About Eliza Segiet’s ‘Magnetic People’
Written by: Kinga Młynarska
Translated by: Artur Komoter
More than 70 years have passed since the end of World War II. It is still too early to be able to deal with trauma and heal mental wounds. The war took many lives and crippled not only the eyewitnesses; marked by pain were also those from the so-called Second Generation. The subject of the Holocaust is also present in the consciousness of later generations. It can be seen in art, literature, and poetry. War is the most lasting injury.
Poets speak in a different way about (armed) aggression, victims and executioners, the system. Everyone looks for any sense in a war in their own way, but the questions only multiply; there is a lack of answers. Authors of poems perpetuate the memory of the fallen and those who survived, were murdered and were murderers.
“Magnetic People” is a tribute of Eliza Segiet to all (alive and dead) victims of war, as well as a lyrical carrier of historical memory. The subject of the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews is particularly close to the poet. This is one of the most important motives of her latest collection.
“Magnetic People” is a poetic story about war. Emotions play the main role here. Segiet, step by step, introduces the reader into darker and darker scenes, formulates fears with the voice of her subjects, asks questions. She shows us a world of people who are hounded, deprived of dignity, who in gruesome circumstances realize that life is trembling. She takes us to the claustrophobic space of cellars, attics and cages, in which the Others hide from wrong death sentences.
As in the previous poetry volumes of the author, the poetry of questions about philosophical provenance dominates here. Only that in this collection these questions take on a very bitter, dramatic character — there is no concrete answer to them.
The lyrical commentary also affects the essence of war. The poet observes that behind this macabre slogan really are hidden people. One can try to explain a lot of War, one can get rid of responsibility, make it an impersonal culprit. And yet the poets tear down this curtain and notice that War is carried out by specific individuals, that the rifle does not hold itself, that decisions are not made by themselves. “Magnetic People” fits topically into the broadly understood “war literature”, referring to deportations by trains, to chimneys, etc., it sends back to the experience of World War II. But actually, most of the poems are universal. Segiet tells about the sufferings of individuals who tremble daily about their and their relatives’ fate.
The “Magnetic” heroes lose everything valuable — wealth, dignity, sense of security, family, faith, and finally — meaning and the meaning of the word / Human and the Future. They live in a world where you need to trade goods (not only material) to survive, but that also does not give a guarantee, because — as we read in “Gradated” — you cannot always pay for / Life.
It is not surprising that in this space the characters feel constant fear of dying (we are afraid of death), fear for the lives of loved ones (through a crack in the hideout / I watched whether / my daughters are still alive), in “Fear” we read: I’m afraid of death, / I’m afraid of life. Some agree with fate, some rebel, others look stubbornly at the flame of hope. They are kept alive mainly by the bond with the loved ones, by love and dreams, for example: I will drift with the current of life / — I will find my paradise.
There are several subjects in this collection. We can say something about some, e.g., a Jew, father of two children, constantly hiding; there is also a woman, a war orphan, or a girl who escaped the Gestapo. But most often the subject-symbol comes to the fore, which on behalf of all Others weaves its thrilling story of survival. Almost every piece is a condensed picture of the situation, with stopped emotions that are moved from the characters to the reader. These poems are read in constant tension, with heaving emotions, with great agitation.
Segiet in “Magnetic People” feels a strong need to name and, thanks to this, characterise the heroes of the volume. They are often very strong, expressive epithets. The victims are Others, Gradated, Magnetic People, the Nazis are Better, Jewslayers, Hitmen, Judeovores, serial killers, Evildoers. Of course, this is a kind of element of shocking poetics; there is certain sarcasm in it, but above all, there are emotions. Segiet created a few surprising expressions, perfectly reflecting not only the situation of the ones called, but also the whole drama of circumstances, and apart from those mentioned above are the German-sensitive (Jewish children), The Redundant, Sharks.
The subject usually divides people into “us” and “them”, with Germans being treated as a threat — being afraid, hiding, pointing to their murderous activity, but never accusing them. There are questions and considerations about the private nature of the perpetrators, but we will not find hatred for them there. What’s more, one of the talking heroes recalls that a German officer (in another poem called Hans) saved his life (he was good, / despite being German).
In the terse “Human Tragedy” accumulates all the tension and terror of a human and the tragedy of the situation, mainly of the citizens of Jewish origin — the subject panics: everyone nearby became deaf (…), no one can hear calls for help, looking for someone who can react, and sadly asserts: only a watchful rat, / who emerges from his burrow, / to taste human hatred. Is there a place for anything positive in such an inhuman world, where people are pulled into the vortex of hatred? For selflessness, for support, for love? It turns out that it is actually hope that dies last. Subjects and heroes of “Magnetic People” seek strength in themselves that will allow them to survive. They pray for a miracle of existence, and faith in the future is drawn from longing for freedom, for normality. They also dream of peaceful existence in the circle of relatives and — what is very important in the general message of the volume — about survival, in order to be able to bear witness and preserve the memory of the cruel times and their victims.
Segiet clearly emphasizes the most important values, also signaling them graphically — it is the capitalized Life, Human, Love. In the poetic work of the author of “Cloudiness”, important elements occupy a permanent place: memory, time, philosophy. Of course, here too, these components are ubiquitous, but hidden behind a subtle veil of exposed events. “Magnetic People” is like a cross section of the fate of a man (Jew) whose only desire is to survive. Here we observe the moment of the first shock and getting lost by the chaotically changing situation of the heroes. There are persecutions, murders, attempts to escape, hiding and taking various ways to survive another day. Also, the palette of feelings and emotional states is extremely voluminous — fear, rebellion, anger, faith, doubt, hope, love, etc.
Segiet also did not omit the voice of those who survived. These people are maimed, dependent on help from others (someone has to be the eyes / and the other / to push the cart), lost and terrified by the new reality. Because surviving the war does not mean happiness. How can one enjoy life when the nightmares return every night when the subject asks themselves (because there is no one else), can a bath without gas and rinsing away the past help them to function normally? A female subject from the poem “Ordinary” wonders / if she will ever say: / — I love my life. War inflicts permanent wounds and the conclusion — a shocking one — is that no one comes out of it without injury, no one can feel victorious.
“Magnetic People” is a moving encounter of macabre history with poignant lyrics. It is poetry that stops and provokes. Eliza Segiet once again impresses with her insight, empathy and literary artistry.-
A passionate Polish Studies graduate, an enthusiast of broadly understood culture and art. Focused on development in life. Full time mum of two rascals. Usually smiling.
Eliza Segiet – Master’s Degree graduate in Philosophy, completed postgraduate studies in Cultural Knowledge, Philosophy, Arts and Literature at Jagiellonian University, as well as Film and Television Production in Lodz.
Torn between poetry and drama. Likes to look into the clouds, but keeps both feet on the ground. Her heart is close to the thought of Schopenhauer: “Ordinary people merely think how they shall ‘spend’ their time; a man of talent tries to ‘use’ it”.Eliza Segiet – absolwentka studiów magisterskich Wydziału Filozofii, studiów podyplomowych – Wiedza o Kulturze i Filozofia, Studiów Literacko Artystycznych Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego oraz Studium Realizacji i Eksploatacji Telewizyjno-Filmowej w Łodzi.
Rozdarta pomiędzy poezją a dramatem. Lubiąca spoglądać w chmury, ale twardo stąpająca po ziemi. Jej sercu bliska jest myśl Schopenhauera: „Zwyczajni ludzie myślą tylko o tym, jak czas spędzić, kto ma jakiś talent – jak czas wykorzystać”.