KEYWORDS: Poland, Anka Kowalska, Writer, Poetry, Prose, Novel, 1980s, Journalist, Solidarity, Dialogic Narrative Monologue, Spoken Monologue, Workers’ Defence Committee, Internment Camp
SHE THOUGHT IT
In 1963, Anka Kowalska published her first prose book, Pestka [The Stone], in which she adopted a rare narrative technique, called dialogic narrative monologue or spoken monologue. In Polish Theory of Literature, this phenomenon was first described by Michał Głowiński in 1961. His analysis, however, did not include a single book written by a woman. The first literary work written as a spoken monologue was Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky in 1864. Almost a century later, in 1956, Albert Camus was to use this technique in The Fall. Głowiński presented a number of examples from Polish literature, including Wzlot by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, Jak być kochaną by Kazimierz Brandys, Koncert życzeń by Stanisław Wygrodzki. In a comment to the new edition of his book in 1972, he claimed that Polish literature had not witnessed any other outstanding examples of the dialogic narrative monologue (Głowiński 1972: 148). It is worth mentioning that Kowalska’s volume Pestka has been translated into five languages.
From 1976, while working at the Workers’ Defence Committee (Komitet Obrony Robotników), Anka Kowalska contributed to the creation of a new language, later called korkowriec (korek– a cork; korkowiec, korkowy– made of cork), by introducing the use of a dry and very precise style of writing, devoid of adjectives. Anka Kowalska edited a newsletter focussing on the repression, which collected information about who was detained, who was fired, who was beaten, who was arrested. She also informed the Western media about the repression in Poland.
After World War II, Kowalska started studying in Sosnowiec in a secondary school named after Emilia Plater. Her first poems were published when she was a student there in a magazine by the Polish Red Cross (Szczypka 1975: 183). She graduated in Bedzin in 1950 and enrolled at the Catholic University of Lublin, where she started her studies in Polish Literature. She graduated in 1955. Her proper poetic debut took place while at university, when she published her poems in Słowo Powszechne [The Universal Word] in 1953. In 1959 she was awarded Nagroda Młodych Włodzimierza Pietrzaka [The Young Prize of Włodzimierz Pietrzak]. It was a reward for the series of reviews Tym, którzy czytali [For Those Who Read] published in Kierunki [Directions] and discussing books by Romanowicz, Rudnicki, Camus, Frisch, Gide, Dostoevsky and Greene. In 1961, Kowalska received Nagroda Peleryny [the Capes Award] at the National Student Festival in Gdansk, and her Credo najmniejsze [Credo the smallest] , a collection of twenty short, mostly erotic poems, was acclaimed as one of the most interesting poetic debuts of the year. Many critics compared young Kowalska to well-known poets, such as Poświatowska or Hillar (Katz 1961: 8). Some viewed Kowalska as a new and creative individuality, and they evaluated her poems warmly, sometimes with great enthusiasm. Other critics did not agree and one of them maintained that her last volume of poems did not offer much and was not too staggering a promise for the future (Dąbrowski 1960: 6). The author of those review, however, misjudged Kowalska, because three years later, in 1964, she published her first prose book, Pestka.
After her graduation, Kowalska moved to Warsaw, where she started working as a journalist at PAX Publishing. Initially she dealt with corrections, and later worked there as an editor. From 1960 to 1968 she was an activist of the Association of PAX, which she left in protest after the events of March 1968. From then on she was a member of the Polish Writers’ Association.
In 1969, she published her second book of poetry, Psalmy z doliny [The Psalms from the Valley], a much more mature collection which was no longer compared with the work of Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, Małgorzata Hillar or with songs by Agnieszka Osiecka. . The poems are pervaded by an atmosphere of suffering as an inseparable component of love. The most admired feature of this volume, as can be inferred from reviews, is the process of incremental silencing. Jan Szczypka, for example, notes that the poems seem to have originated inthe last pages of Kowalska’s novel. Indeed, her verses sing of difficult love, full of sacrifice and dedication. The poet’s lyricacl approach is very ‘economical’ and each and every word is weighed carefully, so as not to reveal too much.
After the time Kowalska spent in prison, between the 12 December 1981 and 1 June 1982, came a volume of touching poems, entitled Wiersze z obozu internowanych [Poems from the Internment Camp]. The collection was published in Samizdat, and was therefore very difficult to obtain and not very popular. The poems depict camp life and often describe tragic situations and events. Many of them are about sorrow, the desire for a regular life and compassion for others. In the introduction to the book of poems, which is only twelve pages long, the author explains that in the women’s camps, prison authorities followed the strict internment regulations and would confiscate every single scrap of written paper. As she was often moved from one camp to another, she had to assume that she might have to tear her poems with her own hands, and what could be saved had to fit on tissue paper the size of a postage stamp (Kowalska 1983: 5).
In 1987, Kowalska wrote a volume of poems entitled Racja stanu [The Reason of State], which was published in the underground. From then on, she collaborated with many magazines such as Gazeta Wyborcza [Electoral Newspaper], Zapis [Record] and Puls [Pulse]. She also took care of Aniela Steinbergowa (Sokolińska 2008), who was a co-founder of the Workers’ Defence Committee and Committee for Social Self-defence WDC.
In 1995, Krystyna Janda, the famous Polish director and actress, made a movie based on Kowalska’s novel. In 2006, the President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, awarded her The Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restitua. Anka Kowalska died in 2008 in her apartment in Warsaw, Poland.
ARTISTIC COLLABORATION AND RECOGNITION
Anka Kowalska was one of the main participants in the Workers’ Defence Committee. As she said, she joined them, because, “It was a few years of bitterness, a sense of utter hopelessness, spending life in the awareness that it is simply in neutral gear, in a climate of nonsense, omnipresent nonsense, at least nonsense and lies. The feeling that one is idling” (Rogoziński 1970: 71; my translation). At that time her apartment looked like a telephone operating centre. Foreign journalists would call her and Jacek Kuroń to obtain information about Poland. Among others, she was one of the people who kept the Western media informed about the repression against the opposition.
Kowalska was a member of Solidarity and was arrested as a consequence. On 12 December 1981, at night, she was taken from her apartment to the police station with several other activists. She was then transported to the Grochów prison, where she was told that martial law had been declared. A few days later, she was deported. As she mentioned in one of her interviews, she and a few members of Solidarity were taken to Jaworz detention centre close to Koszalin. Women were on the ground floor, men on the first floor, with two showers for a swarm of people. The writer recalled that Jaworz was not the worst, because the soldiers were guarding them. One evening they told all women to pack. They had decided that Jaworz would only imprison intellectuals, “And women, as you know, are not intellectuals” (Sokolińska 2008; my translation). The women were then packed in police cars and transported to Gołdapia, on the border with the Soviet Union. Faced with the question of who was in Gołdapia, Kowalska replied that they were Solidarity activists, but among them were also typists and telex operators. Kowalska was then transferred to Darłówek where, as she admitted, she adopted exactly the same behaviour as in the other detention centres. She would lie on her bed for hours, facing the wall and reading books borrowed from the library. It turned out that she was lying down so much because she was ill and, on 1 June, she was moved to a hospital. There, she was told that she had no pulse in her legs. Kowalska was found by members of Doctors of the World, who offered her treatment in Paris, but the Polish authorities gave her only a one-way passport. She refused. When she received a passport that gave her the right to return to Poland, she decided to leave. In Paris, she underwent surgery to receive an artificial aorta and, after a year abroad, she returned to Poland in 1983 and retired (Sokolińska 2008).
SHE SAID IT
In general, Jaworz was not the worst, because of the soldiers guarding us. (…) One evening they told the women to pack. They decided that Jaworz would only keep intellectuals. And women, as you know, are not intellectuals.
cited by Sokolińska, 2008 (my translation)
In the women’s camps, prison authorities took up each written piece of paper. (…) I was moved very often, so I could assume that tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or even today, I would have to tear it with my own hands (…) What could be saved had to fit on tissue paper the size of a postage stamp.
cited from Wiersze z obozu internowanych, 1982, p. 5. (my translation)
Sunday is for old and tired, Sunday is for married couples, Sunday is for happily in love. Loners should blame themselves, and Sunday is the punishment for the guilty. In this vast day there is as much time for love, for rest, for joy, as there is for suffering and celebration of suffering. I have never loved you more than on Sunday. Only on Sunday can I hate you the most.
cited from Pestka, 1965, p. 28. (my translation)
THEY SAID IT
This volume has quite a strong character (…). It could be properly regarded as one poem written out in individual lines. The dialogue of love, which takes place in the pages of this book, is a peculiar and original one.
about Credo najmniejsze, cited by Ostromęcki, Bogdan (1961), „Credo najmniejsze”, in Twórczość, n.° 9, Warszawa.
Less uniform and less predatory than Poświatowska, however deeper, much less sensual, with a greater ability to generalize, and more reflective. Less trivial than Hillar.
about Credo najmniejsze, cited by Katz, Janina (1961), „Credo najmniejsze”, in Życie Literackie, n.° 4, Kraków
The writer would put an equal sign between life and love, between emptiness after feeling a nonexistence at all, and finally – between good and loving, between its absence and evil. She is a moralist.
cited by Szczypka, Józef (1975), „O dzwonkach, ‘Pestce’ i psalmach” in Przypomnienia, Warszawa.
PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS
2006: Krzyż Komandorski z Gwiazdą Orderu Odrodzenia Polski [The Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restitua]
1982: POLCUL Foundation Award [Independent Foundation for Support Polish Culture in Sydney]
1961: Nagroda Peleryny na Ogólnopolskim Festiwalu Studentów w Gdańsku [Capes Award at the National Festival of Students in Gdansk]
1959: Nagroda Młodych im. Włodzimierza Pietrzaka [Wlodzimierz Pietrzak Young Prize]
Grycuk, Adrian, photo of the memory board, Warsaw <https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48274932> (last accessed 20/10/2016)
Janda, Krystyna, “Pestka”, official website of Krystyna Janda <http://krystynajanda.pl/dorobek/pestka/> (last accessed 20/10/2016)
Pestka (1995), Dir. Krystyna Janda, Perf. Krystyna Janda, Daniel Olbrychski, Agnieszka Krókówna, Anna Dymna, Złota kolekcja [DVD]
WORKS BY ANKA KOWALSKA
Credo najmniejsze, Warsaw (1960)
Pestka, Warsaw (1965)
Psalmy z doliny, Warsaw (1969)
Spojrzenie, Warsaw (1974)
Wiersze z obozu internowanych, Warsaw (1982)
Racja stanu, Warsaw (1985)
Floklor tamtych lat, Warsaw (2011)
Dąbrowski, Witold (1960), „Credo bez udawania”, in Współczesność, n.° 22, Warsaw
Głowiński, Michał (1973), „Narracja jako monolog wypowiedziany”, in Gry powieściowe, Warsaw
Katz, Janina (1961), „Credo najmniejsze”, in Życie Literackie, n.° 4, Kraków
Kondratowicz, Ewa (2001), „Szminka na sztandarze. Kobiety solidarności 1980-1989. Rozmowy”, Warsaw
Milewicz Ewa (2008), „Anka Kowalska” <http://wyborcza.pl/1,76842,5868197,Anka_Kowalska.html>
(last accessed 10/10/2016)
Milewicz, Ewa (2008), „ Zmarła Anka Kowalska”, <http://wyborcza.pl/1,75410,5408092,Zmarla_Anka_Kowalska.html> (last accessed 10/10/2016)
Ostromęcki, Bogdan (1961), „Credo najmniejsze”, in Twórczość, n.° 9, Warszawa
Rogoziński, Julian (1970), „Preteksty”, in Poezja, n.° 7, Warszawa
Sokolińska, Joanna (2008), “Anka Kowalska – sylwetka”, http://wyborcza.pl/duzyformat/1,127290,3626065.html (last accessed 10/10/2016)
Szczypka, Józef (1975), „O dzwonkach, ‘Pestce’ i psalmach” in Przypomnienia, Warszawa
Dąbrowski, Witold (1960), „Credo bez udawania”, in Współczesność, n.° 22, Warszawa, 6
Głowiński, Michał (1973), „Narracja jako monolog wypowiedziany”, in Gry powieściowe, Warsaw, 183
Katz, Janina (1961), „Credo najmniejsze”, in Życie Literackie, n.° 4, Kraków, 8
Kowalska, Anka (1983), Wiersze z obozu internowanych, Kraków, 5
Ostromęcki, Bogdan (1961), „Credo najmniejsze”, in Twórczość, n.° 9, Warszawa, 119
Rogoziński, Julian (1970), „Preteksty”, in Poezja, n.° 7, Warszawa, 71
Sokolińska, Joanna (2008), “Anka Kowalska – sylwetka”, http://wyborcza.pl/duzyformat/1,127290,3626065.html (last accessed 10/10/2016)
Szczypka, Józef (1975), „O dzwonkach, ‘Pestce’ i psalmach” in Przypomnienia, Warszawa, 183.