The unbearable presence of absence – on Martyna’s Tomczyk poems / Open Anthology /

Cold nights spent on night buses returning home or rather “home”, affairs and relationships which are ultimately pointless and a reminder of longing they were supposed to combat in the first place, empty drinking as refuge – this is the environment of voice speaking through Tomczyk’s poems. At first glance it might seem banal – I can imagine you, my imagined reader, thinking: “Who gives a shit? There are thousands, if not millions, of folk who live like that”. But they don’t have the honesty, shy courage and talent to describe the experience. Tomczyk has it in spades.


What endears me to her poems is the affinity towards complex similes (“just like one covers rain against the rain – needlessly” or the whole first stanza of fashion victim) and her sensitivity towards images – after all, they says more than a thousand words. Tomczyk has the ability to create such pictures in a few strokes of pen, which lends frugality to her work and spares the need for the afore-mentioned thousands. Not only that – it makes what’s left out of the text more important than what is explicitly written; her verses are the symptoms, a delicate sketch of issues she describes. This shyness of poetic language is balanced with openness about circumstances they tell us about. And what they are telling us?


The tone of silent resignation guides us through unsettling, uncomfortable images of our contemporary world where loneliness is a default state, the new normal, and every attempt of overcoming it ends in failure – like that of a married woman who decided to divorce “and doesn’t have a clue what next”. Or that of the girl waiting to be seduced only to be treated with “emotionless Hey”. Men in these poems are defined by their inability to address the need for intimacy, they are present only in most literally meaning and their presence leads only to disappointment and further confirmation that meaningful contact is impossible, with the exception of white balance. So what’s left? After all, it’s easy to strip off in front of someone you don’t know, but when you dress up he still will be stranger and you still will be alone.


But that’s not the whole story – it would be unfair to limit those poems only to disappointment with men. It’s just that the most striking symptom of broader issue, central to these poems is the lack of warmth in contemporary reality. Like in “a long time, I was only a child”, where in a simple talk about future plans children become “a part of a set”, alongside furniture. Or like I’ll be back, but…, where the changes in a childhood landscape signify alienation from a place so dear and bring back the painful memories (the poem even ends with mention of “warm nights you can count on the fingers of one hand”). The promise of a “sorted life”, the lady smiling with “foolproof cream against wrinkles and ends of the world”, sleeping together out of habit – it all points the subject of these poems to the wish of “something more”. That absence is ever present, inescapable and manifests itself in all walks of life. The longing cannot be silenced or forgotten, cannot be negotiated or placated, no matter how hard one might try. The storks might fly away to warmer places, but can we? Where are those places? In it’s unfortunate that the reader encounters the answer – in “relations other than yours, in places you’re not present”. The warmth sought badly so becomes then a myth – something the subject wishes it existed, without having any kind of proof, and can only suspect it dwells somewhere out of its sight with a bitter hope.


Good poetry doesn’t always have to be innovative or skillful, but it does have to be true. Honesty and femininity in the best sense of the word of Martyna Tomczyk’s poetry fulfills this condition to the core. Thousands, if not millions, of young women right now live in post-patriarchal (even if only in name) world of XXI century, where they are told they be anything they want, be it lawyers, doctors, politicians, singers, but none can be happy. They live trying to achieve the goals this epoch set them – that is, to be independent and self-reliant and they achieve it, but it doesn’t solve all their problems and something is still missed in a world where “homes come from credits”. Poetry which tell us about their pain is true, in the rawest sense of the word.


Seweryn Gorczak