It is well known that our senses create our most vivid recollections: familiar smells, images and objects bring back memories just as if they are present in the here and now. In At The Library of Memories, Maria Jastrzębska takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of her personal experiences: intimate journeys and complex issues which she has faced in her own life.
Jastrzębska has an uncanny ability, guiding her readers on these wonderful voyages, creating routes which are thought-provoking and emotionally daunting in equal measures. This collection of poems asks difficult questions about immigration, understood through her own experience of personal conflicts. Jastrzębska has an undeniable skill in being able to make readers care as deeply about intimate objects from her own memories as they might if these were their own treasured possessions. Especially prominent throughout the whole collection is the loss of personal identity. Jastrzębska’s Polish roots are significant. Although she realises why her family had to move away from her native land, that does not stop her reflecting on how much of her identity is lost with the move to England. Rather than alienating readers, her frequent interjections in Polish render actually render her images more familiar. Her frequent mentions of her “Babcia” (Polish for grandmother) create a certain domestic intimacy. Her questions regarding her loss of identity go much deeper than just her language. Throughout this collection, it quickly becomes apparent that her Polish culture and local beliefs permeate the work, making clear their enduring importance and legacy.
This collection does not only deal with immigration however; the war, and its effect on Poland, also feature prominently. Her stark and vivid imagery when describing some of the many still-haunting horrors is striking and powerful. In one of her poems, for example, she describes the rape of one of her grandmothers in simple and stark imagery; this sudden seemingly almost cavalier approach makes the work more effective. Other significant successes lie in her manipulation of tone and rhythm when describing these images. The structure of her poetry gives her work a distinct, realist view. This delivery is both effective and daunting for readers. At times, they may well also perform a double-take; monstrosities of war are seamlessly integrated with objects from her own past, the latter ostensibly innocent symbols that have been corrupted by the nature of the war. The effect is inclusive and such wonderful touches are threaded through her work.
“You cannot remember this. But you were told the story so many times you see it.”This is how the reader feels when reading this collection: unfamiliar yet also strangely recognisable. At The Library of Memories creates a series of intimate events from Jastrzębska’s recollections that is accessible to many, and made profound by her personal touches. Despite an ostensible exotic unfamiliarity, Jastrzębska’s fills these geographical spaces with objects and memories from her collective pasts and thus allowing us to share them as if they were our own. Indeed, her extraordinary talent lies in guiding us so effectively through her own memories in ways which makes them seem personal. She does not hold our hands through this journey of discovery. Instead, she allows us to view them through our own eyes – the ultimate decision lies with us. The provocative themes and the issues she raises about the war and our own identities have the capacity to create important debates; the images she draws have the power to remain with us for the rest of our lives.