Monday, February 21, 2011

Maps and Shadows--A Novel about the Poles Taken to Siberia

I do a number of presentations each year about what happened to my Polish parents during World War II. I talk about how they and so many other Poles were put on trains and sent to work in the slave labor and concentration camps in Germany. I also talk about the Poles who were left behind, the brutal conditions they lived under during the war. Invariably, during the Q & A sessions after these presentations, someone from the audience will rise and say, "I never knew this happened."

I have been hearing this for years.

Aquila Polonica is a relatively new publishing house that is trying to do something about this problem. This press specializes in books about the Polish experience in World War II. They have published a number of outstanding books in recent years: the award-winning The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt: War Through a Woman’s Eyes, 1939-1940, The Ice Road: An Epic Journey from the Stalinist Labor Camps to Freedom, and 303 Squadron: The Legendary Battle of Britain Fighter Squadron. Each of these books has endeavored to tell a part of the largely unknown story of what it was like for Poles in the Second World War.

To this list, the press now adds its first novel, Maps and Shadows by the poet Krysia Jopek. Ms. Jopek's novel tells the story of what happened to the 1.5 million innocent Poles who were deported to forced labor camps in Siberia after the Soviets occupied eastern Poland at the beginning of the war. were taken over by the Soviets.

Focusing on the real experiences of her own family, she follows a mother, a father, a sister and two brothers from Poland to Siberia and beyond, writing of the brutal transport of the Poles to Siberia, the years at hard labor there, and the hardships they experienced as they were eventually released by the Soviets to find their own way to freedom and security.

Ms. Jopek's narrative combines her own gift for lyricism with a straightforward narrative style that demands you keep reading. Telling her story from the points of view of four of the family members, she is able to give us a deep sense of what the experience was like for men and women, soldiers and poets, the old and the young.

Here are some of the opening passages in the novel. They are in the voice of Helcia, the daughter of the family and a poet:

Everyone has a story.

Some stories are difficult to believe, though true. Other accurate, yet dull. Some difficult to tell--apart from the others. One story often spills into another, echoes, diverges before crossing trajectories again. The skeins once separated, can fray. To isolate the variable can unthread the most composed, even the most vain.

This is my story and my younger brother Henryk's story. My mother Zofia's and my father Andrzej's. My youngest brother Jozef doesn't speak of these places. Somehow his memories were lost.

A story of war, shifting boundaries, alliances and ideologies. A story of mid-twentieth-century ice and burning sun.


Maps and Shadows is available from Aquila Polonica and Amazon.

To read another response to the novel, I recommend Danusha Goska's Bieganski blog.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Here's some news about the activities of Polish and Polish-American writers and artists.

I received a note from poet Sarah Luczaj. She writes that her friend recently completed work on a cabin in Poland that's perfect as a writer's retreat or for holidays. The cabin is beautifully restored in a traditional style and set in 20 acres of private woodland and mountain pasture. If you want more information about the cabin, please click here for the webpage. By the way, Sarah's book An Urgent Request is now available from Amazon.

Poet Sharon Chmielarz has a new book out called The Sky is Great The Sky is Blue.

Maja Trochimczyk's anthology of poems in honor of Chopin (Chopin with Cherries) was recently reviewed by Christopher Woods in Contemporary World Literature. She also has been blogging about her experiences with this anthology. You can read about them at her blog.

Poet Leonard Kress, scholar Roman Koropeckyj, and actress Beata Pozniak Daniels will be participating in a celebration of the poetry of the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) at the Modjeska Club in Los Angeles this Saturday, February 19. For more information, please check out the Modjeska Club site. To read Leonard's translation of Mickiewicz'z Pan Tadeusz, click here.

Grzegorz Wroblewski has had a great year so far. His fine poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Shampoo, and Words Without Borders. His recent book of poems, The Marzipan Factory, was reviewed by Gilbert Wesley Purdy in Eclectica.

Thad Rutkowski's recent novel Haywire was reviewed in the National Book Critics Circle blog Critical Mass and in Kirkus. To read a section of the novel posted at Writing the Polish Diaspora, click here.

Andrena Zawinski, the features editor of, tells me that Karen Kovacik is one of the featured poets in the current issue.

Janusz Zalewski writes that the journal Poets and Writers now provides a list of subscribers who self-identify as Polish Americans. You can check out the list by clicking here.

Christina Pacosz's poem "Another Version of the Goings-on at the Solstice Christmas Village" was published at New Verse News.

I'd like to recommend three blogs that I follow: one is by the poet Oriana Ivy and the other is by fiction writer Danuta Hinc and the third is by essayist Danusha Goska. All are excellent.

The Anglo-Polish poets are planning an event in London. Here's a youtube about it: YouTube - PoEzja Londyn

Finally, here's news about a poetry contest in Poland that encourages submissions from Polonia:

7th Annual Poetry Contest Invites Polonia Participants

Mielec, a town best known in Poland for its aircraft industry, now exports airplanes and aircraft components to customers around the world. It is also home to an international poetry competition, held each year at the Pedagogical Library. There are three categories: Adult, Juvenile, and Polonia.

The top prize for the first two categories is the Silver Quill of the Mayor of Mielec; the grand prize in the Polonia category is the Eagle of the Senate of the Polish Republic. Senator Wladyslaw Ortyl, who represents the region in Parliament, and the Mayor of Mielec are honorary patrons of the event. For runner-ups there are lesser prizes and a number of honorable mention awards. All poems that clear the hurdle into the finals are published in a commemorative chapbook.

Entries are being accepted now for the judging which will take place at the end of May 2011 (deadline for submission is March 25, 2011). Entrants are permitted one poem of up to 30 lines. Submission is anonymous, a code word is used to identify the poem and poet. (Apparently poetry in translation is acceptable if you meet the other criteria.)

Experienced and aspiring poets who would like to submit entries to the 7th Tourney of the All-Poland and Polonia Poetry Competition should check the website of the Pedagogical Library where the official rules are posted.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ewa Parma's W Strefie Ognia

I first met Polish poet Ewa Parma on Facebook last year in February and have been reading and enjoying her poems in Polish and English since then. The poems have an emotional drive and intensity that keeps me coming back to her work. Her writing has been published here and in Poland in journals like Slask , Connecticut River Review, Artful Dodge, and Mr. Cogito. Recently, she published a new book of poems in Polish entitled W Strefie Ognia(The Fire Zone). The book is available from the publisher .

Ewa has allowed me to post one of the poems from her new book. The poem is about a wooden statue of Mary Magdalene "with Meryl Streep’s eyes and hair like a coat all over her body" that Ewa found in a museum in Pieskowa Skala, Poland. Her English translation of her poem follows the Polish version.

Maria Magdalena z Pieskowej Skały

Jeżeli opuszczą mnie moje diabły,
obawiam się, że ulecą z nimi moje anioły.


Nie patrz tak na mnie natarczywie
nie oddam ci ani jednego grzechu
i nie chcę by ode mnie odeszło
siedem moich złych duchów –
każdy z nich to bliski przyjaciel
prawdziwy anioł stróż
w rozterkach zawsze przy mnie
w upadkach niezawodny
w rozpaczy niezastąpiony
Gdy wychodzę z mojej jaskini
okrywam się szczelniej włosami
- ich blask oślepia anioły
co przychodzą z wodą i chlebem
i wodzą na pokuszenie swoim
androgynicznym pięknem
Za każdym razem pytają
czy łaska już na mnie spłynęła
lecz ja wciąż nie jestem gotowa
i wybieram pocałunek mężczyzny
przy którym zapiera mi dech
- oddychaj – mówi mój anioł
- oddychaj – powtarza mój demon

Here's Ewa's translation:

Marie Magdalene from Pieskowa Skala

If my devils leave me, I am afraid
my angels will fly away, too.


Don’t look at me so insistently
I won’t give you a single sin of mine
and I don’t want my seven evil spirits
to abandon me – each one
is a close friend to me
a real guardian angel
standing by me when I am irresolute
unfailing when I am falling
indispensable to me in despair
Whenever I go out from my cave
I wrap myself tightly with my hair –
its glamour is blinding the angels
bringing me bread and water
and tempting me with their
androgynous beauty
Each time they ask me if
I have already been touched by Grace
but I am still not ready
and choose the kiss of a man
by whom I keep losing my breath
“Breathe”, says my angel
“Breathe”, echoes my demon


Other poems by Ewa Parma are available online at Modowo.PL.