Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cosmopolitan Review--Summer Issue

The summer issue of Cosmopolitan Review, the transatlantic online journal of Polish culture, history and art is now available.

Here's a note from Irene Tomaszewski, the editor, describing the contents:

We bring you a review of a beautiful new book about Sklodowska-Curie, "Radioactive," and, like radium, it glows in the dark.

Joanna Szupinska reviews the latest book about Miłosz, "An Invisible Rope," while Isabelle Sokolnicka’s exuberant expression of love for the Polish language will no doubt make the great poet nod his head in agreement.

We bring news of three extraordinary books, published in Edinburgh: "Scotland and Poland," "Polish Invasion," and "Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero." If you didn’t know about this Polish-Scottish relationship – and few people do – these books are at once a surprise and a pleasure.

Also reviewed: "A Polish Book of Monsters," eerie tales from Poland, Doug Jacobson’s new novel, "The Katyń Order," and "This Way," a thoughtful and beautifully printed study of art representing Tadeusz Borowski’s powerful book about Auschwitz.

Books need libraries and there is none more beautiful than the library at the University of Warsaw. Justine Jablonska visited it and she brings us a photo essay of this stunning building and its rooftop garden, a collaboration of both architects and landscape designers.

Then, the first two of a series of six discussions about Polish films by art historians, curators and academics from the San Francisco, introduced to Polish cinema by Joanna Szupinska. As one of them put it: “We’ve [ ] been given an opportunity to think about a rich culture outside the usual stops of London or Paris, Rome, or New York.” They share their views, and it’s a wonderful way to look at familiar films through new eyes.

A theatre event in Shamokin, Pennsylvania and poet Kath Abela Wilson on a lesson from Paderewski.

And there you have it. Happy reading!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ten Essential Polish American Literary Works

Awhile ago, I posted a list of ten books that I think are essential literary works about the lives of Polish Americans. The list includes fiction and poetry and memoir, and like all such lists, it's highly subjective. It simply includes a list of books that have touched me, spoken to me about my life as a Polish-American.

The complete list with my comments is available at Amazon by clicking here, but I thought I would post an abbreviated version of the list here:

1. Concert at Chopin's House: A Collection of Polish-American Writing, ed.John Minczeski

2. Twelve Below Zero: New and Expanded Edition -- by Anthony Bukoski

3. Zorba's Daughter by Elisabeth Murawski

4. A Letter to Serafin by John Minczeski

5. A Polish Son in the Motherland: An American's Journey Home by Leonard Kniffel

6. Amber Necklace from Gdansk: Poems by Linda Nemec Foster

7. The Orpheus Complex by Leonard Kress

8. Habry by Helen Degen Cohen

9. The Buffalo Sequence. Introduction by Denise Levertov. by Mark Pawlak

10.Lightning and Ashes by John Guzlowski


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Braids & Other Sestinas by Leonard Kress

A new book of poems by Polish-American poet Leonard Kress is always an event for me, and this time it's even more so.

His latest chapbook Braids & Other Sestinas (winner of the Keystone Chapbook Prize) is a collection of 20 sestinas, my favorite form. I won't get into the dynamics and expectations of the sestina here, but let me just say that like the best forms, the sestina equally challenges and inspires the poet to explore his feelings and thoughts in a profound way. But the sestina doesn't just inspire the poet, the reader following the poet's movement through the sestina experiences in part the joy of discovery that the poet experiences.

For my money, the sestina is a win-win form, and Leonard Kress lets us share in the winning.

Here's what writer Betsy Sholl who judged the 2010 Keystone Chapbook Competition said in part about his book:

“Easy to think a collection of twenty sestinas (minus envoy) would be drear, repetitive, self-indulgent. But read these poems, and something happens. Call it surprise, call it the poet letting the poem loose to fly and going along on the tailwind. The poet pays homage to other artists, explores myth and the great biblical themes, writes of love and grief. At times the form becomes nearly invisible as the voice takes over. There’s a rollicking cleverness that turns away from itself into the deeper/darker heart of its concerns, as in the final poem where a son grieving for his dying mother says ‘Strange for us offspring–parents retracting into kids,/ Meeting ours along the way, flashing signs.’ I find these poems challenging, compelling, and moving in both muscular and emotional ways.”

Leonard has allowed me to post one of the poems from the collection here at Writing the Polish Diaspora. The poem commemorates a poetry reading he and several other Polish-American poets gave at the Polish Embassy in Washington, DC to celebrate the Year of Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert.

The Idiot

I was invited to read some of my poems
At the Polish Embassy in DC,
A celebration, of sorts, of Zbigniew Herbert’s
Life and work, a decade after his death,
His year, the Polish Sejm proclaimed
Of course, I wasn’t the only reader

There—and one distinguished guest, who didn’t read,
Though he’d authored a slew of works about the poetics
Of arms control and whose most dubious claim
To fame— lauded only, I think in DC—
Was helicopters in Vietnam, the death
And destruction they brought. What would Herbert’s

Mr. Cogito, his everyman say, since Herbert
Often spoke through him? I dreaded having to read,
Like some spokesman for so much death
And suffering, so I chose my poems
Carefully, after wandering all day through DC’s
Museums, wary of sounding any sort of proclamation

Or making any great moral claims
For poetry, though I do partly believe. Unlike Herbert,
I didn’t live through war, revolt, or prison. My trip to DC
Was funded, though I have, of course, done the reading.
My long trek made me thirsty, late, and poetry
Was not on my mind. To keep from dying,

I’d just taken my heart meds, and in the dead
Silence of beginnings I reached out to claim
A glass of juice, gulped it down, grabbed my poems,
Formulated some rationale how they related to Herbert,
then recalled with horror what I’d read
On the pills—Avoid grapefruit Juice. Here in DC

It was bound to happen, a foreign embassy in DC,
Convulsions, drool, seizures, trashed decor, I’d die
Spotlighted, pathetic, the kind of scene you’d read
In Dostoyevski’s Idiot. As if a proclamation
Had been issued, this might be the year of Herbert,
But when it’s up, there’s no further need for his poetry

Braids and Other Sestinas is available in a limited edition from Seven Kitchen Press.

Leonard has another chapbook entitled Living in the Candy Store coming out this fall from Finishing Line Press. You can pre-order the book by clicking on this link

The cover illustration for Braids and Other Sestinas is by the artist Mania Mary Dajnak.