Agnieszka Kuciak - a faux anthology of 21 invented poets, with their poems and biographical notes.Mystical, mischievous, and musical
Agnieszka Kuciak, Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don't Exist, Trans. by Karen Kovacik, White Pine Press, 2013.
Distant Lands is a tour de force, this faux anthology of 21 invented poets, with their poems and biographical notes, belongs in the company of world literature’s distinguished fabulists—Jorge Luis Borges, Fernando Pessoa, Franz Kafka, and Italo Calvino—in blurring the boundary between the textual and actual worlds.
“I have a shelf in my library I refer to as my sacred shelf, which contains only those books I love so much, I could reread them a hundred times and never tire of them. The shelf includes books by Rilke, Marquez, Borges, Pessoa, Michaux, Calvino, Milosz, Kafka, and others. I am forever looking for the next poet or writer who will inspire me and surprise me, not once, but again and again. Agnieszka Kuciak’s Distant Lands is my latest discovery. Mystical, mischievous, and musical, Kuciak enchants me with the scope of her imagination, her whimsical flirtations with identity, theology, and the very nature of human existence. I am delighted by her lyrical flare, her wit, and her remarkable ability to be both one and many poets, or one poet with twenty one voices.” —Nin Andrews
“A fact is a thing done, and a fiction is a thing made. In Distant Lands, Agnieszka Kuciak makes up for all the making up by transforming these fabulous fabrications into sublime art. Like water into wine, a sly stealth of miracles.” —Michael Martone
Breaking out of Reverence by Gloria Dawson
The chair mentioned the ‘opening field’ of poetry in Poland and I wondered if it was open-field as in poetics. But Simon was reading Charles Olson next to me so forgive me. Tomasz Różycki spoke of himself as the king of ‘some Eastern European country’ which, Plato-like, excluded ‘deserters, poets, traders and profiteers.’ Różycki’s strength is his ability to project himself into different stances, characters. Why is he the king of a regime which exiles poets? The place is always changing. But for Rozycki it is often islands and beaches, or looking into a watery mirror, which ‘moves, and the whole neighbourhood with it.’ This power is not just migratory – ‘nowhere’, he says later, is a comfortable place for a writer – but transubstantiatory. ‘The poet in his room will then eat God.’ There is a sureness in God’s presence in Agnieszka Kuciak’s work, as well; but the only guarantee is of his presence in the poem, not his actual substance. Różycki opens and closes his set with an (ironic? must be) statement of the ‘riches’ that poetry brings – but through that irony (the private island, all the food you can eat) is the real freedom – of thought, of movement.
Agnieszka, heavy with Dante, invents poets (I was reminded of Pessoa) rather than narratives. But she too touches on Plato’s exiling of the poets in the ‘Symposium’ (a hypothetical proposition). I don’t want to draw trite political inference from this, but it’s an intriguing overlap, the poets proposing the rope from which to hang themselves. She is deeply modest (irritatingly so); her poems, even in translation, are incredibly sensitive to the relationship between, for example, architecture and painful history – ‘roof’s yarmulke in place’ in the ceiling in the swimming bath tells us everything, and she doesn’t need to footnote the poem with the dark history of those baths ‘where I, unfortunately, learned to swim.’ I would have liked more of this meditation on culpability in the reading. She writes as though things say things for themselves rather than the writer’s solipsistic ventriloquism. The rain is ‘the tiny quiet yes that will destroy you.’ And writing, imagining, can take you too far, somewhere where ‘there are no dogs, no rooms, no mothers.’ Her relationship with Dante and fear – fear is something, for all her protestations of levity, that is holy, that is sacred. She characterises the poetry of Milosz and the Polish poets of his generation as ‘the poetry of incantation, of prayer.’ She is breaking out of reverence.
"RETARDATION, an inconspicuous volume of poetry by Agnieszka Kuciak, is without doubt the most outstanding Polish poetry debut of the nineties. A witty poetic concept, irony and humour such as those seen in the poetry of Wisława Szymborska. The extraordinarily focussed vision and compression of meaning of Emily Dickinson. The elegant poetic structure of Brodsky or Heaney. The entrancing linguistic virtuosity of Barańczak. Unsurprisingly for a debutante, the master's voice can be heard in Agnieszka Kuciak's work - a fact, indeed, to which the poet willingly admits - but her poems nonetheless have an individual and discernible voice of their own. These are poems which are characteristic of the entire "Polish school of poetry", which speaks of existential matters and human adventure and the world." (Bronisław Maj)