle of life, I would not be involved in poetry. This is my experiment and where it will lead me, we will only find out in a while. I like to induce tension in people. Yes, I like it, this kind of emotion still accompanies me in my poetry. All the rest are landscapes, gravity and conscious use of the word.

I am dwelling a bit on it, although I know how difficult it is to define certain terms. And I know it from you. From your poem About definitions, from the Odd Numbers (in this book you are grasping the essence of love through denial of certain ways of expressing love, symbols and stereotypes that are sometimes confused with, but are not, love). Or the poem Orange peels, also from the Odd Numbers - a lyric that was created from what bothers. From surprising juxtapositions: explosions and fireworks, earthquake, celebrating the New Year and giving birth... These are some extreme human experiences, and yet it turns out, that in the state of greatest joy or fear, our reactions may look very similar, looked upon from afar... And let’s have a look at the Transformation, from the book Mullaghmore, as this poem perfectly illustrates what we are talking about. It expresses the anxiety of an artist who wonders how to articulate the world and the human, who is capable of creating something as unimaginably dangerous as an atomic bomb, and at the same time as trivial (and also awakening quite different impressions) as seam stockings... How to narrate the September with a dense paintbrush - since September is so many sensations (colours, flavours, scents)? In this poem, you are talking about it; you are trying to demonstrate what a difficult matter the word is, and how the world is escaping any definitions... And emotions and tension? Can you identify the poem that is important to you and that illustrates your "experiment" and your emotions best?
You read the poem and analyse it yourself, I'm not needed to give you any answers, they are in you.
Some time ago I met Sister Judyta through the blog. She was a missionary and had returned from Cameroon to Poland because of her illness. We spoke outside the blog. About life, diseases and literature. At some point she became silent and I wrote a message asking how was she. She wrote a short answer: write a poem for me. At that time, I still didn't feel that it was that bad and that we were actually at the end of her journey, but I knew I couldn't wait. I had a text there at hand, I thought that its time had come and that it was suitable for a nun. I sent it to her and waited. The answer did not come, so I thought the poem was not good enough, I analysed the silence, inventing hypothetical reasons. However, I did not write this poem for Judyta. It was just lying there, waiting, until I decided that it was ready. The sudden surge of emotions made me write another poem, About moving on, which opens up as follows:"The poem for Judyta was not about Judyta”. The nun was already dying at that time. In the course of difficult chemotherapy, the text brought her relief. I will not quote the whole letter here, because the secrecy of correspondence is important to me, but in the last message she wrote:"Dear, please write, because your poems are... I do not know how to name it, because I am no specialist in poetry... they are true!”. She left in silence. Judyta is living in these two poems, she is an important part of the volume Mullaghmore. A holy traveller from Cameroon who looks at me every day. Anyway, poems connected with people belong to them in a way, they are touching me and are images of emotional states accompanying ordinary circumstances, they come from conversations, from fear, excitement, learning and naming thoughts. Everyone has a function, but forgive me that I will not analyse it.
Of course not, but it is good that you mentioned it. The poem About moving on is remarkable.... It is a tribute and a testimony to her mission. It really strikes the chord, especially if the viewer was familiar with the addressee or read her blog... But Judyta is not the only addressee of your works, because you like to address specific people directly, and you have dedicated the entire book to the artist and your friend Basia Trzybulska. It was the addressee of the book that I had in mind when I said that the artists needed each other, in order to observe each other's art, but also in order to observe themselves through others....
Homage is a too lofty word, Judyta was a modest nun. This was clear, both in her work and the choice of missionary path. I admired her devotion to children, her modesty and her reconciliation with fate. Servitude is something like anointing, and this is the way I think of her, of my holy saint, whom I met at the end of her life.
Basia began to read my poems and gave them a deeper meaning by creating artworks with motifs from texts. When I met her, I was enchanted. The closeness to nature, her distinctness, the way she treats literature, her respect for what she does, and she is similarly adamant in her understanding of art. We share our own obsessions, which are the basis of our creation. The objects she made hang and stand around in my house, assigned to different senses. She works with clay, I work with words. We transform our work and give tips to each other. We do not force it, often it is a result of conversations, quotations that catch our eye, or similar values that we focus on at a given moment. I don't know how others measure the intensity of cognition, and if they consider it important in their creative work, what counts for me is the beauty brought out of nature. This unites us and simply reminds us of the tendency to alienate. People express their feelings towards each other in different ways. They make us step into their world and see similarly, although we look at one point from different perspectives. We do not have to say many words, we know that we are important to each other. Basia is reserved, fascinated by the earth and nature, which I called the natural conservatism. I find her strong commitment to clay and to what she does, impressive. Thanks to her, I observe the island, and the sounds coming from the ocean, very closely. We absorbed impressions, hence Mullaghmore is her book. Although Basia’s favourite poem Travelling in space comes from the Odd Numbers. We do not act against each other, but we know the meaning of words and we both know what we are doing in our homes. We base our friendship on solid foundations, we build houses on them, we fill those with abilities, curiosity and biological mechanisms. We record a variety of factors that affect us. Other people, their creativity. It is not only about us two, hence in the book there are other dedications and elements of the jigsaw puzzle.
It's great you used this term because your poems are, in a sense, elements of a larger jigsaw puzzle. Subsequent books are not necessarily closed and separate units, there is a whole network of links. These are not only landscape elements (completely natural, but never used exclusively for decoration). Binding elements must be the people with whom you lead a kind of discourse sometimes and also, your references to literature. The most striking reference leads to Ingeborg Bachmann and her book Malina. The poem about Judyta - given to Judyta - could not be written as a homage, that is true. But the title of your first book (Waiting for Malina) and, later, the quotation in the Odd Numbers are a clear tribute to the Austrian essayist, writer and poet. I don't ask if it's your most important book, rather one of many important books (I don't believe that anyone can point out just one book). In your case, this is more than inspiration, it is the same kind of sensitivity and expression - expressing through torn scenes, a thicket of thoughts and understatements. I will rather ask you, at what point in your life did Ingeborg turn up (with her Malina, full of a difficult, torn, dense, and, at the same time, restrained narrative)? How long has this fascination lasted? Was it her, who made you express in the form of a poem, or has your acquaintance started completely different, earlier?
Homage. I simply felt the need to perpetuate. Besides, I do not use words that are inadequate, too pejorative. Sometimes, some writers exaggerate emotions, and the effect is often superficial and grotesque. This is what is happening nowadays, people in Poland are divided into the attackers and the followers, they cherish the words whose meanings they often do not comprehend, or exaggeratedly embellish phenomena, using great words, with meaning that is not there. Naturally, I avoid the trivialisation of emotions, of what permeates me for years. The value of some words has been ruined because too much is being attributed to them. It is so easy to cross the boundaries of aesthetics. I have no illusions that today the meaning of many words has been distorted.
I don't know when I came across Malina, it was so long ago that it is difficult for me to indicate a specific time. It is possible that Malina has always lived in me, from an early age, and only reading Bachmann has made me name this masculine element and use it in my poems. I got the book from my friend. I read and felt like in a surreal world. It was a time of absence, so the content of the book became perfectly arranged in my mind, and emotions were etching, to record what they were supposed to record. I am still going back to Bachmann, but also to Celan, to their letters. It would be hard for this obsession not to be reflected in my poems. Fascination is still ongoing, and what prompted me to such a form of expression? I do not know. My mind stimulates me to various activities, sometimes I allow it to solidify in the form of a poem. I am strongly experiencing the changes under way. I have a very rich life. I am not bored with myself, I use intuition, imagination, knowledge. This interactivity is ongoing and continues to demand new stimuli. I create rhetorical figures because they diversify the tone of what I want to write down. The apparatus of senses is still something incomprehensible to me, but I enjoy this blessing, because why shouldn’t I?
But then why did you change the title of the first book (from Malina no longer lives here to Waiting for Malina)? It completely changed the meaning. The first one corresponded to what accompanied this moment of your life, when you were radically changing it. Move to the island. Publication of your first book. A great change. The previous title encrypted everything, including anxiety and uncertainty, closing certain matters....
I didn't change the title, it has always been Waiting for Malina. Malina does not live here anymore is the title of the afterword you will find at the end of the book.
Recently, you published another poetry book - The first memory of the great famine, dedicated to Kasia Tchórz. Her image is on the cover. She is another important person in your life - a friend, but also an artist close to you, with whom you have a lot in common. She cannot be missing in your self-portrait. What brought you close with Kasia Tchórz? How did you come up with the idea for your joint project, Przedzieranie (Breaking through)?
I met Kasia through Jacek Witczyński, founder of the Artpub virtual gallery. He invited me and Kasia to create a joint exhibition. The main theme was Rhinoceros, but there were also other motifs. The presentation can be viewed and read about on the Artpub website. With Kasia we have a lot in common, we share interests and passions, our friendship continues. And, as I wrote earlier, by dedication, I show the other person that he or she is important to me. I dream of publishing an album presenting artworks by my friends and my poems, but in the current publishing environment it's not that easy. It seems to me that without artistic friendships, the poet suffocates a bit and does not see the afterimages, that accompany visual artists. Without the cognitive process, it is difficult to notice the desires and those values that motivate us to act. The links, the roles that we shape in ourselves, our motives, all that is a synthesis of who we are. We are approaching people that are similar to us, hence this observing each other. We provide ourselves with appropriate remarks, correct each other, review each other, it is an evolutionary process of creativity. It is very useful when a person is constantly developing and searching. 

Today the Rhinoceros is already a symbol, one of your distinguishing signs. Who came up with the Rhinoceros?
It is one of the longest living mammals on earth, so it was not me (laughs). Yet, it is possible that people today will contribute to the extermination of this species. By faith in superstition and by greed. Many artists embody rhinoceroses. I highly recommend the film Rhino Season with Monica Bellucci, it is a poetic and extraordinary image of alienated and endangered overly-sensitive people. How easy it is for the death to destroy a delicate creature. I think that the mass murder of protected animals will lead the human race to extinction, right after the death of the rhinoceroses. It may take some time, but in nature nothing goes unpunished. I observe how the climate changes. By cutting down forests and jungles, we are reducing our oxygen. Elsewhere, the burning of tropical forests by palm oil producers leads to a global ecological disaster. Hard coal mining industry, heavy gas and dust production. Melting glaciers. The observant ones are watching closely what is happening, but the country leaders are passing responsibility from one to another. Nuclear trials in the oceans, water pollution, the death of coral reefs, ritual killing of whales, do I need to say more? We poison all that is around us, as much as we can. We will really not get away with this. I am really concerned about this and, in my poems, I often mention people's’ participation in the destruction of the world. Without a global interest in ecology, the Earth will die and, together with it, all of our art, literature and music.    

When I think of you and your work, I am constantly remembering the title of book by Czesław Miłosz - Life on the Islands. According to Miłosz, poets live on metaphoric islands. The island protects, but it also isolates, this metaphor can be understood in an appropriately ambiguous way. You are a poet who fits in this picture not only metaphorically, but also literally. You have settled down in Ireland, its culture and landscapes. It is not a kind of a shallow embrace of the new place. Ireland's landscapes have rather expanded your "colour palette". In those, you have found ideal references, illustrations to your own sensitivity, emotions and kind of expression. Thumping waves, harsh cliffs,"embedded landscapes" that "fall into the sea" - they perfectly illustrate what's tormenting you, what you're constantly coming back to.
I asked about the Rhinoceros (I know, it was a dilettante question), and thanks to it we have pinpointed the essence of your creativity. Because it extensively reflects the fear of what will the future bring. You notice that a human is unable to draw conclusions from warnings, you stumble over "something protruding. Cracked doors, bent balustrades, smoking chimneys". Let's assume that mountain climbing is a symbol of a struggle of a human who still has ideals, a symbol of his or her hard work.... In your eyes, people no longer want to make this kind of effort. They don't even walk on flat terrain anymore, they choose the easiest way, downhill. And they do not see the danger, because "it seems that when it is downhill, it is easier to get there. Straight to the ocean”.

For the sake of balance, you also write poems that offer us space for relaxation. You flee to Mullaghmore - a special place, unspoiled by civilization, not connected to the net; a real place, and at the same time (as the reader thinks it is) separated from the past by some sort of semi-transparent curtain; a place where it is probably the easiest to "cross the barrier of reality". How did you discover Mullaghmore and what is it for you?

I was on my way "to Yeats". I took a look at the map and I noted down locations that were important to him. It turned out that Sligo County is very well-prepared for tourists and offers a route that has a special designation and leads to various corners connected to the poet. However, I was more interested in seeing something that was off the beaten path, because that is who I am. I read in one of the books about Ireland that in Mullaghmore Bay, IRA members murdered Prince Mountbatten in a terrorist attack. I am interested in the influence of the colonists in Ireland, hence the desire to go to these places and recreate, in my mind, what this might have been like. And when I arrived there, I forgot about the royal family. I saw the space that captured me completely. Cliffs, wavy ocean, silence, wilderness. Beautiful flowers, peat, mountains. I laid down on the grass and I died there. When I opened my eyes again, I knew I would be returning to the peninsula. That there, I will breathe fully. You cannot live in Ireland without studying its history. If you love somebody or something, you want to know as much as possible about them - about the place, people, generations, stones, plants, animals. Every corner, river, lake, waterfall takes on importance. Precise cutting of words so that they move in the eyes and imagination, according to the pulsation of the ocean. Images from here, smell of wind and earth. Of course, the images are sometimes perceived differently, but this is already the reader’s job, not mine. I know what I grafted into the poems, and that’s that. What will sprout from my island in words? Each emigrant lives in a different way. Getting down to make an effort is more than just talking to your fellow countrymen. But I understood that I am only responsible for myself and my family long time ago. Evening reading of books out loud, conversations, engaging in life. Getting to know, observing and participating. In one conversation it is impossible to explain every desire that has become an obsession. The hunger of these people, when the potato plague consumed the fields. The revival of what the colonists had been trying to eradicate, in an aggressive way, for years. I identify with this life. Dramatic, but also beautiful, enlightened and brave. Here, I don't actually have to look for stimuli, they turn into emotions. Practically everywhere, there is a house or an entire settlement, abandoned over one hundred and seventy years ago. There are so many signs.... With them, I feel stories, tales and specific events. Some of them awaken sadness in me. Despite the beauty of the surrounding area. I stand and play slides in my head. I say mothers' prayers silently. I return home and write down the words. And I don't know what is the essence of my creation - the vulnerability of the people who lived here and were murdered by colonists or fishermen taken away by the ocean? Swarms of birds or human bodies floating on the water? I don't know whether the dread of these places has had an effect on me profound enough to be able to write about the essence, which is the life I have here and now. Freedom I learned in view of this beauty, on the island, made me somehow detached from consumerism. I am looking towards myself. I feel free.

Three days after Halloween

I find bookmarks in the books
along with the recipe for grilled salmon and Irish stew.
I like silence. When I read poems about the murdered
wolves, converted into English whiskey barrels,
trees, I wonder how much blood has fed the heathers.

Savagery marks the limit of impotence, as if I were staying
in another world discovering pests. One after the other.
Glistening scales. Shadows that absorb obstacles, nomadically
determined entries and exits.

We are sitting close together in a bright circle of light,
reflected from the basalt shapes submerged in peat.
A damp corner, flooded in the ocean during the winter. On the other side
Achill cliffs. I see children falling out of their mothers’ hands.

They are slouching around us dancing and make us watch out.
What were they like? In a place forgotten by God. Huts without chimneys,
plates of elderberry leaning over the stone walls.
We are singing forgotten songs.

The dog’s barking in the distance. The neighbor’s staring at Hollywood Wives.
The boarded up building is protruding on the other side of the road.

The tourists are sending cards. Piled green waves or jumps
with the parachute. You can see the cut out Éire. Sea pinks,
two sides of the rock.

Malgorzata Poludniak
Translated by Ewa Parma

Malgorzata Poludniak – a Polish poet and editor of the ArtPub Kultura. As well as being a columnist in the 'eleWator' magazine. She published collections of poems Czekając na Malinę (Waiting for Malina, 2012), Liczby Nieparzyste (Odd Numbers, 2014), Mullaghmore (2016), Pierwsze wspomnienie wielkiego głodu (The first memory of the great famine 2017).