Thursday, August 16, 2018

Landings by Andrena Zawinski

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Polish-American poet Andrena Zawinski has recently published a new book of poems entitled Landings.  The book was review by Joan Gelfand in the Los Angeles Review

It’s tempting to bury our pasts. Haunted by the ghosts of family dysfunction, financial strain and personal shame, Andrena Zawinski’s Landings is a collection of unflinching poems that confront personal and political violence, global upheaval and senseless loss, all the while remaining true to close observation and creating beauty from tragedy.
In “Rosie Times,” the poet plays loose with irony, recounting her mother’s story working as a “Liberty Girl” in Northeastern factories during WWII: “Draped in white overalls, hair wrapped in a red scarf / Under a hard hat, clear goggles shielding her amber eyes / She welded Pressed Steel’s box cars outside Pittsburgh.” Despite the no-nonsense work ethic and hard living her mother endured, she retained a love of a good time. But she also neglected to protect the daughter who loved her:
belted out the high notes / of Indian Love Call at a USO picnic.
She learned to love the night shift as a blackout warden
and became the woman who I would later blast
for not pulling me free from my father’s fierce grip.
From the safe distance of adulthood, Zawinski ventures a hard look into the psyche of a father who, apparently, faced his own demon. In “What About a Fight:”
They say my father loved a fight. Was it his old juvie record
trumping determination or hope, his annulled marriage
to a bigamist collecting veteran’s checks
or layoffs at the mills
before benefits kicked in, a monotony of existence?
Not a pleasant undertaking, the poem bears witness to working class ennui, malaise and brokenness.
Landings toggles between personal and world crises. In “Le crayon qui parle” we hear a lament for Paris after the attacks. To place the attack in historical context, we first hear of Picasso’s creation of the Guernica: “An arm raised with a lamp of light.” Fast forward to the current scene:
a wounded city mourning and left to do
what it must – to witness, to sing or to pray,
to hold vigil, to take up paints or dig hands in clay
to run fingers across keys, to put pen to paper
to let le crayon parle as dreary fearsome nights
begin to fade and chains of pain break and fall
By bringing in a scene where Gertrude Stein tells Picasso to “put down the pen and go home and paint” in the first stanza, the poet engenders empathy not only for the Paris of terrorist attacks, but also the city that survived a Nazi invasion and two world wars.
“Rafts,” mourns the immigrant crisis, juxtaposing a family picnic against refugees floating across a tumultuous sea from Aleppo: “A three-year-old washes up onto the beach, face down on the sand / Limp body leaden in his father’s arms / Water lapping the wounded shore.” When humanity suffers, the earth suffers: a truth we know but can afford to hear again and again.The body may be gone but the spirit lives on. The trope repeatedly acts as a through line in Landings. Life is unforgiving. Senseless violence pervades. People are hurt, injured and die for no reason. Still, we land, an indomitable spirit and will to survive intact.
The final section, “Civics Lessons,” employs the prose poem form to relate a story about the school days that informed the poet’s adult political leanings. In two flash-sized chapters, Zawinski recounts a Civics teacher who punished her for “not putting her hand to her heart to recite the national anthem” but then proceeded to bribe her father for his vote. The aforementioned teacher was later incarcerated. Chapter two brings us a new crisis: Martin Luther King’s assassination:
Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in a Memphis motel, the cashier barking: “It’s about time someone shut that nigger up.” Outside, business owners scrawled Soul Brother across their boarded-up shops under a sky thick with smoke layered like low flung storm clouds. Police in swat gear with crackling megaphones cleared streets and blocked bridges, while “All You Need Is Love” blasted from speakers propped in an apartment house window. Like so many before and so many after, I signed on, sat in, marched, protested, carried signs believing that raising my voice would make words matter. Civics lesson.
Ever the soldier for human rights and blessed with a fighting spirit, this poet possesses a healthy dose of empathy with which she processes the stranger’s pain. Without self-pity or regret Zawinski narrates the events that shaped her into the person and writer she is today. We are grateful that so deleterious a past delivered a lover of beauty and a citizen of the world.

To read some of Andrena's poems published here at Writing the Polish Diaspora, just click on the following links.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Circus of Trust by Mark Tardi

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Mark Tardi, one of my favorite Polish American poets, has a new book of poems.  If you've been following my blog, you'll know that this is the third time I'm featuring Mark's poems.  I wrote about him in 2012  and again in 2013 when his book Airport Music came out (click on the links here to see those pieces and poems).

He's got a new book out from the great Dalkey Archive Press called Circus of Trust (available at Amazon).  The poems are stronger and more moving than ever.

Here are a couple:


The roadsides favor promiscuity, snow
clenched to nights, hoarsely chromium,
forming a grin inside a crack. In sleep

Theyll pursue you: no bandit lapping the fence,
no slim digit hovering over the viewshed. I’m
waiting for my legs to catch up with my hand.

            Im waiting for that resigned way of Saturday.

An altered paradise, not epitome or ruminant,
a paradise born inside out, ceramic. Its a question of
polo or humanity, how technology is winning our hearts.

I know my bones and your hair, yes, how the eye
drowns in cold probability. The entire structure
must be subtracted from harms way. Folded

Among the constellations, ghost flat.

Youre right when you say the day continues
to torment me. I dont know whether to shit or go
blind, if sin were only a matter of physics.

That chalk village cut by amber nets, not an answer,
not a question. All tenses and inflections, bloodless,
buried in lead regardless of appetite.

I’m glad there are no rules, just the extent to which
we can describe what is lean or not lean. The tumult
and pulse, the interior light of things, from which

                                                Most of us would shrink.

from Attribution Error                                                                                                                    

Sometimes you have to start with a series of misunderstandings
brief stain to dark clarity
a jab, a simple burst of air
toward the invisible middle
like tripping between the pigeons and the cats
like demolished logic
because its always winter in Chicago
it’ll be dark in forty-five minutes
youre here to enjoy the contradictions
the continuous and familiar fact
like how economists have predicted seven of
the last three downturns
like trading a claw hammer for a kiss

For the oldest cinema in the world, for its secrets

whatever variable distances, itinerant longings
more guano for my artifacting


There are no harmless motives, thinking
detached from all consequence,
it was guttered and channeled and sluices
like a gnarled moccasin or
some squat ungainly bird

the ligaments could have been flypaper revolving in slow spirals

Gone are quinsy, glanders, and farcy
menstrual blood prettied with rosewater


You dont have to step on a body to carry
death on your shoes, gesticulant and aimless,
each day a relentless emptying out
the whorl expanding in itself
as if a tickle of electricity in mute chorus
as if left trembling with success

a skin of persuasion and habit, weather-worn
bound to a different set of restrictions

folding again into the murk beyond

                        between a gulf and a toilet


Mark Tardi is originally from Chicago and he earned his MFA from Brown University. His publications include the books The Circus of Trust (just out from Dalkey Archive Press), Airport music, and Euclid Shudders. He guest-edited an issue of the literary journal Aufgabe  devoted to contemporary Polish poetry and poetics and has translated poetry from the Polish by Kacper Bartczak, Miron Białoszewski, Monika Mosiewicz, and Przemysław Owczarek. A former Fulbright scholar, he lives with his family in a village in central Poland and is on faculty at the University of Łódź.