April issue of Kritya (and the May, 2009 issue as well) features
poetry by Poles and poet-members of what is called Polonia, the
Diaspora of Polish emigres, or the children and grandchildren of
earlier turn-of-the-last century Polish immigrants.
Working with Dr. Rati Saxena over the past several years since
she launched Kritya, I discovered a secret desire to showcase
the work of Poles/Polish-Americans in a special issue devoted to
their poetry. Rati generously agreed to such an endeavor but at
this time in my life I had few connections to anyone Polish, let
alone anyone representing Polonia.
Much of my poetry and prose are about my parents and siblings
and the intertwined lives we shared in Detroit and elsewhere, so
in that sense, I have always been writing about Polonia. In 1986
I journeyed to Poland to study Polish-Jewish Relations through a
program the Kosciuszko Foundation conducted at the Jagiellonian
University in Krakow. I also visited relatives whom I had not
met. My collection of poems This Is Not a Place to Sing, West
End, 1987, is about that experience.
Poems from this book have been anthologized in two major poetry
collections on the Holocaust, Beyond Lament, Poets of the World
Bearing Witness to the Holocaust, Northwestern University Press,
edited by the late Marguerite M. Striar and Charles Fishman's
recently re-issued collection, Blood to Remember, Time Being
A few years ago, I had the great good fortune to discover a new
organization in Detroit, Michigan, my hometown - the West Side
Detroit Polish Historical Society - and Laurie Gomulka Palazzolo,
its capable and talented executive secretary and vice-president.
This group has as its focus the preservation of Polish culture
and history in the neighborhoods of what had once-been mostly
Polish areas in West Side Detroit, where Laurie and I grew up,
though we did not know each other then.
John Guzlowski and I began to communicate when I read his moving
collection of poems, Lightning and Ashes, about his parents'
lives in Nazi work camps in World War II Poland. Rati read his
moving poems about his mother and asked him to be the Editor’s
Choice in the August 2008 issue of Kritya.
Such a convergence of talent and commitment to things poetic and
Polish deserves applause, certainly, whatever the results, and
the results are stupendous, really. But, as Laurie Gomulka
Palazzolo, says in this essay I invited her to write, "We cannot
get away from depth and intensity if we are born Polish."
Kudos to all. (Many thanks to Dr. Rati Saxena for making it
Polonia and Poetry
Laurie A. Gomulka Palazzolo
Kritya means intense word power, and thus it is appropriate
that an issue of the journal should be dedicated to contemporary
Polish and Polish-American poetry. The Polish culture has
produced two Nobel Literature Prize winning poets: Czeslaw
Milosz (1911 - 2004) in 1980 and Wislawa Szymborska (1923 -
present) in 1996. In addition, Poland is famous for its "Three
Bards": Adam Mickiewicz (1798 - 1855), Juliusz Slowacki (1809 -
1849), and Zygmunt Krasinski (1812 - 1859). One must not forget
other Polish literary masters such as poet, playwright and
novelist Tadeusz Rozewicz (1921 - present), who has been
referred to as the pre-eminent living writer in the world today.
Poles are extremely proud of these creative geniuses.
Poles are nothing if not intense, driven, and hardworking -
giving everything for that in which they believe and putting
great emotion into all they do. In this way, I believe Poles are
much like the ancient Greeks, who, I have heard it said,
believed that at the end of one's life it did not matter what
one had accomplished or attained. The only thing that truly
mattered was whether one had lived his or her life passionately.
I have always felt it no coincidence that the country of Poland
is shaped like a heart. The symbolism of Poland is rich, deep,
and intense, from the beauty of the amber for which the country
is known, to its castles, salt mines, and Baltic Sea coasts, to
its mountains and forests, from which come some of the most
resonant violins and other stringed instruments in the world.
Even its flag is rich in symbolism, with red standing for
bravery and strength, and white symbolizing peace. And
throughout the course of history Poland has produced some of the
world’s most brilliant and intense poets.
Polonia has also contributed its own cadre of extraordinarily
talented poets, many of whom are represented in the next two
issues of Kritya. In addition to Poland's and Polonia's
celebrated poets, there are those who are no less important
culturally or historically, even though they have not risen to
the heights or levels of notoriety as others. I refer to the
multitude of scholars, religious, musicians, and other unsung
champions of Polish literary culture who dwell among us in our
own neighborhoods and communities and who have enriched our
daily lives as a matter of course.
Perhaps because of Poles' deep need to belong - to be part of a
community - we have a need to remember and to document. When the
polka musicians in the early twentieth century - an extremely
close-knit group - were creating the American-Polish art form of
polka, one of the most interesting practices they developed was
naming songs for one another. In fact, they not only named
compositions for one another, but also for their children,
spouses, parents, and places their listeners held dear. They
even named songs for bars and clubs that one another owned or in
which they performed. This capturing of people and places of
importance to the musicians was a means of enshrining or
preserving the working class immigrants' history, and the
practice continues today.
One common thread Poles have as poets and writers in any realm
is that they write with great depth of feeling. We are part of a
culture that has survived ten centuries of turbulence and three
separate partitions that divided the motherland for over 100
years. Part of the common history we share is that our ancestors
lived under the worst possible conditions imaginable. They
pinned their hopes on patriots and joined in the uprisings they
led, which they believed with all their hearts would save Poland
from oppressive foreign imperial rule. And, for those who
survived and emigrated, the struggle continued in the New World.
Despite everything, they never stopped loving and they never
stopped believing in God, and there was nothing they would not
sacrifice for a better life and a better world for their
We cannot get away from depth and intensity if we are born
Polish. After all, it is in our blood and it is what stirs our
souls, as the Polish Credo states:
I am a Pole.
In my veins flows the blood of patriots, scholars, scientists
I am a descendant of Copernicus, who would reach for the stars,
A Madame Curie unraveling the mysteries of nature,
And Jan Paderewski uplifting the souls of many.
Yes, I am a Pole.
John Guzlowski )
When I first started writing poems in grad school at Purdue
about my parents and their experiences in Germany during the war
and in America after the war, I felt like I was the only one
writing in America writing about Poles and Polish Americans. I
asked the professors in my English Department, and they
shrugged. I asked other students and they hadn't heard about any
Polish-American writers either. I went to the library and found
Over the years, I would hear about a poet here or a novelist
there who wrote about the Polish Diaspora, and I would track
these writers down, and slowly I began to realize that I wasn't
the only one writing about the Diaspora. There were, in fact, a
lot of us, and the number just grows and grows as this
celebration of Polish Diaspora writing suggests.
I hope that these issues of Kritya featuring Polish Diaspora
writers help to continue the dialogue that has started between
Why is such a dialogue important?
The answer is quite simple and can be stated plainly.
One of poetry's elemental functions is to discover and preserve
national and/or group identity. If you want to find out about
the Greeks, you read Homer. If you want to find out about the
English you read Chaucer and Shakespeare. If you want to find
out about the Americans, you read Whitman or Emerson or Emily
Dickinson. If you want to learn about the Poles, you read Milosz
or Szymborska or Rosewicz.
And if you want to find out about Polish Diaspora culture, you
should read Polish Diaspora poets, writers like the ones
(Guest editor of this special issue)
Information on art work:
The art that is featured in kritya is from Carol Gerten's Fine
Arts nonprofit web site. The artists are all Polish.
The woman on the horse is titled
Melancholia by Jacek Malczewski (1858 - 1929).
His work is also represented by In the Dust Storm, Death 1902,
and Death 1911. Malczewski is the man in the armor in
Self-Portrait in Armor 1914.
The brightly colored garden scene with the Victorian - era
dressed woman is titled The Strange Garden, by Jozef Mehoffer
(1869 - 1946)
Tamara de Lempicka's (1898 - 1980) art is represented in
Self-portrait in the Green Bugatti, Spring, 1928, and Surrealist
Landscape. Here is a link to the biography of this relatively
unknown Polish artist who was living in Mexico when she died.