Tag Archives: author

Highlights from Reading and Conversation Event with Julia Fiedorczuk

This week, Millersville welcomed renowned Polish writer, poet, translator, and researcher Julia Fiedorczuk on the last stop of her North American tour. She read from her latest collection of poetry, Psalms, which was awarded the prestigious Wisława Szymborska Prize in Poland in 2018 as well as selections from her unreleased novel, The House of Orion, providing context and insight on her process and conceptual and physical groundings.

She sat facing us, a mixed crowd of approximately 40 community members, faculty, and students, in a red armchair in the Ford Atrium. Beside her, Dr. Katarzyna Jakubiak acted as moderator and co-presenter as each poem presented was read twice, first in Polish by Fiedorczuk and then in English by Dr. Jakubiak. Fiedorczuk remarked that she prefers to not read her poems aloud in English stating “I can’t read them not because I dislike them, they’re beautiful, but because Polish is so connected to me,” expressing a gratefulness to Bill Johnston, the translator for both Psalms and an earlier work Oxygen. The depth of her connection was evident, even to non-Polish listeners. She spoke in a soft breathy voice with conviction and pressing flow, transporting the audience in gentle percussive insistence into her work that interweaves narratives of human trauma and resilience with environmental beauty and catastrophe.

In simultaneously engaging two often juxtaposed topics, she masterfully shapes a dialogue that addresses both the ongoing climate crisis and human crises (most notably the great migration crisis in Europe that begin around 2013) challenging divisions of science and humanities, noting that these are the same struggle. The ongoing loss of biodiversity is inextricable from the loss of human life and language and vice versa. As such, Fiedorczuk powerfully argues for “science to be informed by poetry” stating that “literature needs to be precise and science needs to be imaginative.” Poetry specifically offers the ability to tap into human imagination that she describes saying, “imagination is a wonderful thing and imagination is a wild thing,” noting that human imagination is collective and often “more than” human. This ability to place ourselves in collective imaginings is key to understanding Psalms that explores the complicated interplay of two primary emotions: despair and joy.

Placing these two emotions in confluence creates a needed perspective that shares moments of the “absolute unconditional acceptance of life” and the “possibility of having real authentic joy” in the face of the complex fears of global climate and humanitarian issues. This is partly accomplished by centering the physical experience of language drawing from its oral beginnings and exploring how “little portions of sound” can create meaning. Describing this work as a “somatic translation,” that is partially a translation and interpretation of the Biblical poems of the same name, Fiedorczuk studied Hebrew and even memorized some of the verses so she could sing them and embody the experience of language. Despite the religious nature of the original material, she emphasized that her poems are not religious at all. They are “prayers” but only in the sense that they address someone who can potentially respond – like a crying child, who uses sound before they can construct meaning, is still calling someone, addressing someone. In this way, her Psalms are meant to invite or invoke another presence.

Humble and honest, Fiedorczuk also shared her struggle to find relevance as a writer in the face of such extreme human and natural suffering. After visiting the Białowieża Forest in 2021, a place for her that is rooted in mystical reverence as it is one of the oldest forests in Europe, she found herself questioning her value as a writer while witnessing the struggles of migrants who were displaced in the forest, sold on a false dream that it would offer an easy way to enter Europe. Her doubts about whether or not it was meaningful for her to write anymore had overtaken her until a friend reminded her “but that’s what you do, just do your job.” This experience is reflected in her poem “Cold” that states “Even when bombs are falling you ought to write” that also uses part of a phone call from someone who became trapped in the forest as part of Poland’s response to the migration crisis. She recognizes that her approach to these circumstances is not necessarily a solution, stating that while writing is “not going to solve problems, I’m a writer and that’s my contribution.” She also stated that even in the face of the global epidemic of hopelessness and numbness, “something can always be done” and that there is “always a way to help someone. Always a way to deeply care for someone or something.”

For many of us in the discipline of English and World Languages studies, that way is writing. Fiedorczuk suggests that when we feel hopelessness creep into our own lives to practice “place writing” that centers noticing and knowing what is immediately around you, leaving preconceived ideas behind; “start where you are, start with small things, start with noticing what’s around you.” In so doing, writing can allow us to build new ways of knowing and practice resiliency and recognize that “this life is extremely valuable, and we cannot wait for all these crises to be over because that may never happen. The art is to live in the present.”

 

We are very grateful to Julia Fiedorczuk for visiting and sharing her work (despite a twisted ankle!) and to Dr. Jakubiak and the Department of English and World Languages for hosting the event. Read selected poems from her latest book Psalms here: https://www.harvardreview.org/content/psalms/?fbclid=IwAR3mIzvhCxFtylEXd948anhK5FyyH-wpdsjrbKPsxyZBTaOHC8uwD_tz-rs