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, 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.