Poland is a distant country, somewhere I came from, but will not return to, except for a short visit. Why? Too many reasons to answer. Here are links to various reflections about Poland, its history, the arts and my memories.
Among the fondest memories of my youth are times spent in the lake district of Mazuria, sailing - either with students during the summer camp, or with family on our own sailing boat with a cabin that allowed us to sleep on the water, and spend time on the shore, going from one lake to another, visiting villages, picking mushrooms and blueberries in the forest, singing songs by the bonfire, and, in general, having the time of your life. Students had three months of vacations and nobody worked in the summer, people took off to have fun. Now money rules over everything and the carefree friendships are long gone. I recall these times in my poem, "The Lake of Claret" published in "Grateful Conversations: A Poetry Anthology" that I co-edited with Kathi Stafford:
Another fond memory is of meadows in western Belarus lands in Poland, due east of Bialystok, where my paternal grandmother lived in Bielewicze. One time when I was walking from the train through the fields, on sandy roads, and then taking a shortcut through the meadow, I came across my uncle, cutting the grass to make hay for cows and horses, with a scythe, row after row. He had two assistants both walking on tall red legs right behind him: two storks were looking for frogs and other critters to lunch on. The image of a man with a scythe, followed by two black and white storks with red bills and legs, in a lush green, flowering meadow, under the immensity of blue skies with white puffy clouds is one of my fondest memories. It made its way into my poem "Dragonfly Days" that contrast California with mythical, lost Poland:
Finally, the pain of leaving one country for another and feeling out of place in both, by becoming neither Polish nor Canadian nor American, but something in between, "lost in translation" - this trauma of displacement or exile has been shared by millions worldwide. I brought it into focus by recalling the fate of Polish emigres in Paris after the November uprising of 1830 fell and a major group of its participants left to create a Polish colony of exiles in France. I cite the nostalgic epic Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz, Polish national bard, and one of the exiles.
To hear and read some recent interviews that appeared in Poland, Lithuania and California, check out the links below:
- Interview with Witold Janczys, "U nas w Amerike" - conversation in Polish translated into Russian, March 2018; Delphi, https://www.delfi.lt/multimedija/u-nas-i-amerikie/u-nas-v-amerike-ceny-tozhe-rastut-no-i-zarplaty-uvelichivayutsya.d?id=77319547
- "Zycie Pomiedzy Polska a USA" - A series of broadcast radio interviews in Polish with Ewa Szczecinska, Polish Radio 2 (a week-long series of 15-minute interviews about family history, emigration, and life), broadcast in March 2018. https://www.polskieradio.pl/8/380/Artykul/2082339,Maja-Trochimczyk-Zycie-pomiedzy-Polska-a-USA
- "Od Xenakisa do Szymanowskiej" Interview with Ewa Szczecinska, Polish Radio 2 (one hour conversation in Polish) http://www.polskieradio.pl/8/2565/Artykul/1354983/
- Interview about poetry with Kathabela Wilson, "Mapping the Artist: Maja Trochimczyk," ColoradoBoulevard.net, November 2014
- Interview with Lois P. Jones on Poets Cafe, KPFK 90.7FM, March 30, 2011, recording archived on Timothy Green's website: Maja Trochimczyk Interview
Is there anything better in life than holding a child in your arms? Your child, your grandchild? I am blessed to have witness a miracle recently, a miracle that changed my existential status. From now on, I'm a Grandma, Babcia. These words seem rather abstract at the moment, as I think of my own Grandmas/Babcias and how ancient they seemed to me, when I was a child spending summer vacation in their village homes, eating strawberries and cherries in their gardens and orchards... No matter, age is not important. The new life of the new person just entering the world and opening his eyes to see the universe - this is what is important.To welcome my Grandson, Adam Marcin (born in September), I spent the last month before travelling to Poland for this monumental occasion writing a long poem, entitled "I Give You the World" and illustrated with all sorts of photos - of family life and things I love to take pictures of, leaves, petals, clouds... There is a lot of personal material in that book, so I'm not going to make it publicly available. In fact, it has been printed in ten numbered copies and that's it. But I posted some excerpts on this blog...This was because my grandson and his parents moved to California and are now Americans, not Poles.
by Maja Trochimczyk. Moonrise Press, August 2016
This volume includes 30 poems about forgotten stories of Poles living in the Eastern Borderlands of Kresy, who were killed, deported, imprisoned, or oppressed after the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union on September 17, 1939. Some of these brief portraits capture the trauma and resilience, ordeals and miraculous survival stories of the author’s immediate family. Her maternal family comes from Baranowicze and the surrounding area near Adam Mickiewicz’s Nowogródek and the mythical lake of Świteź in what is now Belarus. Their experiences of displacement, hunger, cold, and poverty during the war are typical of Polish civilian. These fictionalized memories are coupled with depictions of survival of other Poles deported to Siberia, the Arctic Circle, or Kazakhstan; who left the Soviet Union with the Second Corps of the Polish Army under General Władysław Anders; were transported to refugee camps in India or Africa; and ended up in Argentina, Canada, Australia or the U.S. The book is a companion to “Slicing the Bread: Children’s Survival Manual in 25 Poems” (Finishing Line Press, 2014), with which it shares some poems, including vignettes from the author’s childhood in Warsaw, permeated by the strange rhetoric of the Polish People’s Republic, yet still overshadowed by the war.
You can read the introduction on the Moonrise Press blog
ISBN-10: 1622296877 ISBN-13: 978-1622296873.
Slicing the Bread, Children’s Survival Manual in 25 Poems by Maja Trochimczyk This unique poetry collection revisits the dark days of World War II and the post-war occupation of Poland by the Soviet Union that “liberated” the country from one foreign oppression to replace it with another. The point of view is that of children, raised by survivors, scarred by war, wary of politics. Children experienced the hunger and cold, witnessed the killings, saw the darkening blood spilled on the snow and hands stretching from locked boxcar windows. Some heard the voices of murdered Jews like "bees in the breeze," others learned never to throw any food away, because "war is hunger." (And the bread should get the medal...)
The poems, each inspired by a single object giving rise to memories like Proust's madeleine (a spoon, a coat, the smell of incense) are divided into three sections, starting with snapshots of World War II in the Polish Borderlands (Kresy) and in central Poland. Reflections on the German' brutal killings of Jews and Poles are followed by insights into the way the long shadow of THE war darkened a childhood spent behind the Iron Curtain. For poet Georgia Jones Davis, this book, “brings the experience of war into shocking, immediate focus” through Trochimczyk’s use of "her weapon: Language at its most precise and lyrical, understated and piercingly visual." Order the book from www.finishinglinepress.com.
Readings of individual poems on YouTube:
"Slicing the Bread" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSsmvEhPB1k
"Slicing the Bread" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wTExjnd3d8
"Incense" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1RoHSrNqr8
"Family Stories" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5nLgXCOGRs
"The Odds" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UUsy2MR9k4
"What to Carry" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW7OL7WANj4&list=PL3q7UTBe4d0f-JhchmDRTqBodFgEOF9IH
It is quite surprising, if you arrive from Poland, to see the American Easter, with its Easter Bunny that lays chocolate eggs (this idea is somewhat disgusting, if you think what round objects of chocolatey hue come out of the Bunny's other end). Another surprise is the obligatory pastel coloring of the entire set of decorations - baby rabbits, baby chicken, baby ducks, puppies, kittens, and all sorts of baby everything, including pastel colored eggs and egg-wreaths that replace Christmas wreath. . . . For a Christian from Europe, however, the colors of Easter are different, starker. It is the hue of green palm leafs of the Palm Sunday, the stone bareness and austerity of Good Friday, the vermilion red of liturgical vestments on this day of cosmic suffering, the shadowy darkness and brilliant new flames of Easter Vigil, and the purity of white and gold of the Easter morning Resurrection Procession. I experienced these colors of truly religious Easter at the convent of Fransciscan Sisters, Servants of the Cross, in Warsaw, where I was baptized as an adult during the Easter Vigil on March 30, 1987. There was not a pastel Easter bunny in sight.
There is a new feature film, fact-based and shocking, about the destruction, looting, and recovery of artworks by the Nazis. George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" is a work of fiction, but "The Rape of Europa" - a 2006 documentary that first brought these issues to the world's attention, is not. I found its depiction of the whole scale purposeful robbery and vandalism conducted by Germans in the whole Europe to be fascinating, with lots of unknown footage and mind-boggling examples. The four countries that are at the heart of the story were treated differently by the race-obsessed Germans: the artwork of the inferior, "slave" Slavic races of Poles and Russians could, or should, be destroyed, the artwork of Italy and French just stolen.
I like the painting and the poem so much that I repeatedly revise and reprint the verse, both before and after seeing more Leonardo at the Louvre, and my reading of it, with inspired Renaissance-style accompaniment by extraordinary Italian pianist Edoardo Torbianelli, is now on YouTube:
Here's the longer, revised version of the poem, with added lines in Italian.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TI-LHJYgwbk (Paris, Polish Academy of Sciences)
Paris is a surprising place to make "Polish" discoveries - and I discover the "szopka krakowska" or Nativity Scene, Krakow Style, or its monumental version at the Notre Dame Cathedral. Here's the essence of nostalgia - a magnified miniature, a tinfoil model of an imaginary cathedral, with its Polish folk dancers and figures from Poland's legends, placed
within a real, solid stone-and-stained-glass cathedral in Paris (see the Christmas link above).
http://poetrylaurels.blogspot.com/2014/01/day-of-remembrance-at-united-nations.html, with two poems from the forthcoming book "Slicing Bread" - "Zaduszki" and "Standing Guard"
On January 27, 1945, Soviet troops came into the largely empty death and concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Its prisoners were sent on the death march towards Germany. Only few were left behind. The United Nations selected this day to establish the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The more time passes since the war, the more people want to forget or deny that it happened. It is important to remember. All the more so, that people who have seen and heard what happened when it happened are dying out. It is important to record their memories, even if these memories are not exact and fit for official historical record. Even if they are garbled in family stories, passed on from grandmother, to mother, to daughter, transmitted from grandfather, to father, to son.
http://poetrylaurels.blogspot.com/2014/01/read-dream-pray-and-do-not-kill-in.html, with "The Call to Prayer" and "The Cathedral I"
The New Year 2014 came too fast for me, as I was buried in a mountain of books I simply had to read in order to stop writing nonsense. You know, the more you know, the more you know... and the better writer you are... I welcomed the New Year in a Venetian mask, barely had time to watch the Rose Parade on TV... and flew on a red-eye to Washington, D.C.
http://poetrylaurels.blogspot.com/2013/10/on-halloween-all-souls-and-all-saints.html, with poems "The Hour of Darkness," "Last Wish," "Love Horror," and "The Polish Easter"
Did you decorate your house for Halloween yet? I took out my laughing bats, magic hats, and pumpkins. Yet another year of trying to tame the monster, make the grime and horror go away. I wish to replace the vulgar tastelessness of eyeball soups and skeletons on the lawn with some carnival-style whimsy... I'll be disappointed again, surrounded by plastic atrocities emerging from the closet yet again, as we circle on this merry-go-round of time that accelerates every year.
http://poetrylaurels.blogspot.com/2012/11/exhibit-on-immigrants-at-bolton-hall.html, with "The Music Box" reprinted from Rose Always (2008, rev. 2011)
Why California? The sunlight in California is so different from northern areas of Canada, or Poland. There it is pale, often grayish, frail. Here it brings a rainbow of colors to everything it touches. Everything is more vivid, more intense, under the bright rays, in summer or winter... I came to Los Angeles in 1996, with three advanced degrees and three children, for a job at USC that has since ended, with a husband who has since returned to Canada. Two of my children, Marcin and Anna, moved away, but I’m still here with the youngest, Ian. I made Sunland my home, with a garden of roses and pomegranates overlooking the magical grass-covered mountains. I became the Sixth Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga.
http://poetrylaurels.blogspot.com/2012/06/old-towns-in-warsaw-krakow-gdansk.html, includes the poem "Prelude - Water Charms" (reprinted from Miriam's Iris, 2008)
Returns, in thought or reality, to the landscapes of childhood, constitute an important poetic inspiration. I had a chance to re-visits the landscapes of my youth during the travel to Poland in May and June 2012. It was a sentimental travel back to my roots and more than a few of my "favorite things." First, Warsaw...
http://poetrylaurels.blogspot.com/2011/11/on-szymanowskas-satin-slippers.html, includes a poem about Szymanowska
I went to Paris in September, came back changed in October. An astounding city, full of history and charm. My purpose was to talk about Maria Szymanowska and visit and photograph places associated with Chopin.
http://poetrylaurels.blogspot.com/2011/10/on-visiting-chopins-tomb.html, with "Black Iris" and a poem by Ann Woodworth
The curiosity about Chopin's death appears almost morbid today, when the cult of fitness and health has placed all disabled and sick on the margins of society. As Franz Liszt writes in his biography of Chopin, the hagiography, rather, setting the tone for the legend of the feeble, tortured body and the elevated, spiritual, noble, suffering mind: "None of those who approached the dying artist, could tear themselves from the spectacle of this great and gifted soul in its hours of mortal anguish." And a spectacle it was.
Did you notice how children want you to admire them when they are doing something special? I used to sit in my garden and watch my son jumping on the trampoline. As it turned out, I had to watch him, I could not read my paper instead, because the moment I lowered my eyes he’s cry out from the air, “Mommy, Mommy, look at me, look how I jump. Did you see what I did? Oh, you are not looking…”
http://poetrylaurels.blogspot.com/2011/04/cherished-chopin-poets-cafe.html, includes the poem "An Ode of the Lost"
My October 2010 interview for Poets Cafe (KPFK 90.7FM) found its permanent home on the website of Timothy Green, editor of Rattle who graciously supports KPFK's initiative to document poetry life in Los Angeles. Lois P. Jones, an amazing, spiritual, insightful, and incredibly talented poet (I forgot sensuous and erudite), is a fantastic hostess at the Poets' Cafe, airing on Wednesday evenings at 8:30 p.m. She prepares well for her interviews, reading poetry, talking to her prospective guests, asking them to bring a lot of poems. She is warm and lovely and then... ambushes her guests with completely unexpected questions. Thrown off their planned path, guests have to reveal more about themselves than they knew they would, or would have planned to. The hosts laughs with them, shares her favorite lines of their poems, and leads them into a deeper self-understanding and, might I say, enlightenment. Well done, Lois!
http://poetrylaurels.blogspot.com/2011/01/growing-up-polish-becoming-american.html, includes poems "Dragonfly Days" and "A White Letter"
At the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Polish American Historical Society in Boston, I was invited to join a panel of poets reading verse about their experience of "growing up Polish-American." I did not, I grew up Polish... or maybe not even that... In my remarks, I talked about my immigrant experience and about my grandparents and family history affected by the war. I was born and raised in Warsaw, but I trace my roots to eastern borderlands of Poland. My compatriot, Czeslaw Milosz, whose footsteps I followed from the Polish Kresy, north-eastern Borderlands, to the Far West of California, often wrote about the spiritual richness arising from the clash of cultures in areas where Poles, Belorussians, Lithuanians, Jews, and “Tutejsi” – people from here, have lived for centuries.
http://chopinwithcherries.blogspot.com/2013/01/did-chopin-like-donuts.html. My favorite dessert poem is hidden in a chaotic account of Chopin's culinary tastes and preoccupations: ("On Eating a Donut at a Krakow Airport")
Just about every aspect of Chopin's life has been subjected to scholarly scrutiny. His music, his love life, his family background all the way back to those small Alpine villages of his distant ancestors... Scholars research Chopin's taste in opera, in women, in clothes. .. his daily habits, the sources of his income, the layout of furniture in his rented rooms... his letters...