The story of returning home - project workshop 22.03.2024

On March 22, as part of the project "The feminine side of poetry, or through poems to language," a workshop was held for students from Italy, Lithuania and Ukraine with the participation of Małgorzata Lebda. The meeting, which was held in hybrid mode, was led by Professor Monika Woźniak and La Sapienza University doctoral student Serena Buti.

Małgorzata Lebda is an editor, a doctor of humanities and audiovisual arts, a scholar who teaches at Jagiellonian University, a columnist, a cultural animator and the author of six books of poetry, including Matecznik, Dreams of the Uckermärkers and Mer de Glace, as well as her debut novel, Greedy. Her books have been published in translation into Czech, Italian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Slovenian, Danish and Romanian.

The meeting focused on the poet's stories about her work, sometimes very personal, allowing us to look at her poetry in a new light. Małgorzata Lebda also talked with students about their translations of poems from the volume Uckermärker's Dreams.

A tale of loss

The poet was asked to talk about her ecopoetics. She started with what home means to her.

- If it weren't for thinking about home, I think I wouldn't be writing. All the books that were written before Mer de Glace are books about the space of Beskid Sądecki, about my small village with the exotic name of Zeleźnikowa Wielka. I keep reworking various stories of loss in these books," said Małgorzata Lebda. In Matecznik she revisits the loss of her father, who died suddenly six months after the death of her mother, and in Dreams of the Uckermärkers she revisits the loss of her sister, who died even before the poet was born. The latter book brings to life a childhood in which the sister is still alive. - With the help of literature, you can bring someone to life," the poet concluded. The stories were accompanied by a show of stereoscopic photographs of places important to her, some of which no longer exist.

It was a shocking discovery for her, then still a girl, that in Beskid Sądecki the family home is inherited by the son , and daughters must leave home - to study or marry. A woman has to be a commodity, to please someone who wants to start a family with her. When the time came, she decided to leave for college.

A tale of nature

In her poems, the poet depicts nature as an organism, often exploited and tortured. As part of the project Reading Watershe ran the length of the Vistula River from its source to its mouth, 1113 kilometers in a month. During the meeting, she recounted that, in addition to the sporting aspects, she saw the project as an activist one, opposing plans to build a waterway and concretize the Vistula. Implementing this plan would mean devastating the environment at a time of climate crisis, when rivers are a resource we need to take care of. The author of Matecznik wanted to show that, as a woman, she had the strength within her to protest the oppression to which nature is subjected. - This sisterhood with the river was very inspiring to me. The Reading Water project was a physical and intellectual effort for me, thanks to which a poem about the river appeared," concludes Małgorzata Lebda. - Any writing I do, whether it is poetry or prose, is very organic, both in terms of the human body, but also in terms of what that human body functions with, that is, the whole organicity of the world around it.

Asked by the students about the meaning of the title of the volume, she explained that uckermärkers were a breed of cow that was very often brought to the slaughterhouse during the days when she lived in the family home. The slaughterhouse could be the cows' nightmare if they were dreaming.

In her eyes, cows are wonderful, intelligent creatures, conscious, who can play and enjoy themselves. They can also dream. The volume Uckermärker's Dreams involves opening up to the fact that animals are not just animated machines. Cows are animals on which I also learned injustice," recalls Małgorzata Lebda. She couldn't grasp how it happens that the animals we give names to simply disappear one day, because they were raised for meat. She shared with the students a shocking experience when one day before Easter the dogs brought the heads of animals killed in the slaughterhouse into the yard. - I thought we were celebrating the resurrection when death was happening right next door.

The Story of Poetry

After elementary school, she was afraid of poetry. - At the thought of having to read a poem, my stomach hurt, I was stressed. It was because of the system of teaching poetry - in school you have to know what the poet meant. She saw something different in Mickiewicz's poetry than the teacher did. By chance, she found a volume of poetry by Tadeusz Nowak in the library, a copy with the pages still uncut. She found out that poetry can also be about what we care about, what concerns us, and that it doesn't have to be pathetic. Had it not been for this volume, she would never have warmed up the image of poetry for herself. To this day, she considers Tadeusz Nowak to be her poetry patron.

Later, there was contact with the poetry of Wisława Szymborska, Czesław Miłosz, and Krystyna Miłobędzka, which, according to her, "teaches the importance of the word being precisely chosen, and the importance of having respect for words."

When she was a child, her family did not have a camera. For this reason, she doesn't have any photos from her childhood. However, since she remembers everything, she has dissected her memories into frames, images, and poetic texts. For her, creativity is reclaiming the past, what is no longer there. If she had photographs, she might not have the motivation to write.

Asked by Professor Monika Woźniak whether she feels an affinity with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and magical realism, the poet confessed that she reaches for books that speak about the world in a symbolic way, expanding reality with what is invisible but influences it. She herself grew up in a world of simultaneous influences of what is Catholic and what is pagan, superstitions, reading signs from natural phenomena. She found the experience of this fascinating.

The author is aware that everything she writes also stems from her reading. - To write, one must read, and this is what I repeat to my students. The author himself needs to be well-read, to know a lot of context.

A tale of return

She decided to return to the countryside, but on her own terms.

One could say that poetry allowed her to return to Beskid Sądecki. The return and the purchase of the old cottage, which belonged to her aunt, were made possible thanks in part to the Wisława Szymborska Award, which she received in 2022 for her volume Mer de Glace.

She would like to create a residency for artists in the future to share what she herself has received. "With a lot of support from a woman, Wisława Szymborska, I was able to fulfill my great desire to return," she says.

Translated by students from Lithuania, Ukraine and Italy, Małgorzata Lebda's poems will make up, along with works by Krystyna Dąbrowska, a volume of translations planned for publication in the fall.

A transcript of the online conference can be viewed here (access code: 9U%=N.W4).

The text is also available on the website of the Polish Studies Bulletin.

Author: Mariola Wilczak