Transgressing Language? : The Poetry of Ania Walwicz


A number of contradictions shape the poetry of Polish-Australian writer Ania Walwicz. These contradictions are bred partly by the literary theory which has so insistently surrounded her work, and, it will be argued, are partly inherent in the enterprise of avant-garde or experimental poetry. Speaking in 1987 about Walwicz's 'no speak', an interviewer states: 'Yes, that's what I find disturbing in this poem, the sense of loss of communication and the feeling of desperation that goes with this kind of loss' (FitzGerald 6). Walwicz's response addresses the question of language through her concern with both experimentalism and being 'a migrant'. For the experimentalist, one who seeks the borders or limit conditions of language, and for the migrant, there is this 'being devoid of language ... that loss' (FitzGerald 6). But such statements, by poet and critic, deal in a kind of fiction, a feared and desired return to origins, a space in which to investigate and rewrite the contours of the self, and of this all-devouring medium, language. This is the contradictory enterprise of both the migrant and the experimentalist, at least in one phase of their undertaking: to start again, to know both less and more than the dwellers at the centre, to point a way by being in loss, or by sacrifice. This taking up of marginality, difference, is also, and complicatedly, the nexus of female identity formation in one phase of feminism; and it is informative, sometimes in negative formulations, and sometimes in positive, celebratory ways in many Walwicz poems. In a poem such as 'Poland', the terms are negative: forgetting, moving away from the origin, the known centre. Whether this movement away is through necessity, or whether it is being celebrated in a peculiar way, is left unsure: I forget everything. Now. More and more. It gets dim. And further away. It's as if I made it up. As though I was never there at all. Not real. Child Stories . . . I don't remember Poland. I don't want to remember Poland. I read about it in the papers. And this is not where I am. Not where I am . . . I don't want to tell stories. I don't want to make things up. I didn't like Poland. I wanted to travel. I leave my Poland behind. It is gone and it is gone and it is gone (Writing 95). Poland becomes a crucible of fear and desire: for a lost place, time and identity. It is simultaneously the land of childhood, the source of memory, dreams and stories, as well as a place of containment, of lies, only one place, which must be travelled away from. But Poland clings and is not gone, even as the words on the page are prodded into repudiating such a place. If it is only a name and a place on the map it can be dismissed, but of course it is also the talisman, the icon of the poem, its title. The poem begins with an unnamed source of fear and desire -- 'I don't keep this. I tried to keep this' -- which in the second half is named, over and over, Poland.

Published 1 May 1996 in Volume 17 No. 3. Subjects: Poetic techniques, Prose poetry, Use of language.

Cite as: McCredden, Lyn. ‘Transgressing Language? : The Poetry of Ania Walwicz.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 17, no. 3, 1996, doi: 10.20314/als.b6e9750062.