Tuesday, November 24, 2009

News from the Polish Diaspora

Joanna Czechowska, author of the highly acclaimed Anglo-Polish novel The Black Madonna of Derby, recently published an article about why she started speaking Polish again after four decades. The article is called "After my Polish grandmother died, I did not speak her native language for 40 years," and a PDF of the piece can be downloaded by clicking here.

Linda Nemec Foster's new book of poems, Talking Diamonds, is now available from New Issues Press.

Poet Lisel Mueller said the following about it,

In this luminous new book of poems, Linda Nemec Foster shows us that there are no "ordinary" lives, that each life is meaningful and even magical, whether we know it or not. The brilliance and power of Foster's language, which has been evident in earlier volumes, is even stronger in this book.

John Guzlowski's
Third Winter of War: Buchenwald, about his father's experiences in the Nazi concentration camp, has recently been reviewed by Jennifer Whitaker for StorySouth.

Christina Pacosz's chapbook Notes from the Red Zone is the first in a series of re-issues by The Seven Kitchens Press. Leslie Hayreth's review of this excellent book recently appeared in Fieralingue.

Grzegorz Wroblewski's poem "In The Afternoon Babylon" (translated by Adam Zdrodowski) appears in the current of Exquisite Corpse.

Andrena Zawinski recently gave a reading and interview on the Jane Crowne Show.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cecilia Woloch's Carpathia

Cecilia Woloch is a poet I like a lot, and it's not just because she's a Polish-American and she writes about Poland, and it's not because she's probably done as much in recent years as Janusz Zalewski to bring Polish and American poets together.

I like Cecilia Woloch because her poems touch me. Years ago, I wrote a short blog piece about the poems I like to read, good poems, and here's part of what I wrote:

"Someone asked me recently how I know what is good poetry and what isn't. There is the long story of what is good and the short story of what is good. The long story involves criteria and personal biography, the short story involves a simple statement. I'll give you the short story. What I feel is 'good' is what touches me."

Cecilia's new book Carpathia touches me.

I grew up hearing stories about the lives of people who started with nothing and ended up with nothing and spent most of their lives working for something, anything, that would feed the hunger that nothing brings. Sometimes they would find something and it would bring them joy. And sometimes it would bring them sorrow.

But the stories they told were never about the sorrow. They were about the search for joy or wisdom or friendship or love or honor that left the sorrow behind.

Cecilia's poems are like those stories. They takes you by the hand and ask you to rest and breathe and listen to the songs in the wind, the voices from the past and the voices from faraway telling you their stories.

Her book is full of such stories, and here are two I really really like, "Anniversary" and the title poem "Carpathia."


Didn’t I stand there once,
white-knuckled, gripping the just-lit taper,
swearing I’d never go back?
And hadn’t you kissed the rain from my mouth?
And weren’t we gentle and awed and afraid,
knowing we’d stepped from the room of desire
into the further room of love?
And wasn’t it sacred, the sweetness
we licked from each other’s hands?
And were we not lovely, then, were we not
as lovely as thunder, and damp grass, and flame?


Having rinsed off the soot and stink
of the Polish train,
having sung with the child.

Having eaten and laughed and wept,
had my vodka with apple juice,
my bread.

Having walked through the fields
at dusk, and into the forest
and back again--

meadows of buttercups,
thistles with bristling heads,
the first blue cornflowers of June.

Having opened my arms to the sky
falling back on itself
in my dizziness.

Having taken the small purple berries
that dropped from the wild bush
into my palm

--Siberian berries, like tiny plums--
put their sweet bitter inkiness
onto my tongue.

Having failed and failed at love.
Having gone anyway,
breath after breath.

Having trusted the world to be kind
and stood in the doorway
and listened for wolves

and heard my own dead in the high
grass whispering,
beloved, beloved, beloved.


Her new book is available at BOA editions, or Amazon.com.

You can also find out more about Cecilia at her website or by taking a look at the other Writing the Polish Diaspora posts about her: Woloch and Luczaj Read in Krakow and Cecilia Woloch's New Book Narcissus.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cultural Achievement Award

The American Council for Polish Culture awarded me their Cultural Achievement Award at their national convention recently, and I want to thank again the ACPC for bestowing this honor and Polish American Arts Association President Eliza Wojtaszek and the PAAA Board of Directors for supporting my nomination.

The award is sitting on my desk right now, and here's what it says: “In recognition of his poetry which has given the Polish Community in America a strong and clear literary voice.”

That sentiment means a lot to me because I feel that the voice that's being honored by the ACPC isn't just my voice. It's in part my father's voice. He could never stop talking about his love for Poland and what happened to him in Germany in the slave labor camps, and much of what I say in my poems comes from his strong and clear voice.

My voice is also my mother's voice. She seldom spoke about those years before the war and during the war, but I hear her silence and grief throughout my poems.

What I want to do in my poems is to give my parents and their experiences a voice. They had very little education. My father never went to school and could barely write his name. My mother had two years of formal education. I felt that I had to tell the stories they would have written if they could. For the last thirty years, I have been writing poems about their lives, and I sometimes think that I am not only writing about their lives, but also about the lives of all those forgotten, voiceless refugees, DPs, and survivors that the last century produced.

So, dear American Council for Polish Culture, thank you again.


In the above photo, Bernadette Wiermanski has just presented me with the award.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Andrena Zawinski at Caffé Greco

Polish American writer Andrena Zawinski will be reading her poems at the Caffé Greco (423 Columbus Ave San Francisco, CA) at 7 pm on August 17th.

Grace Cavalieri of NPR's The Poet and the Poem, calls Zawinski “the poet we find when we're in luck." The Montserrat Review praises her as “a deeply gifted poet who compels us to look more closely at our world and more honestly at our perceptions of it. California Quarterly dubs Zawinski "part tour guide, part magician.” When not writing or teaching, she is an avid shutterbug with many photographs appearing in literary journals in print and online. An award winning poet and educator, she is also Features Editor at PoetryMagazine.com.

Her poetry collections include Taking the Road Where It Leads,
Traveling in Reflected Light, Greatest Hits 1991-2001. She founded and organizes the San Francisco Bay Area Women’s Poetry Potluck Salon.

Here's a poem by Andrena that recently appeared in Kritya's special issue on Polish-American poetry.

Triptych of Three Pines

...As the train is going, leaving,
Going in another direction: we are ceasing to belong
To each other or this house...What is wrong?
from ?Autumn in Sigulda? by Andrei Voznesensky

At Chernobyl, scientific cowboys
ride the nuclear plain,
whiprods like batons
against the bleak backdrop
in a fugue for fusion.

And in the pit, I find myself
singing: Oh Chernobyl,
oh molten core
of radiation sickness.
Oh heart

of the Ukraine.
Ukraine of my bread and potatoes,
of my grandfathers
coal and iron ore
at the borders where
Cossacks kicked up heels
beneath the birch and ash;
babushka brigades
in the rail yards, on the blacktop,
in the maternity wards
of atomic angels
with cheeks in-drawn
for the future
of plutonium.
Oh Ukraine

that was Poland
of my sweet beets and cabbage.
Industrious Poland
of horse-drawn plow, of tank,
of the restless workers voice
winging bare fields the beaks gouged,
of gypsy hoboes traveling light
the Alpine heights,

of 3,440,000 Jewfish hooked
on rifle butts at the edge,
of 90,000 who sang out
on the raven?s half-life caw,
of Catholics at the fiery altars,
turbine power glowing
in Kilowatts and kopecs
above empty store shelves.

Oh Poles in Kiev.
Oh Bolsheviks in Warsaw.
Oh ghetto under the bomb of Germany.
Oh meltdown
that was Russia.
Russia of my caviar and vodka,
of food strike and riot.
Oh diligent Russia
of the vigilant children
who sing classrooms
with canticles
of Pushkin and Marx,
eyes fixed on the reddest star.
Oh Motherland
from whose womb
orphaned cadets
turn dreams skyward
past the moon.

Oh the pines of poetry.

Oh Chernobyl
under a sarcophagus of geigers
cricketing night corridors
through catacombs of grief.
Oh time of trouble
of twentieth century disaster.

Oh panic button
of American engagement,
of Nagasaki and Hiroshima,
of 3-Mile Island and Love Canal,
of this atomic dawn
where none of us belong.

Oh horror.

Friday, July 31, 2009

John Minczeski's A Letter to Serafin

John Minczeski’s A Letter to Serafin is an absolute original.

While he does share some common ground with other recent books that tell of immigrants’ descendants trying to reclaim their grandparents’ past, Minczeski’s book is finally more ambitious. He uses the search for the Polish past of his Grandfather (the Serafin of the book’s title) as a stepping stone to a wider search for our culture’s artistic, mythical, religious, historic past – the truths we all share.

What struck me most about this book was the way Minczeski handles this wider search. His feelings and thoughts are complex, but he doesn’t make a show of this complexity. In this way, he reminds me of the later W. B. Yeats, a poet who spent a long time watching and wondering.

Minczeski’s a smart and feeling person who has given a lot of himself to questions of time and art, belief and the past. His manuscript is not a young writer’s manuscript, and I mean that in the best way. In every poem, you feel that Minczeski has devoted a long time to wondering about questions like: “Why does something my grandfather touched touch me as it does?” and “Why does a great painting effect us as it does?” and “What is it that you and I and a farmer working the dirt in Poland or Darfur or Iraq share?”

The answers that Minczeski suggests in his poems show that he hasn’t been wasting his time.

His style is also thoughtful. It shows his careful consideration of his audience. Minczeski writes in a style that offers a subtle fusion of forthright plainspeak and a blend of near rhymes and soft cadences. You see this style clearly in the first four stanzas of his poem “Annunication”:

What is she reading at her stand-up desk—
The Psalms maybe, the Song of Songs—

The morning an angel, feathers trembling
Like aspen leaves, appears?

The fragrance of his lily so overwhelms her,
She can barely hear.

Golden rays penetrate
With none of the usual trickery--

That last stanza could easily be a gloss of the style Minczeski uses throughout this book of poems.

I think John Minczeski’s A Letter to Serafin is pretty terrific. I’ve read about 40 books of poetry since the beginning of this year, and this is among the best. It is really a fine work that addresses the most essential questions in a language that is always engaging.


Here’s the title poem, the final poem in the book:

A Letter to Serafin

Serafin, orphaned angel,
all that’s left is a few pigs,
some rutabagas, and winter wheat.
Your great-grandchildren,

heirs to your legacy of dirt,
cultivate dialects like snow.
I am speaking from a suburb of St. Paul.
It is October. I am not raking

or composting. Nothing remains the same—
a galvanized roof shines on top of your house;
nobody has time for thatching anymore—
yet everything is the same.

The family, having gathered beets,
came from hunting mushrooms
to set out sausage and relishes.

What was I doing there, they asked,
how old was I? More tea?
Vodka? And everything made by hand—
you’d feel at home.

They laid out inventories from the war—
a hand blown off by a land mine in the field,
a father who walked home from Germany
more bone than flesh.
Bankruptcies keep filtering down—
stifled inheritances,
a grimace mistaken for a smile.

The animals remain—pigs, a cow staked out
in a field to graze—descended from those
you fed, who adored you,
whoever you were, Serafin.


John Minczeski is also the author of several other collections of poems including Circle Routes (Univ. of Akron Press) and November (Finishing Line Press).

He is the editor also of Concert at Chopin's House: A Collection of Polish-American Writing, published by New Rivers Press in 1988.

His poems have appeared in journals around the US and abroad, including KRITYA, Poetry East, Quarterly West, Agni, Meridian, Pleiades, Free Lunch, and Nowa Okolica Poetow. His honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Bush Foundation Artist's Fellowship, a LIN Grant, The 2000 Akron Poetry Prize, a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.

John lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. His website is at http://johnminczeski.com/default.aspx

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Buffalo Expatriates Poetry Tour kickoff!

Elizabeth Swados - Bert Stern - Polish-American Mark Pawlak

These three distinguished poets were born and grew up in or near Buffalo, New York, but have pursued lives and careers elsewhere for many decades. Now they have teamed up for the Buffalo Expatriates Poetry Tour. Pierre Menard Gallery will host their kickoff for the reading tour that will culminate in Buffalo later this year.

Tuesday, July 21st

7:00 PM

Pierre Menard Gallery

10 Arrow Street, Harvard Square


Elizabeth Swados has just published her first poetry book, The One and Only Human Galaxy, a collection of poems about the life of Harry Houdini, with Hanging Loose Press. Perhaps best known for her Broadway and international smash hit Runaways, she has composed, written, and directed theater, music, and dance for over 30 years. Some of her works include the Obie Award-winning Trilogy at La Mama; Alice at the Palace, with Meryl Streep, at the New York Shakespeare Theater Festival; and Groundhog, which was optioned for a film by Milos Forman. Her work has been performed on Broadway, off Broadway, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, and venues all over the world. She has also composed highly acclaimed dance scores for well-known choreographers in the U.S., Europe and South America. Ms. Swados has published novels, non-fiction books, and children’s books to great acclaim, and has received the Ken Award as well as a New York Public Library Award for her book My Depression. Other distinctions include five Tony nominations, three Obie Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Ford Grant, the Helen Hayes Award, the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Foundation Writer’s Award, a PEN Citation and others. She lives in Manhattan.

Bert Stern’s chapbook, Silk/The Ragpicker’s Grandson, was published by Red Dust, and his new, full-length collection, Steerage, has just been published by the Ibbetson Press. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including New Letters, Beloit Poetry Review, Hungry Mind, Poetry, and the American Poetry Review, and also in half a dozen anthologies. Presently, he teaches men on probation in a national program called Changing Lives Through Literature, and he and his wife co-edit a small press dedicated to the work of poets over 60. He lives in Somerville.

Mark Pawlak
is the author of five poetry collections, of which Official Versions is his most recent. Another collection, Jefferson’s New Age Salon, will be published in fall 2009 by Cervena Barva Press. His poetry and prose have appeared in The Best American Poetry, New American Writing, Mother Jones, Pemmican, and The Saint Ann’s Review, among other places. Pawlak supports his poetry habit by teaching mathematics at UMass Boston. He is coeditor/publisher of the Brooklyn-based literary press and magazine Hanging Loose. He lives in Cambridge.


Here's one of the poems from Mark's powerful work The Buffalo Sequence:

"Buffalo Sequence .ix."

who is this?
attends with his murky agitated waters
the reunion,
where the whole familiar generation
of settled and settling silts
picnics in the tall sweet grass
growing along the cheekbone of grandfather's grave;
and can't hold back, not with four hands,
what took him so long to tame:
who is this?

what a necklace of polished stones they make
around his grandpa's crude stone,
then rips boards off the attic door
from behind which his childhood cries:
who is this ?

who is this ?
attends the table once again, prodigal and starving;
all of his absence come as a pained larynx to sit
beside mother and dearly loved; and,
kiss kiss, she tugs the roots of his anguish
by its combed strands
asking what her son's losing so much hair about;

after the meal, more hungry than before
and dumbfounded with talk,
whose feet lead him into exile again,
the arid climate of speechlessness;
artificial orchards beside the river of slag
and the oranges a desperate cry:
who is this ?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Poems of Grzegorz Wróblewski

Since April, when I first came across Grzegorz Wróblewski, I've been reading and enjoying his poems and his paintings. He's a Pole, born in Gdansk and raised in Warsaw, who's been living and writing in Copenhagen since 1985. His poems have appeared in a number of terrific journals both here and overseas (Chicago Review, Common Knowledge, and Poetry London), and I'm really not sure why I haven't read him before this. I've been missing out.

His poems are like the best Polish poems. They are ironic and serious, quick and probing, nailed to place and character but soaring in imagination.

Here are a few from his latest collection Our Flying Objects:


In a moment something bad will happen,
something I’ll be forced to forget quickly.
Or just the opposite.

Who knows their fate? An old washerwoman
hangs bed-clothes on lines between the trees.
When she sees the clear sky she is happy again.


In the beginning we observe bumble-bees and colourful petals
We are still small and fascinated by the flies
enjoying themselves in the sugar-bowl

After them are sparrows which we shoot with a catapult
Later on we keep canaries and this way
we learn to love the animals

The first sexual act we associate rightly with the nightingale
and maturity with the regular
feeding of the pigeons

Finally there are only eagle owls
We sit offended by the window and everything alive
brings on a rabid fury


12 hours daily for 50 years, without even seeing the sun,
in meat factories and mines, repairing other peoples trousers,
only to drink himself unconscious every Saturday,
and later getting sober during Sunday mass at St. Patricks,
and on Monday working again, without seeing the sun,
trying to convince himself that one day everything will change,
and in the end taking apart an old chest of drawers,
and taking out a bundle of bank-notes and giving them
to his surprised wife, who will say, that one could travel to Honolulu
for that money or at least buy two pigs, but now there’s no reason
to do that, she could have married the local doctor, but made
a mistake and chose, how stupid, this rascal, slow-witted Robin
and wasted her life instead of buying two pigs, and now he will
desert her, and did such a life have any meaning at all?


Our Flying Object is available from Equipage Books as part of its Cartalia Poetry Series. You can contact the press at equipage@cambridgepoetry.org,or by mail at

c/o Rod Mengham
Jesus College
CB5 8BL, U.K.


You can see more of Grzegorz's poetry at









Thursday, July 9, 2009

Adam Lizakowski Reads in Poland

Polish-American poet Adam Lizakowski will be reading this coming July 25 in the city of Kazimierz nad Wisla, a famous small Polish town of painters and poets. He'll be staying there as a guest of the Nadwislanskie Museum in Kazimierz.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sharon Mesmer: Poet Laureate of Brooklyn?

Polish-American poet Sharon Mesmer is being considered for the position of Poet Laureate of the largest borough in New York. You can read all about it and see one of her poems about Brooklyn in The Brooklyn Paper.

Here are a couple of Sharon's poems that appeared in the special issue of Kritya dedicated to Polish-American and Polish Diaspora writing that I co-edited with Christina Pacosz.

Blue-Collar Typeface

From the colophon to Aaron Simon’s Carrier, Insurance Editions, 2006:

“Gotham 2003: This plain yet quintessential font was designed by Tobias Frere- Jones and is based on vernacular architectural lettering found throughout New York City. It is a blue-collar typeface that is both utilitarian and perfectly simple.”

Some people would like to be blue-collar
without actually having been born blue-collar.
While you,
who were born blue-collar,
wish you could afford something more
than the Wendy’s salad bar.

Some people who are proud of how blue-collar
they think they are
speak roughly to waiters,
never look them in the eye,
and refuse to pay to get into poetry readings,
while afterwards
they’re back home
putting their Manhattan co-op on the market
so they can buy a house
on the outskirts of Paris.
Some of these people are your friends.
They will surprise you.
Because someday you will discover
that all that time they seemed so interested
in what you had to say about your
blue-collar upbringing,
they never found actual blue-collar people
all that interesting.

Because a blue-collar person can’t recommend them to an editor
or get them into an MFA program
or set them up with a teaching job.
Blue-collar people often don’t care about
academic poetry,
the breaking of the line,
and they may not necessarily give a shit about anything
Noam Chomsky ever said.
But that doesn’t mean that blue-collar people are
“utilitarian” or
“perfectly simple.”
I know lots of useless,
imperfectly complicated
blue-collar people.
And their line breaks
kick your line breaks’s

Summer, Elizabeth Street

Into a green-gold tumbler of light
along the side of the church
we surged,
a scourge upon the fading strains
of the Litany to Our Lady.
Tossing red beanies
into prairie air,
we ran with eyes closed,
past RoJo's,
Patka funeral home,
and the ochre two-flat where the Rybicki family lived,
its color a refract of noon sun
into Mexico.
All colors angled out that day
into a low-grade version of eternity
that would span three green months
and end in a Rambler
in the parking lot of a department store
across from the little airport
the day before Labor Day.

And in the evenings,
there was nothing on TV
(this was before "The Partridge Family").
And so summer —
that one summer —
was swallowed
by the cool of the Sherman Park tavern before noon,
the bra models in the Sears catalogue,
and the girls from "Scooby-Doo."


Sharon Mesmer is a Fulbright Senior Specialist candidate and recipient of two New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellowships. The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose) and Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books) were published in 2008. Her blog is available online and elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Two Poems by Janusz Szuber

Poetry Daily ran these poems by Janusz Szuber today, and Phil Boiarski (author of Coal and Ice) sent me a note about it. Phil likes the poems a lot, and I do too.

Janusz was born in 1947 in Poland and lives in the old city of Sanok.

Two Poems

About a Boy Stirring Jam

A wooden spoon for stirring jam,
Dripping sweet tar, while in the pan
Plum magma's bubbles blather.
For someone who can't grasp the whole
There's salvation in the remembered detail.
What, back then, did I know about that?
The real, hard as a diamond,
Was to happen in the indefinable
Future, and everything seemed
Only a sign of what was to come. How naïve.
Now I know inattention is an unforgivable sin
And each particle of time has an ultimate dimension.

Everything Here

The gray building of a pig farm, inside
Grunting and growling, almost black doughy mud
Through which they slogged, in squelching rubber boots,
That wet summer abounding in frogs, they worked
By accident on this farm, not quite a farm, in a poor
Region of dwarf pines and junipers,
Partly withered, at the edge of sloping
Pastures and soggy meadows, over which,
Once or twice a week, border patrols flew
In the potbellied dragonflies of helicopters, everything here,
Despite the emptiness stretching on for miles,
Barren, nobody's, was filled entirely with itself,
And when you sat over beer under the roof of that makeshift bar,
Without the need to prove anything,
All this had something in it that could never
Be trapped by metaphor.


The poems were translated by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough and come from the book They Carry A Promise: Selected Poems.

Here's what people are saying about Janusz and his poetry:

This bracing collection marks the first appearance in English of the Polish poet Janusz Szuber, hailed as the greatest discovery in Polish poetry of the late twentieth century when, in his late forties, he began publishing the work he’d been producing for almost thirty years. Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska has called him a “superb poet,” and Zbigniew Herbert said that “his poetry speaks to the hard part of the soul.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Summer Reading

I received a summer reading list of Polish and Polish Diaspora books from the Polish Cultural Institute and thought I would pass it on.

It's a terrific list!

The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution
by Alex Storozynski
Thomas Dunne Books, April 2009

…an objective history that is needed in today´s America and Poland. The hero… is one of the fathers of modern democracy in the same mold as Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln. – Adam Michnik, Solidarnosc activist and editor in chief of Gazeta Wyborcza

…a sweeping, colorful, and absorbing biography that should restore Kosciuszko to his proper place in history – Andrew Nagorski, Newsweek

Readers of military and American history should take note: the minute details will enthrall devotees. Casual readers will benefit from Storozynski's expert crafting of a readable and fact-filled story that pulls readers into the immediacy of the revolutionary era's partisan and financial troubles. – Publishers Weekly

In a meticulously researched work, Storozynski greatly enhances our understanding of Kosciuszko´s personality and motivations by investigating the Pole´s relationship and feelings toward Africans, Jews, and peasants. His contribution advances our knowledge of this complex character whom Jefferson considered the ‘purest son of liberty’ he ever knew. – James Pula, Purdue University

…a testament to a great man and an important addition to world history. – Byron E. Price, Texas Southern University

Performative Democracy
by Elzbieta Matynia
Paradigm Publishers (The Yale Cultural Sociology Series), January 2009

Spanning Polish history from the days of incipient rebellion against Communist rule through the Solidarity movement of the 1980s to today s democratic Poland, Performative Democracy sheds new light on what it is people are doing when they act democratically. Even as Matynia, who participated in many of the events she describes, elucidates their common features, she captures and infectiously renders their exhilarating atmosphere and spirit to the reader. – Jonathan Schell, author of The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People

The Contract; A Life for a Life
by Joseph S. Kutrzeba
iUniverse.com, November 2008

The book, based on the author's memoirs, relates the odyssey of a 13-year old boy in Nazi-occupied Warsaw during World War II, who had joined the Resistance movement, later surviving several hair-raising escapes, until his liberation.

The Other
by Ryszard Kapuscinski
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones Verso, October 2008

Looking at the concept of the Other through the lens of his own encounters in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and considering its formative significance for his work, Kapuscinski traces how the West has understood the Other from classical times to colonialism, from the age of enlightenment to the postmodern global village.

Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past In Bosnia
by Wojciech Tochman
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Atlas & Co., September 2008

…the Polish journalist Wojciech Tochman chronicles the aftermath of war in Bosnia and, if anything, confirms that the so-called peace has brought little actual peace. Yet he is not polemical about this point; instead, he relies on suggestive details, pungent quotes and simple, understated prose that is mannered at times but powerful in its own way. – Matthew Price, The New York Times Book Review

This is reportage of the highest order – reportage that employs the specific to tell a universal truth. [A] profound meditation on the horrors of war, [Tochman´s] work is all the more powerful for leaving the answers to terrible questions hanging. – Financial Times

[Tochman's] style is all the more powerful for its restraint: outrage speaks terribly for itself, needs no hype, no color. – Sunday Times (UK)

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer
by Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong
Random House, April 2001

During the German occupation of Poland, Irena Gut, a young Polish Catholic, was forced to work as head housekeeper for a high ranking German SS officer. Over a two-year period of service, Irena would risk her own life in order to protect the lives of twelve Jews whom she secretly took under her care. In 1982 Irena Gut Opdyke was named by the Israeli Holocaust Commission a Righteous Among the Nations. The Vatican has given her a special commendation, and her story is part of a permanent exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Between Fire and Sleep: Essays on Modern Polish Poetry
by Jaroslaw Anders
Yale University Press, April 2009

In this insightful book, Jaroslaw Anders looks at how the major works of 20th-century Polish literatureconstantly transformed historical experience into the metaphysical, philosophical, or religious exploration of human existence. Between Fire and Sleep offers a fresh understanding of modern Polish culture.

Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic
by Roman Koropeckyj
Cornell University Press, November 2008

Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), Poland's national poet, was one of the extraordinary personalities of the age. Roman Koropeckyj draws a portrait of the Polish poet as a quintessential European Romantic. This richly illustrated biography-the first scholarly biography of the poet to be published in English since 1911-draws extensively on diaries, memoirs, correspondence, and the poet's literary texts to make sense of a life as sublime as it was tragic.

Re-Reading Grotowski
A special issue of TDR: The Drama Review
guest-edited by Kris Salata and Lisa Wolford Wylam
MIT Press Journals, May 2008

(Publication was made possible in part by a grant from the Polish Cultural Institute in New York)

This important issue of TDR: The Drama Review includes previously unpublished material by Jerzy Grotowski, plus articles on theatre companies and artists who preceded and have followed in the footsteps of the great Polish theatre artist.

The Law of the Looking Glass: Cinema in Poland, 1896–1939
by Sheila Skaff
Ohio University Press, August 2008

In this, the first comprehensive history of Poland´s film industry before World War II, author Skaff describes how the major issues facing the region before World War I, from the relatively slow pace of modernization to the desire for national sovereignty, shaped local practices in film production, exhibition, and criticism.

The Mighty Angel
by Jerzy Pilch
translated by Bill Johnston
Open Letter Books, April 2009

Pilch masterfully plays with the tradition of the drunkard novel, demonstrating just how close the alcoholic´s self-fashioning is to the writer´s self-narration. In this way, Pilch´s novel constitutes an act of belief in literature… The book´s wonderful, delirious and baroque style imparts the experience of dependence, exclusion, and loneliness, as well as the overcoming of loneliness through love. – Maria Janion, head of the jury for the 2001 NIKE Literary Award

They Carry a Promise: Selected Poems
by Janusz Szuber
translated by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough
Knopf, May 2009

Szuber's work is poised between the rigors of making poetry and life itself in all its messy glory, between the devastations of history and the quiet act of observing our place in it all.

Szuber's poetry speaks to the hard part of the soul. – Zbigniew Herbert

Been and Gone
by Julian Kornhauser
translated by Piotr Florczyk
Marick Press, April 2009

Like his associates Baranczak, Krynicki, and Zagajewski, Julian Kornhauser is a major figure of the New Wave generation of Polish poets. This remarkable selection from his recent work brings this important Polish writer into English for the first time.

And Still More:

by Andrzej Stasiuk
translated by Bill Johnston
Dalkey Archive Press, forthcoming October 2009

Primeval and Other Times
by Olga Tokarczuk
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Twisted Spoon Press, forthcoming November 2009

New Translation!
by Witold Gombrowicz
translated by Danuta Borchardt
Grove / Atlantic, forthcoming November 2009

The New Century: Poems
by Ewa Lipska
translated by Robin Davidson and Ewa Elzbieta Nowakowska
Northwestern University Press, forthcoming November 2009

Hollywood's War with Poland, 1939-1945
by M.B.B. Biskupski
Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, forthcoming December 2009

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lizakowski Reads in Chicago

The poet Adam Lizakowski will be reading from his book Chicago, City of Belief on June 15th at the Archer Branch of the Chicago Public Library. In 2008 this bilingual book of poems was chosen by the Polish Division of UNESCO as the book of the year.

Here's a poem from that book in Polish and in English.

Wszyscy podróżujemy

Podróż to pamięć, natchnienie wielką
poezją. Podróż – obietnica najsłodsza o lepszym
jutrze, klucz do innych pejzaży i wzruszeń.

W rynku w Dzierżoniowie spotkałem Jana,
pił piwo pod parasolem:
– Ja teraz mieszkam w Londynie – powiedział
z uśmiechem na ustach.

Napotkany w kawiarni Jurek z zadowoleniem
w głosie mówił:
– Właśnie przyjechałem do Polski
na wakacje z Grecji.

– A jak żyje Jola? – zapytałem.
– Ona teraz mieszka w Paryżu.
– A co słychać u Krzyśka?
– Jak to, nie wiesz ? – zapytał zdziwiony. – Od lat
mieszka w Norwegii.

Andrzej mieszka w Niemczech, Beata w Toronto,
Kowalscy w Chicago, Malinowscy jadą do Rzymu.

Podróżujemy za pracą, chlebem,
jaśniejszym niebem, lepszą przyszłością,
zabieramy z sobą blask przeszłości, sadów,
domów, ulic, miast, twarzy bliskich,
stając się powoli naczyniem wspomnień:
jedni z kamienia polnego, inni z alabastru,
w którym jest olejek do nacierania
stóp i dusz.

Podróżujemy, wszędzie jesteśmy
i nigdzie nas nie ma.
Mieszkamy tu i tam
i nigdzie nas nie ma.

Podróżujemy i jesteśmy poza burtą
naszych ojczyzn,
toniemy – wielu jest już topielcami,
toniemy, bo nie ma pracy,
toniemy, bo nasze dzieci są głodne,
toniemy, bo nie ma dla nas przyszłości,
toniemy, toniemy, toniemy.

We All Travel

Travel is a memory, an inspiration by a great
Poetry. Travel: the sweetest promise of a better
Tomorrow: a key to different landscapes and emotions.

In the market of Dzierzoniów, I met John.
He was drinking beer under an umbrella.
“I live in London now,” he said
With a smile on his face.

Encountered in a café, George, with glee
In his voice, said,
“I’ve just arrived in Poland
For a vacation from Greece.”

“And how is Yola,” I asked.
“She now lives in Paris.”
“And what about Chris?”
“What? Don’t you know,” he asked, surprised,
“For years now he’s been living in Norway.”

Andrew lives in Germany; Beatrice, in Toronto;
The Kowalskis, in Chicago; the Malinowskis are going to Rome.

We travel for work, bread,
A brighter sky, a better future.
We take with us the glitter of the past, of orchards,
Of houses, streets, cities, and of familiar faces,
Slowly becoming a bowl filled with memories.
Some are made of a rock from a field; others of alabaster,
In which there is oil for rubbing
Both feet and souls.

We travel. We are everywhere,
And we are nowhere to be found.
We live here and there,
And we are nowhere to be found.

We travel and we are beyond the edges
Of our native lands.
We drown; many have already drowned.
We drown because there is no work.
We drown because our children are hungry.
We drown because for us there is no future.
We drown. We drown. We drown.


Adam Lizakowski's Chicago is available from Amazon.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Woloch and Luczaj Read in Krakow

Cecilia Woloch and Sarah Luczaj have a reading coming up shortly in Krakow sponsored by the Massolit Bookstore and Cafe. If I were there, I would be going. If you click on the poster here, you'll be able to read all the details.

Posted by Picasa

Here's a poem by Cecilia and one by Sarah.

IN WARSAW (from Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem)

In Warsaw, blackbird girls
swoop down in flocks
the old town square
a swirl of dark-eyed dark-haired girls
in brilliant skirts who circle
laughing at my waist
throw up their arms
to beg for sweets
who know among the tourists
whom to choose
(how do they know?)
so being chosen, being glad
in any language (tak
means yes)
I let them pick from sticky cakes
behind the glass, the old proprietress
glares back at me
and thinks, Amerykanka, idiotka
but cannot refuse
my cash (how far
in zlotys dollars go!)
so I buy cake for every girl
then watch them fly away again
their small hands sugared, glittering
as if I'd given
jewels to them
the sky above the bitter city
sharp as diamonds then

(NOTE: "Gypsies were incarcerated with Jews in the ghettoes of Bialystok, Krakow, Lodz, L'viv, Radom and Warsaw. … The total number of gypsies brought into [one] ghetto was eleven dead and 4,996 living. Of those, 2,686 were children."
-- Isabel Fonseca, Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey

More of Cecilia's poems can be found at her website and here at Writing the Polish Diaspora)


(1968 –1989)

José, the light is moving in the water
José I carved a poem in the walls of a room

the room was dust
and the planets were
trapped as the people
in it and it broke
on them, and the room
broke on the sky which
is made of dirt as
the room is made of
dirt and the people
are made of dirt
and also the stars

it broke
on your body made of stars
José and now the words
are set in those walls
forever, too deep, and no one
is allowed to stand
between them, my room
sits alone in the city
José the light is moving in the water
and you are a mouthful
a handful now, a scattering

I wanted to tell you this
José who broke the windows

José the room was dust

(Sarah Luczaj's poem is from her book An Urgent Request by Fortunate Daughter Press 2009, available at Teboth Bach.

There is a virtual interview with Sarah at Fortunate Daughter Press.

You can find more of her poems at Pedestal Magazine.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

I Dream My Brother Plays Baseball--a Chapbook by Lisa Siedlarz

The best poems, I feel, are those that are written out of the deepest emotions, the emotions that we can't shake off, can't explain, can't even fully share. Polish-American poet Lisa Siedlarz's poems about her brother and his tour of duty in Afghanistan grow out of such emotions. She's collected these poems in a chapbook titled I Dream My Brother Plays Baseball that's available as an online download from the Clemson University Digital Press.

Recently, I asked Lisa how the book came to be written, and here's what she told me:

"I began writing the book when my youngest brother told me he was being deployed to Afghanistan. Of course I didn’t know at the time I was writing a book. That came later. I began writing cathartic poetry about the months leading up to his deployment. Then I turned it into a 7 part poem . . . . Then I wrote another poem about a dream I had (the title poem) . . . . Then all of a sudden I found I could only write war poems. That was what I lived and breathed."

Lisa's book, as you can imagine, is powerful. Here's one of the poems, the title poem:

I Dream My Brother Plays Baseball

On the field your platoon strategizes while Afghani
wind blows sand faster than Nolan Ryan’s fastball,
blurring vision like rosin in a pitcher’s eye. It sticks,
stings as bad as the last time I saw you at Ft Bragg,
a send-off for your twelve month mission.

From the stands I squint to see you as if I’d left my
glasses home. Bases and mound surrounded by dirt,
rocks, I turn and turn in this grey and translucent
gathering of blurred faces & monochromatic baseball
caps ~ Do you see my brother? Can you see him?

The crowd jumps up and roars as a soldier rips
a line drive through the gap, slides head first
into second just beneath the tag. A mailman
whose USPS eagle decorates his shoulders
like your army stripes, chases the play, throws

up his right arm to indicate safe. Under his left arm
he carries the package I sent to you a month ago,
labeled: If undeliverable, return to sender.
I take the box from him, hoping to hand-deliver
sunscreen, foot powder, Crystal Lite on the Go.

With my arms full, I run bases calling your name.
Rounding third, white-faced hornets block the way
home, the nest hidden in surrounding caves.


Lisa L. Siedlarz of New Haven, CT is an MFA candidate at WCSU. Awarded the 2006 John Holmes and the 2007 Leo Connellan poetry prizes, publications include: The MacGuffin, Calyx, Rattle, War, Literature & the Arts, Louisiana Literature, Main Street Rag, The Patterson Review, Big Bridge, Kritya, Caduceus and others. She is Editor of Connecticut River Review, the national poetry journal supported by the CT Poetry Society, and Managing Editor for Connecticut Review. Her work has been nominated for the 2009 Best New Poets Anthology.


If you want to read the entire collection, it's available online as a download at Clemson University Digital Press. It is also available for purchase as a hard-copy book at the same site.

Lisa's poems are also available in the April issue of Kritya devoted to Polish Diaspora poetry.

Friday, May 1, 2009

2nd Polish Diaspora Issue of Kritya Now Online

Posted by Picasa
The second issue of Kritya devoted to the poetry of the Polish Diaspora is now available online.

Just click here.

The poets represented there are:

Phil Boiarski

Ewa Chrusciel

Sharon Mesmer

Karen Kovacik

Ron Offen

Sharon Chmielarz

Christina Pacosz

Izabela Filipiak

Elisabeth Murawski

Dori Appel

Ed Budzilowic


Dominika Wrozynski

To read the issue please click here.


The April issue is still available online and it includes the following poets:

Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor

Peter Burzynski

Mary Krane Derr

Jehanne Dubrow

Linda Nemec Foster

John Guzlowski

Maria Jastrzebska

Leonard Kress

Krystyna Lenkowska

Stephen Lewandowski

Colleen McKee

Anna Maria Mickiewicz

David Radavich

Laurie A. Gomulka Palazzolo

Christina Pacosz

Lisa L. Siedlarz

Lillian Vallee

Andrena Zawinsksi


Both issues are guest edited by Christina Pacosz and John Guzlowski. Rati Saxena edits Kritya.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two Review: A Journal of International Poetry and Nonfiction

Polish-American poet and editor Jeremy Edward Shiok recently sent me a copy of Two Review, the journal he and Brendan Noonan edit.

The journal is beautiful, outside and in.

The cover illustration, the printing inside, the formatting--all reveal the editors' skill, but what's most exception, of course, is the poetry Shiok and Noonan have been able to gather together.

Some of the poets -- like Linda Nemec Foster, Marvin Bell, and Marge Piercy, I've known and admired for years, but others are new to me. I especially enjoyed Paolo Ruffili, Jeff Knorr, and G. Nakhutsrishvili.

I wrote to Jeremy Shiok and asked him about his journal and what inspired him to create it. Here's what he wrote me:

Why do we do the journal? Speaking for both Brendan and myself: It started as a way of staying connected after the rigors of graduate workshops wore off and work, families, and kids took over. It has continued as a method for keeping the life of poetry in our lives, and the poetry of life in our poetry.

For me, I am able to connect with people all over the world through the journal as a medium. It gives me a platform to begin, renew, and carry on artistic, social, geo-political, etc. conversations with like-minded folks.

Linda's work I first read in 2003 while at AWP and have admired it since, but through the journal experience we've been able to connect. Gaga Nakhutsrishvili's work came to me through an editor in Tbilisi I was corresponding with during the recent Russo-Georgian war. I wanted to connect with people on the ground; wanted to hear about their experiences as they were happening. And amidst the destruction taking place we were able to discuss and then exchange poetry. How amazing is that? I discovered an incredibly vibrant artistic and literary culture in Tbilisi, not one from history, but one that is thriving today.

In reality, each contributor to the journal becomes a connection, a part of our community, not just someone with a poem in the Table of Contents. I could tell the story of how each contributor came to be on TR's pages, and each one involves much more than just submissions and acceptances.

Despite my day job, the editing and writing exchanges are truly "the thing." It's what Brendan and I both thrive on outside our own writing. But we also work and have a deep respect for working peoples, so we're drawn to narrative writing that invites us into that experience somehow. The journal reflects this.


Jeremy Edward Shiok also gave me permission to include one of the poems by Polish-American Linda Nemec Foster that he recently published:

The American Insomniac Buys Lipstick in Warsaw, 1950

The tourist has no idea
what is fashionable here.
Her confused circadian clock
can't even determine day
from night, so forgive her
for wanting only two colors
on her lips. One to echo
the honey glow of sun,
the other to resonate
the blue aura of moon.

But how could she know
Stalin would (in effect)
abolish all color --
no tangerine blush /
tropical melon / scarlet freeze --
no rouge violet / raspberry glace /
mauve cooler. Only lipstick
by numbers. The digits randomly
assigned in some outdated
cosmetics factory on the outskirts
of town. Peach melba becomes 855.
Rose creme becomes 412 (matte) or
411 (semi-gloss). The numbers
slowly marching to infinity
on the shelf of the empty store.
As if this calibrated palette
could be authentic. Not Michelangelo
illuminating the creation
of Man, but a faceless socialist
painting Sobieski's palace frescoes
by number. Not David in Florence,
but the granite breasts of the massive
Soviet woman sculpted into a bureaucrat's
gray office building on Konstytucji Plac.

The bureaucrat whose days
are filled with dreams
of whores in hot pink
G-strings. Whose nights
are filled with staring
at the crowded and desolate
streets. Across the square,
the tourist paints her lips
too red. The color
overwhelming the face
that looks back at her
from the borrowed mirror.


Two Review is currently accepting submissions for the 2010 issue.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Orpheus Complex by Leonard Kress

The Orpheus Complex, Leonard Kress's new book from Main Street Rag , is excellent.

It's an ambitious sonnet sequence that combines the myth of Orpheus with the poet’s reflections on various other issues including the state of spirituality in America today, the problem of "translating" an ancient myth into a contemporary context, and the nature of poetry and its relationship to what poets are writing. Poetry at the start of the twenty-first century has become familiar, comfortable, safe.

Leonard Kress, the author of The Orpheus Complex seems to declare, "I’ve had enough of that." He asks us instead to imagine Orpheus, the ancient poet, sprung loose in America and writing intricate, rhymed sonnets that look at the world as it is and as it has been imagined by the poets who have come after him. The wonder of this book is that these poems don’t seem academic, simply a Modernist or Postmodernist exercise in literary self-consciousness. Rather, what stands out in “The Orpheus Complex” are the author’s erudition and considerable craft combined with his own deeply-felt life concerns.

The mix results in poems that are always surprising, knowing, and effecting.

This is a book of poems to open again and again.


Here are two of the sonnets from The Orpheus Complex:


A blinding locust storm in southern Illinois.
the kids who pick me up stole this Ford,
drinking and joyriding, reveling toward
the coast. And when they stop to let me pry
the black gook off the wipers, they screech away,
hysterical, my rucksack in their trunk.
I have surrendered to the road and pray
as I hitch, buffeted by each passing truck,

it will provide. And so it does. Two more rides,
Iowa cornfield to sleep, dancing stalks
and whispers--to be found you must be lost.
Falling stars throughout the night, roads
almost abandoned--a Mustang of six-packs
and four small-town girls, heading nowhere fast.


After the Polish of Szymon Zimorowic (1608-1629)

In this hidden grotto, no bird or bell
awakens you, no light can penetrate,
and memory-numbing waters always spill
from some deeper dungeon just to create
sweeter dreams. Let the black wings of night
rush over, longing to get in. Here, where,
poppies glow and silent blackbirds prepare
to nest-- Orpheus has come to meet

the one he’s watched night after night in dream.
The pleasure is greater the shorter it lasts,
or so he thinks. She grows more beautiful
with each pass, and he tries to touch her breasts.
Doesn’t he know she isn’t what she seems?
Doesn’t he know the multiple meanings of fall?


Leonard Kress's The Orpheus Complex is available at Main Street Rag. His translation of Adam Mickiewicz is available online and from Harrowgate Press. The Harrowgate site also contains other poems and translations by Leonard.

Leonard Kress blogs about poetry and other things at Myshkin 2.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Special Issue Devoted to Contemporary Polish and Polish-American Poetry

When I first started writing poems in grad school at Purdue about my parents and their experiences in Germany during the war and in America after the war, I felt like I was the only one writing in America about Poles and Polish Americans. I asked the professors in my English Department, and they shrugged. I asked other students, and they hadn't heard about any Polish-American writers either. I went to the library and found nothing.

Over the years, I would hear about a poet here or a novelist there who wrote about the Polish Diaspora, and I would track these writers down, and slowly I began to realize that I wasn't the only one writing about the Polish Diaspora. There were, in fact, a lot of us, and the number just grows and grows as the celebration of Polish Diaspora writing in the journal Kritya suggests.

I hope that this celebration helps to continue the dialogue that has started among these writers.

Why is such a dialogue important?

The answer is quite simple and can be stated plainly.

One of poetry's elemental functions is to discover and preserve national and/or group identity. If you want to find out about the Greeks, you read Homer. If you want to find out about the English you read Chaucer and Shakespeare. If you want to find out about the Americans, you read Whitman or Emerson or Emily Dickinson. If you want to learn about the Poles, you read Milosz or Szymborska or Rosewicz.

And if you want to find out about Polish Diaspora culture, you should read Polish Diaspora poets, writers like the ones featured in the April and May issues of Kritya.


The April issues includes poems by the following poets:

Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor

Peter Burzynski

Mary Krane Derr

Jehanne Dubrow

Linda Nemec Foster

John Guzlowski

Maria Jastrzebska

Leonard Kress

Krystyna Lenkowska

Stephen Lewandowski

Colleen McKee

Anna Maria Mickiewicz

David Radavich

Laurie A. Gomulka Palazzolo

Christina Pacosz

Lisa L. Siedlarz

Lillian Vallee

Andrena Zawinsksi


Both issues are guest edited by Christina Pacosz and John Guzlowski. Rati Saxena edits Kritya.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Polish-American Writers Reading at the Polish Museum of America

On February 12, 2009, The Polish Museum of America hosted a reading by five Polish American writers: Anthony Bukoski, Linda Nemec Foster, John Minczeski, Leslie Pietrzyk, and me.

The event was a powerful emotional experience for all of us. Speaking for myself, I know that it's not often that I have the opportunity to read to an audience of people who share my Polish heritage, and when I do such readings, I always feel a strong connection that is hard to explain. It's a connection that goes beyond words (whether Polish or English), beyond present circumstances, and beyond borders.

Shortly after the reading, Maria Ciesla, the President of The Polish Museum of America, sent me a note that conveys what, I believe, both the readers and the audience felt that night:

Thank you so much for your successful efforts, and please convey my sincere thanks to Linda, Leslie, John, and Anthony. Guests present are still commenting to me about the uniqueness and artistic fullness of the evening. This was a new and magical event for the PMA, and I can assure you it will not be the last. Despite my being transfixed, I glanced around the Hall and observed the same.

To me personally, your writings parallel so much of my own experience, even though our family did not remain in Chicago's Polonia. Driving home, I blessed and thanked my parents even more than in the past!


To find out more about the readers who read at the Polish Museum, please double click on their names:

Anthony Bukoski has published five story collections, four with Southern Methodist University Press, including North of the Port and Time Between Trains. Holy Cow! Press recently reissued his first book, Twelve Below Zero, in a new and expanded edition. A Christopher Isherwood Foundation fellowship winner, Bukoski teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Linda Nemec Foster is the author of eight collections of poetry including Amber Necklace from Gdansk (LSU Press), Listen to the Landscape (Eerdmans Publishing), Ten Songs from Bulgaria (Cervena Barva Press). She has received honors from the Academy of American Poets, the National Writer's Voice, and the Polish American Historical Association. She is the founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College and currently is a member of the Series' programming committee.

John Guzlowski writes poems about his family's experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. His most recent books are Lightning and Ashes and the Pulitzer-nominated Third Winter of War: Buchenwald. His unpublished novel about German soldiers on the Eastern Front has recently been short-listed for the Bakeless Literary Award.

John Minczeski’s books of poetry include Letter to Serafin (Akron University Press), November (Finishing Line Press), Circle Routes (Akron University Press), Gravity (Texas Tech). He's the winner of the Akron Poetry Prize, a Bush Fellowship, and an NEA fellowship among other prizes. He freelances as a poet in the schools and does occasional adjunct work.

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels: Pears on a Willow Tree (Avon Books) and A Year and a Day (William Morrow). She teaches at Johns Hopkins and has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf and the Sewanee Writers’ Conferences. She is currently writing a novel about Polish immigrants in Chicago.


The photo above was taken by Maria Zakrzewska.

Back row from left to right:

John Guzlowski, Anthony Bukoski, Maria Ciesla (PMA President), John Minczeski, Linda Nemec Foster, Leslie Pietrzyk, Jan Lorys (PMA Director).

Front row from left to right:

Malgorzata Kot, Head Librarian at the Polish Museum, Krystyna Grell, librarian.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chopin in Poetry: A Call for Submissions

Maja Trochimczyk of Moonrise Press is editing an anthology of contemporary poetry on Chopin. The anthology will be published in March of 2010 to honor the 200th Anniversary of Chopin’s Birth.

Here are the particulars:


§ Original poetry about any aspect of music and life of Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849), Polish pianist and composer

§ Deadline – August 1, 2009

§ Language – English

§ Length – maximum 39 lines per poem, 3 poems

§ Format – email the poems to majat(at)verizon.net [replace (at) with @]
with the poem both in the body of the message and attachment in MS Word or rtf

§ Address and contact information of the author included in the body of the message


1. The book will be published by Moonrise Press, with an ISBN number.

2. The authors will retain individual copyright, granting permission to print in the anthology only.

3. The book will be distributed by online print-on-demand company and available through a network of partners, including Bowkers Books in Print, lulu.com, Amazon, etc.

4. The authors will receive an off-print of their submission, and a 30% discount on the book price.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Cosmopolitan Review

I just heard about a new online magazine that focuses on Polish and Polish Diaspora culture, politics, literature, and history. The magazine is called The Cosmopolitan Review, and it's edited by Kinia Adamczyk, Judith Browne, and Irene Tomaszewski. This project grows out of their committment to the Poland in the Rockies organization.

Here's a note I received from Irene Tomaszewski about the magazine:

"Cosmopolitanreview.com is a very young publication -- this is only our second issue. . . . We are open to proposals: poetry, feature articles, profiles of cities, profiles of interesting people. If you've had the time to look through it, you will note that our policy is to be inclusive. Poles without borders, Poles without outmoded ideas of class distinctions, Poles who speak Polish and Poles who don't, and anyone else who is interested in the Polish story."

The current issue has articles about the importance of Lech Walesa and traveling in Poland, poetry by Judith Browne and Marta Dabros, reviews of books by Polish Diaspora writers, and much much more. Take a look.

Here's the link: http://cosmopolitanreview.com

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Michael Czyzniejewski's Elephants in our Bedroom

Elephants in Our Bedroom is Michael Czyzniejewski's first collection of stories, and reading them you wonder why they haven't been gathered together sooner. They are wonderful. Michael, the editor of the Mid-American Review, has the true story-teller's gift. He can take the most mundane topic and put a magical spin on it that makes you realize that you and I -- even in our wildest moments -- aren't thinking half as imaginatively and wildly as Michael is.

Let me give you some examples from Elephants in our Bedroom:

His first story is called "Wind." Yeah, wind. We feel it every time we go out, we watch it moving the tree limbs or picking up a piece of paper and scooting it down the street, but what if suddenly people realized that they couldn't explain it, that all the old explanations didn't make sense?

And then there's the story "Green" where instead of proposing a typical summer vacation, the main character's husband invites her old lovers over for two weeks "just to clear the air."

Or how about the title story "Elephants in our Bedroom"? In it a guy wins an elephant in a card game and decides to keep it in the bedroom. That's wild. But what's wilder is that his wife doesn't say anything about it.

The stories in his collection have the sort of postmodern magic that we used to see in writers like Robert Coover or Donald Barthleme, but Michael makes that magic new again by spinning it in the everyday world, the familiar world, of children and husbands and wives, of city streets and schools and libraries, bedrooms and kitchens and backyards.

Michael's Polish-American background, for me, comes out in these stories. He's got the alien's gift for looking at what most of us take for granted and seeing it in a completely different way.

He's a second-generation Polish-American, and you get the sense reading his stories that he came from an area that was still tied to the old ways, tied to seeing the world outside the neighborhood as strange and foreign, alien even in a sort of comic way. And reading about his life bears this out. He grew up in the predominantly Polish-American Chicago suburb of Calumet City and attended St. Andrew the Apostle School and Church, where the nuns and priests all spoke Polish and Michael often served a Polish-language Sunday mass as an altar boy. In college, Michael studied Polish for two semesters before the language, as he says, "soundly defeated me, though I did expand my Polish vocabulary from 12 words to nearly 30."

But I think I've said enough. Here's an excerpt from one of his stories, "In My Lover’s Bedroom":

My lover is hiding old men in the recesses of her bedroom, but if you ask her about it, she’ll deny it every time. Despite what she claims, I discover men in her closet, men in her armoire, men skulking behind the vanity or crouched in the trunk at the foot of her bed. The men act pleasant, appear comfortable and content, and all of them seem to know my name, offering salutations and good words in abundance.

To pass the time, the men read newspapers, listen to transistor radios, and some of them, if it’s nice outside, fit in nine holes of golf. When I ask about my lover, they change the subject, remind me who won some game, ask if my career’s taking off. When I ask what they’re doing in my lover’s bedroom, reading and resting and recreating in general, they act like they can’t hear me, and if I press, they start speaking a foreign language, albeit very poorly. Aside from random pleasantries, the old men go about their business, keep to themselves, and at worst, tell good off-color jokes.

The problem with the old men is, I only find them when I’m alone, when my lover is in the kitchen, in the bathroom, home late from her job at the club. I’ve asked her many times why she keeps men in her dresser drawers, and her answer is the same, every time: Why are you going through my drawers? When I open said drawer to show her, the man has disappeared. The first time this happened, my lover thought it was funny, some sort of dry humor I’d never before demonstrated. On the second occasion, she was less amused. She assured me she had no other lover, she wasn’t married, and as far as she knew, she had no plans for that to change. On the third try, she suggested I leave, forcing me to apologize, to admit I’d taken a joke too far. Since then, I’ve decided to keep the men to myself, to go to them for answers. When I inquire as to why they won’t let my lover in on the joke, I get the What? treatment, the toggle of an imaginary microphone in their ears. It almost makes me think I’m onto something.


Currently, Michael Czyzniejewski teaches at Bowling Green State University. His website is at http://www.michaelczyzniejewski.com/

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Polish Literature in Translation

One of the online literary sites that I frequently visit is Dr. Constance Ostrowski's Polish Literature in Translation. It's an amazing site. She's gathered together links to Polish literature available on the web, critical articles, and Polish cultural sites of interest to readers of Polish literature. Using her site, I've found and read Polish authors that I would probably never have been able to discover otherwise.

Here's what Dr. Ostrowski says about the purpose of this site:

The treasure-house that is Polish literature is more accessible to English-language readers than many may think. In addition to English translations of the most famous works--works with which Polish literature has tended to be identified--there are many translations of works by far less famous authors. These translations, while often available in print format, are increasingly accessible through the World Wide Web.

My goal in creating this website is to provide as comprehensive a list as possible of works that are currently available through the Web and that are or that until recently have been in print in book format.

For those works available on the Web, this site's subpages provide links to English translations of entire works or excerpts of works. A word of caution, though: I've tried to make available the great number and variety of Web translations, which means that I've chosen not to judge the quality of those translations. While some variations are due to the fact that translation is as much of an art as is the original literary writing, others may be due to language mistakes, typographical errors, and/or less than meticulous editing. Therefore, while one of the marvelous advantages of the Web is that availability of translations of Polish literature are far less dependent on profit-motive, one of its drawbacks is the reduction in the amount and potential quality of editing.

For those translations of Polish works in book format, the site provides bibliographic information; I've chosen not to link to vendors in order not to privilege one over another, and because sometimes what one vendor identifies as out of print or unavailable may not be so. As much as possible, I've tried to verify the status of printed works by checking multiple sources, including publishers' catalogs. However, since I've surely missed works or authors, I invite corrections and additions (see my e-mail address at the bottom of this page).

Regarding works that are published in periodicals: I've included online periodicals as well as print periodicals that also publish online versions. However--and regrettably--at this point I'm not able to include any works published by periodicals only in print format.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Polish-American Writers Reading in Chicago at the Polish Museum of America, Feb. 12

On February 12, 2009, during the Associated Writing Programs Conference, the Polish Museum of America is proud to sponsor five Polish American Writers in a reading of their works. The event will take place in the Great Hall of The Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee Ave. at 6:00 PM. There is free parking to the west of the building. The Museum can also be reached by the 56 Milwaukee Ave. bus (Augusta stop) or the blue line (three long blocks from either the Division or Chicago Avenue stops. The reading is open to the public. A small donation is requested.

Each of the authors will discuss how they have been shaped by the culture of the Mid-West and the culture of Poland. Linda Nemec Foster writes about the search for Polish roots and her travels to Poland to discover what parts of her identity were formed there. Anthony Bukoski writes about the disappearing communities of Poles in northern Wisconsin, and their interaction with successive waves of post WWII and post Soviet Poles. John Minczeski’s most recent book tries to put the essentials of Polish identity within the context of Western culture. Leslie Pietrzyk (Iowa) writes about the tension between older immigrants and their children and grandchildren growing up in rural Iowa. John Guzlowski, a Polish immigrant writes about what brought his family to America and how his Polish parents struggled to maintain their Polish identity within a melting-pot culture.

They will also be reading at the AWP conference on Feb. 13, at 430 in the Lake Ontario Room, 8th floor, Hilton Hotel Chicago.

Biographical Sketches of the Writers:

Anthony Bukoski has published five story collections, four with Southern Methodist University Press, including North of the Port and Time Between Trains. Holy Cow! Press recently reissued his first book, Twelve Below Zero, in a new and expanded edition. A Christopher Isherwood Foundation fellowship winner, Bukoski teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Linda Nemec Foster is the author of eight collections of poetry including Amber Necklace from Gdansk (LSU Press), Listen to the Landscape (Eerdmans Publishing), Ten Songs from Bulgaria (Cervena Barva Press). She has received honors from the Academy of American Poets, the National Writer's Voice, and the Polish American Historical Association. She is the founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College and currently is a member of the Series' programming committee.

John Guzlowski writes poems about his family's experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. His most recent books are Lightning and Ashes and the Pulitzer-nominated Third Winter of War: Buchenwald. He received the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Award for poetry in 2001.

John Minczeski's books of poetry include Letter to Serafin (Akron University Press), November (Finishing Line Press), Circle Routes (Akron University Press), Gravity (Texas Tech). He's the winner of the Akron Poetry Prize, a Bush Fellowship, and an NEA fellowship among other prizes. He freelances as a poet in the schools and does occasional adjunct work.

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels: Pears on a Willow Tree (Avon Books) and A Year and a Day (William Morrow). She teaches as Johns Hopkins and has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf and the Sewanee Writers’ Conferences.

Friday, January 30, 2009

George Gömöri: Polishing October

George Gömöri's history shows in his poetry. He was born in Hungary in 1934, fled to England because of his involvement in the Hungarian revolution of 1956, and came to rest in England where he taught Polish and Hungarian at the University of Cambridge. Recently, her Excellency Tuge-Erecinska, Ambassador of Poland in London, presented him with a "diploma," a document of his membership in the Krakow-based PAU (Polska Akademia Umiejetnosci). He is the only Hungarian member of this academy which counts among its members Umberto Eco and Andrzej Wajda.

George Gömöri's poems -- like his essays -- are smart, engaged, and impassioned--a combination hard to turn away from.

Posted by Picasa

Polishing October is his thirteenth book of poems, his second in English, and the poet George Szirtes says this about it:

"George Gömöri's lyric poetry is a mix of passion and irony, the irony itself always informed by passion. His political poems learn their lessons from a history where the small get their heads kicked in by the great who use them for footballs. There is a certain wry comedy involved in the process but the stakes are high: defeat and exile are for real, as is the pain."

Many of George Gömöri's poems contain Polish subjects and echoes, but one that I find especially moving is his poem about the Polish poet and artist Cyprian Norwid who came to New York in the 1850s. Like many Poles of the Polish Diaspora, Norwid felt his exile deeply and complexly:

A letter of Cyprian Norwid’s from New York

If it chanced that, defying many a storm,
our sailing-ship crossed the ocean and
I reached dry land again after sixty days,
and if, later, the big splinter that wounded my thumb
failed to cripple me, so I could draw again –
if God had preserved me in these ways, perhaps he has
some other plan for me. In the Crimea, say,
I’d be happy to take up arms against the helots
serving the Frost Colossus, or to aid our cause elsewhere.
Please help me, You or some other wealthy Pole,
to get back soon to that Old World of ours.
There are all kinds of things in the papers here
and you can’t really tell what the truth is.
Kossuth, of course, was splendidly received,
but you’ve got to be defeated and a famous exile
to qualify for such treatment. As for me,
I work as an artist here, but unknown and lonely –
my windows look out on to a cemetery –
above the bushes humming-birds flutter and sometimes
a heavy scent of flowers comes wafting by . . .
In my thoughts, though, I’m wandering in Paris
or better still in Rome, where the past’s alive
and consoles – where you live not just for the present,
not only for the Market.

Translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri


Polishing October
is available from Shoestring Press in the UK and Amazon books in the US.