Clay and Light in the Poetry of Joanna Pollakówna

Anna Gąsienica-Byrcyn, University of Illinois, Chicago

Joanna Pollakówna is a contemporary Polish poet and an art historian who writes poetry using the language of visual arts, especially painting.  Her poems represent ekphraseis or verbal paintings that reecho les correspondances between verses and visual works of art.  Little scholarship has been done in the studies of Pollakówna’s verses in Poland and abroad.

This paper will introduce Pollakówna’s beautiful, moving poetry into the English speaking world by examining the links in her ekphraseis with the paintings created by Jacek Sempolinski that touched the poet’s imagination. The study will concentrate on the connections between Pollakówna’s poems and Sempolinski’s paintings through the prism of mystic concepts (St. Bonaventure) and mythical archetypes (Eliade). The paper will explore such concepts as the motif of light and dark, the magical chromatic alchemy of color, the dynamic movement of a word and the paint, the role of an artist and her/his work of art.

Pollakówna believes that a painter like Jacek Sempolinski in his triptych entitled Wytop: Ziemia, Metal, Krew places pigments of colors in such a way that he creates geological layers that transmute the light from their dark, clay hues. It is the eternal and symbolic process of transformation of the paint into the divine experience that a work of art can offer so that a painting like a poem symbolizes the inner, spiritual conquer of an artist, his metaphysical light, his thoughts and his presence.

The poet considers herself to be a dark, clay vessel. She emanates her poems created from her luminous thoughts formed within the dim depths of her inner self. Her verses become magical and metaphysical stones that offer reflections on rapture, pain, silence, writing, painting, faith, hope, dismal, life and death. The artist wants to repeat the divine action of creation.  She desires to write and paint in other words to “force a piece of clay to radiate golden sediment” (Skąpa jasność). The poet’s verses turn into “the golden beaming dust,” the palimpsest of a thousand dynamic movements, dreams, realizations and defeats. They become her spiritual nourishment and at the same time her ashes, the symbol of her presence offered as her gift to the world.