Zbigniew Machej was born in Cieszyn in 1958. He is a poet, writer of children’s verse, critic, essayist, satirist and translator of Czech, Slovakian and English literature. He studied religion and Polish philology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He has worked as a teacher, freelance journalist, culture manager and diplomat (in the years 1991-1996 and 2000-2004 he was the deputy director of the Polish Institute in Prague, in the years 2006-2010 the director of the Polish Institute in Bratislava, and in 2011-2014 the deputy executive director of the International Visegrad Fund in Bratislava).
As a poet, he made his debut in 1980 in Tygodnik Powszechny. He has published fourteen collections of poetry. He has collaborated with bruLion, Krasnogruda, Literatura na Świecie, Europa, Foyer and Czarodziejska Kura, a magazine for children. He is a recipient of the Arka Award (1987) and the Stanisław Wyspiański Award (1991). In 2008 he was nominated for a Polityka Passport Award and the Silesius Poetry Award, as well as the Gdynia Literary Prize.
He is the only one among the “three most important debutants of the 1980s” (according to Marian Stala) who continues to confirm this high standing. He made his debut as a fully-fledged poet, for whom the strong influence of surrealism (not French, but Czech) did not muddle the clarity of his perception of the world or the precision of his intellectual workings. Machej is superb at exploiting the links between a joke and a metaphor, thanks to which even his most serious poems never fall into unmitigated pathos, nor do the funniest ones end up being merely vacuous entertainment. With the exception of Bogusław Kierc, no other contemporary Polish poet uses such a variety of metrical patterns with such elegant fluency (as well as, curiously, the short lyric form in prose). Machej is also a poet who reacts strongly to current affairs and phenomena of public life (for example, inspiration for a poem might come from an interview with Madonna, the murder of Versace, or a film about Basquiat). At the same time, his biting irony and independent views often make him enemies (as in the case of his poem about the publishers of Czesław Miłosz’s works). Eroticism has an important place in his work; he serves it up with Baroque lavishness, in all its metaphysical shades, while also making it highly suggestive and at times stunningly bold. Another poem worth mentioning is “Notes from under the Tower of Babel”, built upon the “linguistic inventions” of the poet’s young son, Klaudiusz, as well as three new long works, “Prolegomena to the History of Polish Poetry in the 1990s” (the title speaks for itself; the poem involves a revindication of many of the fixed preconceptions about the history of the most recent literature), “Four Socio-economic Litanies Dated July 2002” (an example of a political poem, which is rare nowadays), and “The Karpowicz Questionnaire” (a tribute to one of Poland's greatest poets, which at the same time questions the value systems that are de rigueur among Polish critics). Machej’s work is so varied that it is hard to sum it up in a few general sentences. This poet does not write “typical” poems, but tries to surprise us in every single one – and as a rule he succeeds.
- Smakosze, kochankowie i płatni mordercy, Warszawa, Czytelnik 1984.
- Śpiąca muza, Kraków, Oficyna Literacka 1988.
- Wiersze dla moich przyjaciół, Kraków, Biblioteka Miesięcznika Małopolskiego 1988.
- Dwa zbiory wierszy, London Puls 1990.
- Trzeci brzeg, Kraków, Oficyna Literacka 1992.
- Legendy praskiego metra, Poznań, Obserwator 1996.
- Kraina wiecznych zer, Legnica, Biuro Literackie Port Legnica 2000.
- Prolegomena, Legnica, Biuro Literackie Port Legnica 2000.
- Wspomnienia z poezji nowoczesnej, Wrocław: Buro Literackie, 2005.
- Wiersze przeciwko opodatkowaniu poezji, Wrocław: Biuro Literackie, 2007.
- Przygody przyrody, Wrocław: Biuro Literackie, 2008.
- Zima w małym mieście na granicy, Sejny: Pogranicze, 2008.
- Nietubyć (pen-name: Despret Ausweis), published on the Internet, 2010.
- Mroczny przedmiot pożądania, Wrocław: Biuro Literackie, 2014
- from Czech: Miloš Urban, Klątwa siedmiu kościołów, 2005.
- from Slovak: Ivan Štrpka, Cicha Ręka. Dziesięć elegii, 2009.
- from Slovak: Verše proti [Wybór wierszy], trans. Juraj Andricik, Karol Chmel, Katarina Laucikova-Dugast, Bratysława: Drewo a Srd, 2015