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.