Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Judith Vollmer Interviewed in The Writer's Chronicle

The current issue of the Associated Writing Program's journal The Writer's Chronicle features an important and extensive interview with Polish-American poet Judith Vollmer. She discusses -- among other topics -- the cultural landscape of America, the language of poetry, and the Polish poets who have meant the most to her.

In reply to the interviewer's question "When you read Polish writers, what are you seeking?" Ms. Vollmer replies,

I'm looking for my grandmother's table. I'm looking for a garden where the dill and scallions and tomatoes border the sidewalk, and where my grandmother, even when it is eighty-five degrees, pours out a hot cup of coffee for me. I'm looking for a language I heard all the time as a child and didn't understand; and for all of the war stories my uncles and my parents told and for what the post-World War II poets have to teach us. So Szymborska, Herbert, Milosz, Rosewicz--all are important. And living in the place I do, where the boundaries are still being rewritten, that literature is crucial.


Here are two poems from Ms. Vollmer's recent book Reactor (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004):

July Evening With Ancestors

Narrow & green under the summer canopy
my daydream calls up

a sea turtle dozing on my lap so I can study
its shell, ancient model for the igloo,
a nice idea in July

& a boy streaming the hard reverb
of his black stratocaster onto the quiet street,
the hard pure sound
breaks the sauna air a little

& now a canal
tinted & flavored by gardeners &
cooks taking smoke breaks and pausing
to snip the wild mint.

The canal darkens, also,
with hands slipping sandals from tired feet,
and brightens
at each footbridge with sconces,
slender guides that light-finger the shadows.

Extended Family Genealogy

—It is better to be bored at home than go
ballistic in someone else’s space.

—Andrei Codrescu

Today I learned from the Ellis Island website
my Baci’s boat left Europe from Antwerp not Gdansk
which means she made a long overland journey
that remains unrecorded. My mother does not know

her own grandmother’s name or town or origin.
My grandmother traveled with a 2-year-old
girl not her own, entrusted to her by a lady.
Onboard she ate for the first time a banana, unpeeled,

in the company of the child, Janina,
& of corpses to be buried after the Ellis docking.
Literate at home in Krakow, she never learned English
and for 40 years kept the peace & quiet of our house.

One of my favorite poets, Li Po, was descended from
Turks. Maybe his dizzy mountain airs
offer us voyages uncharted still. My mother

is named for either Marie Antoinette
or Maria Theresa, and her maiden name,
Gunia, means horsehair in Polish but also holds origins
in Palermo whose murky radiance I have begun to trace.

My parents named me for St. Jude, patron of hopeless
causes. I have lied, cheated, & stolen. Grieved much
of it but do we ever finish. I love stealing,

not only the Desnos/”Hammock” theft,
but also the grand larceny of “The Jewel,” lifted
from Cold Mountain while reading
the translations a 100th time. (Not

theft, it’s riffling, sampling!) My affinity
with the poet Larbaud is unmistakable.
Consider too my Muir-like fevers:
when only 14 he rose at 1 a.m.

to spend 4 hours reading before returning
to work his father’s Wisconsin fields.
I claim my own and they claim me, certifiably.

My most famous blood relative, my aunt
who died a prostitute in Steubenville, warned
of the uselessness of fixed identity: “Honey, it’s like that
black coat of yours: collects everything but men & money.”

(The photograph of Judith Vollmer was taken by Anne Begler.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

News From Polish American Writers

Here are some recent activities by Polish American writers . (If you run your cursor over their names and click, you'll be taken to their websites.)

Phil Boiarski
Phil's one of the featured poets in the upcoming anthology CapCity Poets, published by Pudding House this Spring.

John Guzlowski
I've recently published two poems about my mother and her experiences during and after World War II in Chattahoochee Review: "The Evil that Men Do" and "My Aunt Sophie was 17." My poem "Fear" about the Polish poet Tadeusz Borowski (author of This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen) appears in latest issue of Hanging Loose.

Sharon Mesmer
Her new book Annoying Diabetic Bitch will be reviewed in the next issue of Rain Taxi and mentioned in a "round-up" review in an upcoming Village Voice. Connected with that, she'll be reading with the other flarf poets in the "Flarf is Life 2008 Holistic Expo & Peace Conference" in NYC from April 24-26 at three different locations:
THURSDAY, APR 24, 8 PM, DIXON PLACE, 258 BOWERY, $8 -- Film, neo-benshi, and theater
FRIDAY, APR 25, 7 PM, 300 Bowery (private home; buzz "Sherry/Thomas") -- Publication party for new books and DVDs by me & all the flarf poets
SATURDAY, APR 26, 6 PM, BOWERY POETRY CLUB, 308 BOWERY, $8 -- A Segue reading to benefit Bowery Arts and Sciences.
Her even newer book The Virgin Formica just came out and a poem from it, "Stupid University Job," will be the Academy of American Poets' emailed "Poem-of-the-Day" on April 28. And there will be a book party for TVF and all the other newly released Hanging Loose Press titles on Friday, May 2 from 6-8pm at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 520 Eighth Avenue, Suite 2020 (between 36th and 37th Street) in New York.
Sharon is co-hosting with poet and playwright Saviana Stanescu a reading of Romanian poets visiting New York at The Romanian Cultural Institute/New York. This event is presented in conjunction with the PEN World Voices Festival, Saturday, May 3 at KGB Bar (4th St & 2nd Ave, NYC) at 7pm.

Jen Michalski
The Spring 2008 issue of Jen's online magazine JMWW features fiction by Brian S. Wang, Julia LaSalle, Mark R. Dursin, Susan O'Doherty, Kerry Langon, Brian Langston, and Willian R. Duell. Also check out flash fiction by Emily Weiss, poetry by Martin Willitts and Ellen Rittberg, and tons of book reviews! The magazine is at http://jmww.150m.com/

Mark Pawlak
Mark and several other poets will be reading their poems from Charles Fishman's anthology Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust during a Holocaust Rememberance Day commemoration, Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m, 274 Moody Street, Waltham, Massachusetts.

There will be another reading from Blood to Remember on Sunday, May 4, 4 pm: Food for Thought Books Collective, 106 N.Pleasant Street, Amherst, MA 01002 413-253-5432.
Thad Rutkowski
Thad's doing a number of readings and presentations in the New York City Area:
April 27, Sunday, 7 p.m. Hosting ABC No Rio's NYSCA series in celebration of Hanging Loose Press. Readers are Robert Hershon, Jocelyn Lieu and Chuck Wachtel. 156 Rivington Street (between Suffolk and Clinton, one block above Delancey), Manhattan. $5.
April 30, Thursday, 7 p.m. Panel on Asian American literature, Barnard College, north tower of Sulzberger (across the street from Columbia). With Ed Lin, David Yoo and Bino A Realuyo. Info: cw2323@columbia.edu.
May 24, Saturday, 1 p.m. Poetry reading, Poets Corner, 570 Main Street (corner of Centre Avenue), New Rochelle, NY. With Juanita Torrence Thompson. Info: poetrytown@earthlink.
June 21, Saturday, 6-8 p.m. Reading at Cornelia Street Cafe with Sharon Olinka, others. Hosted by Dean Kostos. $7. http://www.corneliastreetcafe.com/.
August 15, Friday, 8 p.m. Reading for George Wallace in Huntington, L.I. Info: poetrybay@aol.com
Thad also has a new recording coming out:
Several of his pieces appear as MP3s in Susan Brennan's Radio Poetique section of PENNsound, an poetry archive sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania:

Monday, April 7, 2008

Ron Padgett's Poems in Polish

Ron Padgett has been busy recently in Poland.

He's given a number of readings there in the past, and he's been invited to take part in the Upper Silesia Arts Festival again this coming November. He's looking forward to it. He finds Poles generous and welcoming.

He's also recently published a collection of his earlier poems in a Polish-English edition. The book, entitled Swiry/Nuts, was translated by the poet Andrzej Szuba and published last year by Wydawnictwo Miniatura, 30-307 Krakow, ul. Barska 13, Poland. Their email address is miniatura@autograf.pl and their phone number is 012-267-10-39.

Here's one of Ron's poems from Swiry/Nuts and its Polish translation by Andrzej Szuba:

Ron has another collection of poems, as yet untitled, coming out later this year, and it will be published by Ars Cameralis in Katowice, Poland later this year. The translator is the poet Jacek Gutorow.

(The terrific photo above was taken by Ulla Montan in Stockholm.)

Elisabeth Murawski Awarded Hawthornden Castle Fellowship

Poet Elisabeth Murawski has recently been notified that she is a recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship. She will be spending a month at the Hawthornden Castle writer's retreat in Scotland.

Elisabeth is the author of Moon and Mercury (Washington Writers Publishing House, 1990) and Troubled by an Angel (Cleveland State UniversityPoetry Center, 1997). Her work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, The Yale Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Field, Chelsea, Grand Street, Doubletake, Crazyhorse, The American Voice, among others. She is a native of Chicago, graduated with an MFA from George Mason and lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Here's a poem by her from Janusz Zalewski's recent broadside dedicated to Polish-American poets:

Alias Irene

She broke loose from her father’s hand,
turned and found the small cars
circling in their route. Little boys
and girls like her were ringing the bells
of fire engines, tooting horns. No way out.
She pressed against the legs of mothers
and fathers, bumped into lines of kids
all pushing to be first. Maybe someone
here at the carnival could guess her weight
and take her to a place quiet as a church,
where dishes didn’t break. Maybe
she could win a kewpie doll with glitter
on its eyelids. Or find a nickel
in the dirt. The woman who found her
that night didn’t take her home
but gave her up over the microphone--
”We have a little lost girl called Irene.”
Even changing her name didn’t work.
She was claimed like a coat, scolded
for disobeying the rule of staying put.
Her father with his lower lip stuck out
held her hand so tight it hurt. Her mother
had that look she got scrubbing the floor
until it shone like a dinner plate.

(The broadside is available from Janusz Zalewski for $5. His address is 21784 Brixham Run Loop, Estero, FL 33928.)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bill Zavatsky wins Guggenheim Award

Poet Bill Zavatsky has just been informed that he has received the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim fellowship for his poetry.

Bill has recently published a book of poems with Hanging Loose Press entitled Where X Marks the Spot.

Adrienne Rich, one of the great American poets, has called this collection "a lovely heartwarming book."
Ron Padgett has written that "In poems whose language is as clear and straightforward as that of Williams or Reznikoff, Bill Zavatsky turns the floodlight of honesty onto himself, transforming by the very act of examination, his demons of anger, self-pity, loneliness, and regret. This is brave and mature work, capacious enough for elegy and humor."
I think Ron is right. I've recently read "Where X Marks the Spot," and I was impressed by Bill's honesty and gravity. He's a poet who understands that poetry is a gift that must be shared.
Here's one of Bill's poems:

Train Ride

For M.R.F.

Riding back from our day in the Big City
on the sluggish old New York, New Haven, and Hartford,
hot as blazes, train windows that couldn’t be opened, air-
conditioning years away, or broken, and dusty blue plush seats—

all romantic enough. Also it was very late, black
outside the black glossy plate glass squares that shone our images
back at us as you leaned a little against my shoulder,
then finally leaned your head against my shoulder.

No, I’m making that up. It didn’t happen that way.
Your head, I think, was turned away from me, against
the corner where the seat met the wall of the car. . . .
What happened, very slowly, was that the shaking

of the train began to send your pink hand closer and
closer to mine as my hand trembled on the seat. Closer,
closer, as if my hand were a rickety trap I had set for yours, oh,
a gentle trap, but nonetheless how much I wanted to trap

your hand, to tame it, claim it as mine—and hoped
that you would be willing to let me. That was what
the train ride home meant to me—your hand slipping towards
mine, and I pretending that I had nothing to do with it,

that it would be an inescapable conclusion, a result
of the laws of physics when finally they touched,
those two hands that at that moment seemed neither to belong
to you or to me; that no intention could bring your hand

to me, that our touch would be the result of motion, fate,
and time until I touched your fingers or they touched mine.
And when they did I took them and then your palm
in my hand and we began. And this is what I understood

as poetry, that it would come to me when I was ready,
and this is what I also first understood as love

(The photo above was taken by Margaretta K. Mitchell.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Call for Submissions about Poland

Thad Rutkowski forwarded to me a call he recently received for poems and short pieces about Poland for a special issue of Private Photo Review, a photographic journal.

Here's the note Thad sent me:

Dear Friend,

I have just agreed to be the poetry editor of the forthcoming issue of Private Photo Review, a distinguished international magazine of b/w photography, based in Italy and publishing the works of professional photographers from around the world.

The magazine can have either a general or a geographical theme, and also uses some texts (mostly poems) along with the pictures, although most of the space is devoted to images.

Please take a look at the magazine's website:

The forthcoming issue will be about Poland, featuring portfolios of world-famous Polish photographers. Therefore, I kindly ask you to spread this call for poetry submissions:

I need poems by Polish authors, or poems and other short texts by international writers as long as they're concerned with Poland and the Polish. The poems can be either in Polish or in English; in any case, an English translation must be provided. The poems can be sent in a single doc attachment to alex.zan@alice.it
The poems and a 40-50-word bio in English is required.

Accepted authors will receive a complimentary copy of the relevant issue.

Thank you for your co-operation!


Alessio Zanelli
Cremona, Italy
e-mail alex.zan@alice.it