Poet, vocalist of the funeral-circus band Trupa Trupa.
Poeta, wokalistą funeralno-cyrkowego zespołu Trupa Trupa.
As a rule, he doesn’t read his poems. In his poetry, he consistently uses the strategy of mask-lyric, by giving the voice to other characters (the dead) and freeing himself from his lyrical self. In the band Trupa Trupa – he sings gladly there (after all, he is the vocalist), but, as he emphasises, the English lyrics written for the band are something completely different. The common denominator – in both cases – the theme is death.
Grzegorz Kwiatkowski (born in 1984) published the volumes Przeprawa (The Passage, trans. by A.P.) in 2008, Eine Kleine Todesmusik in 2009, Osłabić (Weaken, trans. by A.P.) in 2010, Radości (Joys, trans. by A.P.) in 2013, Spalanie (Combustion, trans. by A.P.) in 2015 and Sową (By Owl, trans. by A.P.) in 2017; in 2011, the London-based publishing house Off_Press released a bilingual Polish-English collection Should Not Have Been Born in 2011, and in 2016, by Biuro Literackie, the follow-up Should Not Have Been Born Revisited – Born in 2016. The volume Radości was also published in German as Freuden.
Recipient of multiple scholarships, including the Styria Artist in Residence programme of the government in Styria (2017), the Artist in Residence programme of the Federal Chancellery of Austria and the Association Kulturkontakt Austria (2016), the International House of Writers in Graz, Austria (2015), the Writers in Residence – Marko Marulić programme in Split, Croatia (2017) and the Minister of Culture (2017, 2012). He has published in ‘Poetry Wales’, ‘Lichtungen’, ‘Ostragehege’, ‘Keine Delikatessen’, ‘Inostrannaya Literatura’, ‘Zeszyty Literackie’, ‘Tygodnik Powszechny’, ‘Studia Litteraria et Historica’, ‘Midrash’, ‘Dwutygodnik’, ‘Odra’ and ‘Twórczość’. He is a member of the European poetry platform Versopolis. He participated in many international literary festivals, including Oslo Internasjonale Poesifestival, Lahti International Writers Reunion and Vilnius Book Fair.
The music of Trupa Trupa (apart from Kwiatkowski, it includes Tomasz Pawluczuk, Wojciech Juchniewicz and Rafał Wojczal), is described by critics as alternative rock. Kwiatkowski himself emphasises that their songs are not sung poetry, but simply songs. All the musicians of Trupa Trupa share the fascination with The Beatles, and Kwiatkowski himself considers Franciszek Schubert to be the best songwriter. Nonetheless, their songs are rather pessimistic and dark (hence the often somewhat cabaret or grotesque overtones).
The Master Masters
Kwiatkowski refrains from reading his poems aloud, because, as he explains, it is not exactly him who speaks, but rather the dead. This is one of the most characteristic features of his poetry. Since his debut, Przeprawa (2008), Kwiatkowski’s work is guided by the figure of Edgar Lee Masters (1858-1950), an American poet who published the famous Spoon River Anthology in 1915 – a series of poems in which he portrayed over two hundred dead inhabitants of his town. Interestingly and crucially, also for Kwiatkowski’s work, in Masters’ poems the dead talk about their lives from beyond the grave.
This epitaphic style of speaking by the deceased in the first person – known, for example, from ancient tombstones, but used in poetry many times (among others, by Czesław Miłosz, whose Chronicles of the Town of Pornic he cites) – was used by Masters to describe the community of a small town in the American province. In Kwiatkowski’s case, the same poetic method becomes a more general principle of describing reality.
The death of the other
At the source of his poetry lies an authentic disagreement with the violence and death present in the world and the constant alluding to them (her head was cut off with a blunt saw / and nobody knows where she was buried / if it was an exaggeration / or an aesthetic game / but: her head was cut off with a blunt saw / and nobody knows where she was buried’ – the poem Dora Drogoj, Ur. 1923 Zm. 1941, Dora Drogoj, born 1923, died 1941, trans. by A.P.). In this way, Kwiatkowski brings back to death the horror and shivers that belonged to it, and points out that the role of art is to show something so that this image affects us:
It’s only then that tragedies surprise me. Perhaps what I say is perverse or unethical. But if something is presented in a certain way, it shocks and works.
The real hero of Kwiatkowski’s poetry is perhaps, and this is suggested by the author himself, the Other and their situation. ‘The Other is generally harmed, and to be brutal and honest, the Other is most often murdered’, explains Kwiatkowski.
At the same time, the poet departs from the ethical mission sometimes attributed to him, e.g. the role of a gravedigger who symbolically buries the dead (such a figure as an interpretation appeared in reviews of Radości). He rather emphasizes that the whole creative process takes place on the subconscious level, while writing comes from compassion, a situation of trying to emphasise with somebody. Although, as he says, the act itself is not necessarily natural, it may even be artificial. Just as it is somewhat artificial to speak with the voice of another person living several hundred years ago:
Writing is always artifical: we have a book that is made from paper, its author is Grzegorz Kwiatkowski. These are not war reconstructions. It is artificial. But when I read such poems, I believe in it and emphatise.
Spalanie, published in 2015, continues the trilogy initiated by Kwiatkowski with his previous volume. The protagonists of the stories are usually hunters and their victims. The poet is interested in evil and death, which inevitably hide under the seemingly idyllic surface of the world, difficult, painful experiences which are supposed to move the blunted sensitivity of the reader. Tymoteusz Milas wrote about this volume in ‘Fabularia’ (No 9 / 2015):
Spalanie is an example of poetry, about which you don’t need to write much, because it is as if you wanted to melt over beauty, to mystify the meaning of these poems. While the value of aesthetics is ethically questioned in these poems in a suggestive way, because it does not fit in with the naked, cruel life that Kwiatkowski does not allow us to forget. And although he himself did not live through these tragic stories of World War II, paradoxically his voice in these matters is credible, convincing, and although it requires emotional preparation, it is good that he is trying to awaken in us caution and attention to existence, not diluting us with the philosophy of love, paraphrasing one of his phrases, and awakening the dead, letting them talk about their unfinished lives, unlike Edgar Lee Masters did in his works.
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, 30.07.2013; updated: AP, November 2019.
- Przeprawa [The Passage], Zeszyty Poetyckie, Gniezno 2008, p. 51.
- Eine Kleine Todesmusik, Mamiko, Nowa Ruda 2009, p. 72.
- Osłabić [Weaken], Mamiko, Nowa Ruda 2010, p. 68.
- Powinni Się Nie Urodzić / Should Not Have Been Born, OFF_Press, Wielka Brytania 2011.
- Radości [Joys], Biuro Literackie, Wrocław 2013.
- Spalanie [Combustion], Biuro Literackie, Wrocław 2015.
- Sową [By Owl], Biuro Literackie, Wrocław 2017.