E.E. NOBBS Reviews
A Marzipan Factory – new and selected poems by Grzegorz Wroblewski, translated from the Polish by Adam Zdrodowski
(Otoliths, Rockhampton, Australia, 2010)
Marjorie Perloff gives this endorsement on the back cover:
“… It is Kafkaesque and yet tender, cynical and yet warm, elliptical and yet wholly immediate. …The pleasures and terrors of sex, of age, of the fear of death, of the deceptions of our social life, have rarely been so brutally - yet wittily and charmingly - documented as they are in these short, often gnomic poems, surprisingly well rendered in Adam Zdrodowski s translation... “
In one important way, I disagree with Perloff: I did not find the poems cynical; I agree with the second endorser, John Z. Guzlowski, who calls the poems “ironic and serious”. For me, the main message of the book is that life is precious and short, and that it’s up to each of us to give our lives meaning – even though we find ourselves off-kilter in the off-kilterness of modern society, even though loving each other is hard, and even though we must face the certainty of death.
He can be quite explicit about what we need to do. In “Black Head” the speaker tries to comfort his partner who seems overtaken by anxiety; first he tries to make her laugh but finishes by saying:
“…Then you should quickly believe in your reality…
You’re an accidental being,
just like me.”
This is a repeating theme: he challenges us to “believe” in living even though we are tired, cynical, post-modern people. He wants us to believe in the “sleeping stone / that unexpectedly starts to go up!” that a friend shows the speaker when they walk into the forest in “Magic Training Ground.”
In “The Mother of Cornfields” two people (lovers, probably) allow themselves the joy of entering a cornfield and imagining the corn as a great chorus of “winged creatures” that are talking and dancing. The two people choose to play, to wander “around in them, enamoured, hungry, and naïve.”
The natural world plays an important role in the poems – suggesting that connecting with non-human life – plants, birds, dogs, cats and insects – is powerful medicine, or at least consolation.
In some of the poems, the characters either seem to be mad, or worry about being mad – but in one of my favourite poems, the characters find a “mindless” solution. In “The Milky Way” the speaker and a dog compare notes on the meaning of life and come to an understanding about the joy of not doing anything. I love how the poet makes the analogies and the connections:
“…Caressing a stray Alsatian, I’m looking into his
He understands me perfectly.
He doesn’t have to hunt ducks and nobody teases him with a rubber
Just like me, he’s resting among the mindless
He thinks he has understood his short mission.”
Wroblewski ‘s poems are lyrics – they express personal and intense emotions about the big human-dilemma-type themes. He skillfully makes use of narrative and dialogue to show us the characters in the midst of a situation, or reflecting on a memory. “YOU TALK TO MUCH TO ME OF ANGELS” is a dramatic monologue where the speaker tells his lover that he wants to concentrate on the earthy here- and- now of being “Alive- /Among the black worms/and colourful butterflies”— he wants to make full use of the “opportunity to carefully/groom each other// (To taste what it really/ reeks of)”.
There is the short, imagistic and Zen-like “KANCHENJUNGA” which feels and sounds like a comforting mantra for day-to-day living, or a ritualistic farewell when whatever happens in the end, happens –
looking at the sea
you always say:
going there in the end
you take with you
2 white shells
Less comforting is the “THE WORLD RECORD IN DEEP DIVING”; it consists of only these two lines: “Waiting in vain for Jon K./ (Nobody urged him to do it.)
Love relationships and sex are usually shown as confusing quagmires. I get the feeling that Wroblewski wants us to keep a sense of humour about it all. In the darkly comical “IF SHE WAS STILL SIPPING WINE WITH YOU”, the speaker’s friend has exchanged all attempts with women for a new passion for birds and birding –
“You observe them for hours, I even caught you
working out their nervous
birdy hops (you explained to me later that it is
good for a stiff spine).”
A sense of caring runs through Wroblewski ‘s poems – not a soft or unrealistic caring (and there is sometimes anger in his poems, as well as gentleness), but a real “eyes wide open” concern that we be kind to each other, and enjoy and experience life, as best and as fully as we can. Not to waste it. And be willing to be surprised. Which reminds me of a motto I saw on a magnet pin once – “Don’t Die Curious”.
I’m glad the book includes bionotes on both men: Wroblewski is a native of Poland, born in 1962 who’s lived in Copenhagen since 1985. He’s a prolific writer – including several collections of poetry, and he’s been translated into 8 languages. Adam Zdrondowski born in 1979 is a poet and translator and lives in Warsaw.
I recommend the book. It’s a big collection, and I’ve only offered a brief sampling.
E.E. Nobbs is a poet from Prince Edward Island, Canada. She blogs at http://ellyfromearth.wordpress.com/