A poet, author of detective novels, and a singer of "Świetliki" and "Czarne ciasteczka", born 24 December 1961 in Lublin.
He has won various prizes and awards for his poetry, including the 1996 Koscielski Prize. His work has had an intense effect across the literary spectrum.
Since 1980 Świetlicki has lived in Cracow. He studied Polish at the Jagiellonian University, for many years he worked as a proofreader at "Tygodnik Powszechny". He has won various prizes and awards for his poetry, including the 1996 Kościelski Prize.
An impaired and alien cult poet, he is by his own definition someone who has "never really or completely been in the mainstream". Świetlicki's work has an intense effect across the literary spectrum: critics have not remained indifferent, the public eagerly buys up new editions, and young people identify with his message, perhaps because he has also fronted the rock group "Świetliki" since 1993. He is almost always seen as an outsider, a rebel, and a voluntary exile from the spheres of official culture. On the other hand, being an outsider means, in this case, not only standing off to the side, being rootless, discouraged, indifferent, prickly and harsh but also being an alert and sensitive observer of a false reality, exposing the animality of his own and others, that is hidden behind the facade of culture and faith. He is a critic of manners, an ironist, a traumatic patriot. He has not cut himself off from public life "once and for all," but rather "again and again," and he keeps scratching at old wounds.
Zimne Kraje (Cold Countries, trans. by AP) Świetlicki's debut book was a strong and unambiguous declaration of his outlook. Marian Stala wrote:
Zimne Kraje was (to a large extent) an individualistic polemic with the ideas and attitudes that dominated the collective life of the 1980s and determined the behaviours and hierarchies of values of the time.
A poetic protest against seeing the world through the prism of politics is evidenced by the frequently quoted sentence: "There is nothing about me in the constitution".
However, the most strongly remembered polemic gesture is the famous poem Dla Jana Polkowskiego (For Jan Polkowski, trans. by AP). The lyric criticised the pathos and patriotic (i.e. oriented towards the community which is the nation) character of Jan Polkowski's work Przesłanie pana X (Message of Mr. X, trans. by AP). It is quite ironic as in his poem, Polkowski conducted an analogous dispute with Zbigniew Herbert's Message of Mr. Cogito, also arguing from the position of primacy of the individual over collective experience. In turn, Świetlicki's work became the object of analogous conversions, among others, that of Tadeusz Dabrowski, who coincidentally was initially called the "Świetlicki of the North".
Until 2004, the author of Zimne Kraje worked as an editor in "Tygodnik Powszechny". An ironic reminiscence of that period and a somewhat distorted reflection of the atmosphere in the office is echoed in the book Katecheci i Frustraci (Catechists and Losers, trans. by AP), published in 2001 under the pseudonym "Marianna G. Świeduchowska", written together with Grzegorz Dyduch. It is a novel with a code, in which authentic figures from Krakow's literary life are masked under pseudonyms that are relatively easy to read - and so, for example, the poet Marcin Baran appears as Marian Owietz (‘baran’ and ‘owca’ are, respectively, ‘ram’ and ‘sheep’ in Polish).
Świetlicki’s prose is characterised by self-irony. He published the crime novel Dwanaście (Twelve, trans. by AP) in 2006. It initiated a trilogy. In 2007, the novel Trzynaście (Thirteen, trans. by AP) was published, and a year later – Jedenaście (Eleven, trans. by AP). The role of a detective is played by a master, who is a self-parody of the author, or rather a figure of the lyrical subject of his poems – a regular in Krakow's pubs, a bitter ironist, an alcoholic about whom people who know him from sight and former admirers say with pleasure that he "went grey, became fat and swollen".
To celebrate the author's fiftieth birthday, Dwanaście, Trzynaście and Jedenaście – were collected in one volume entitled Powieści (Novels, trans. by AP) published in 2013. In addition, it includes a short story Plus Nieskończoność (Plus Infinity, trans. by AP), written especially for the occasion, in which the master solves the previously unsolved plots of his novels as seen from the first-person narrative.
The poet is a well-known visitor to Kraków's joints. He often describes the local pub life and often appears as a character in other authors' books. However, he strongly dissociates himself from the suggestion that the figure of the master he created in the detective stories might be him. In the introduction to Powieści (2011), he explicitly comments:
It's interesting that the protagonist of my books has been identified as the author by all sorts of suckers. For the last time, I emphasise: the master is a literary character, we may sometimes have similar views but he is in no way me. I am more likely to be Mrs Bovary than him.
Świetlicki has also won many literary awards. It is worth mentioning here the Georg Trakl Prize, the Kościelski Prize (1996), the Grand Prix in the "bruLion" magazine competition, the Jan Twardowski Prize and the Passport of the Polityka magazine (the poet refused to accept the latter award). In November 2006, he also received the Krakow Book of the Month award for the volume Muzyka Środka (Middle-of-the-Road Music, trans. by AP), and in 2009, the Gdynia Literary Award in the prose category for the detective novel Jedenaście. The year 2012 brought him the Wrocław Silesius Poetic Award for lifetime achievement.
The author of Zimne Kraje is known not only as a poet and novelist but also as a rock band leader. In 1992 (together with the musicians of the Kraków band Trupa Wertera Utrata) he founded the band Świetliki. He is the author of most of the lyrics and performs as the vocalist of Świetliki, using a characteristic manner of hoarse chanting; the band's guitarist is the doctor Grzegorz Dyduch, co-author of Katecheci i Frustraci. The band has released several long-play records and several mini-albums (among others Perły – Pearls, trans. by AP).
Since the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the poet seems to suggest that he does not intend to perform with Świetliki anymore. This certainly does not mean the end of Świetlicki's presence on stage. In fact, he cooperates with other artists, especially alternative musicians (including Robert Brylewski, Cezary Ostrowski, and Mikołaj Trzaska, a representative of yass music). In turn, Lech Janerka and Kasia Nosowska have featured on Świetliki's albums.
Świetliki received significant acclaim. In 1996, their album Cacy Cacy Fleischmaschine was nominated for the Fryderyk Award in the categories: alternative music and poetic music. The very choice of these categories probably proves the difficulty in classifying the band's work. On Świetliki's website, their music has been described as "psycho-rock with a verbal-musical slant".
One can risk a statement that assuming the role of the vocalist and frontman of the music band has significantly influenced his poetry. His lyrics often involve repetitions and refrains ("Don't go to work, / don't go to work, / it's Satan who sends e-mails, / it's Satan who gives diplomas"). The adoption of such a style has an additional benefit: Świetlicki's texts are very quotable.
Moreover, his proximity to the spoken parlance has also led to some of his phrases re-entering into colloquial speech – suffice it to mention the phrase “I’m feeling unapproaching” (‘nieprzysiadalność’ is the feeling of not wanting to sit down with somebody) or “he is an illegitimate child of Bogart and Marilyn Monroe'. A phenomenon typical of the 1980s generation of rebels was seeing rock music as a rebellion against the adult world and attempts at subjugating them to templates in life and in poetry.
His perspective of the ego and dark themes are not worn-out, melancholic symbols or decaying signs of high culture. Even the somewhat whiny cry "There will never be such a summer again" is complemented by humorous phrases such as "The police will never be so polite / and vodka so pure and nourishing". As a rule, the poet describes contemporary objects and phenomena of ordinary life. Świetlicki successfully inscribes his pessimistic metaphysics into them: "Death has a walkman. / "He's in a dark compartment / for smokers. And the whole train is brightened up, full of / sweaty people, sweating beer." Perhaps the most meaningful expression of his creative strategy is the title of the collection Muzyka Środka. Andrzej Franaszek wrote:
The phrase ‘middle-of-the-road music’ is taken from everyday language, or more precisely media language, and is associated with something pleasant, light, cheerful. But, as the poet points out, it is also the rhythm of our inner life.
In this sense, despite a clear pessimism, Świetlicki's poetry sides with the world. In the critical literary discussions of the 1990s, in which the opposite side was represented by Krzysztof Koehler, the authors writing in this way were called "barbarians" or "o'harists". The latter term refers to the poetry of the so-called New York School, especially Frank O'Hara. Simplifying somewhat the work of the American, it has been assumed that the o'haristic poem speaks about the experience of an individual in colloquial language, refers to mass culture and everyday life, and clearly defines the place and time of the situation described in it.
In Świetlicki's poems, especially in his later ones, involve a rather peculiar figure of the lyrical subject: a phantom or "monster in dark glasses". One could say that such an attitude of a jaded outsider replaced the former self-presentation as a rebel. Andrzej Franaszek writes:
Just as over the years Tadeusz Różewicz has written many poems about the impossibility of writing them, Świetlicki has repeatedly described a man who persistently lives a life of dying and minimising his own existence.
The volume Drobna Zmiana (Minor Change, trans. by AP) published in 2016 is an expression of stability in the topics discussed by Świetlicki. Despite the fact that apparently the world of everyday matters that occupy the lyrical subject is known to readers from his previous poems, this small form is a novelty in his work. The "I" in Drobna Zmiana is under the spell of anxiety caused by the burden and intolerability of the world around him. Nevertheless, it is the everyday events that incite reflection lined with theology. As Justyna Sobolewska wrote in her review:
Marcin Świetlicki's new book is cold, gloomy and great. Cold, because of winter, January, then the following months. But it is "not a diary, a journal" and these are poems, although they look like small pieces of prose. It is a record of entering the darkness, not only because of "bad dreams", but also "bad things happen". The protagonist of Świetlicki defends himself with irony, he laughs in the face of “the bad”, stands in front of some community and shows that he is separate. This was always the case with Świetlicki: "Pouting at the Fatherland. Obviously". (Polityka 41.2016 (3080) of 04.10.2016).
Świetlicki points out that although he considers himself a patriot, he is not considered as such. In 2018, the poet decided to collect previously published poems and supplement them with new works and to publish a volume entitled Polska (Wiązanka Pieśni Patriotycznych) (Poland (a Collection of Patriotic Songs), trans. by AP) for the 100th anniversary of regaining independence. The poet consistently avoids being pigeonholed, although attempts are made to subjugate him to all currents from different sides of the political spectrum. In spite of this, Świetlicki shuns politics, although he points out that he is dependent on it, and some of the events of the public life have been included in this volume in the form of distanced comments. The readers receive 100 poems, one for each year of independence, including eight new ones. As the publisher of the volume, Jarosław Borowiec, said: "This book shows that Poland is still a living and painful tissue of poetry, that it is a subject that poets cannot pass by indifferently."
The book itself was published by a small publishing house Wolno from Lusowo near Poznan. The minimalist form reminiscent of a hymn book is noteworthy – the volume was bound in black leather with a golden, embossed title on the cover. Besides, the poems are interwoven with collages created by Alicja Biała representing a kaleidoscope of symbols supplementing Świetlicki's poems in a provocative way.
In 2019, Wolne also published another volume by Świetlicki. Another common feature it shares with the volume Polska (Wiązanka Pieśni Patriotycznych) published a year earlier is its graphic design. This time the poet's poems are presented alternately with illustrations by Marcin Maciejowski. As Justyna Sobolewska comments:
The whole book seems to be a sketchbook. Of course, there is also a touch of commentary on Polish affairs, but it is not the most important. First of all, it is a book about the moment of being: about separation from reality and an attempt to touch it. About such a time when you have to get yourself out of the deadlock, out of the feeling that you have lost the ability to move on with happiness into the next day. "The trails have already wiped out. I've missed the end. / There's no going. There's no falling. / I’m there’s no." Fortunately, there are still fragments of reality, as Białoszewski would say. "What's keeping me alive is these listening." And in the background, you can hear "tick, tock", a ticking warning, a harbinger of the end, which breaks through the increased activity. (Polityka 23.2019 (3213) of 04.06.2019)
In 2017, Świetlicki's autobiography was published, Nieprzysiadalność (Unapproaching, trans. by AP). Although he usually consistently defends his privacy, in an interview with Rafał Księżyk, the poet and musician talks about personal details of his life with surprising honesty. He talks about the band Świetliki, the generation of the "bruLion" magazine, other famous artists and about Kraków. From his stories, the royal city emerges as a space to which Świetlicki is devoted. Although the author often hides behind the mask of an ironist in his work, his autobiography shows an image of a man infinitely devoted to creating.