Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Letters from Chicago to Pieszyce by Brian Momar

In these epistolary poems written by exiled poet Adam Lizakowski, time spent in San Francisco and Chicago coalesces with memories of his home, Pieszyce in southwestern Poland.  Each letter begins with a question or prompt from a mysterious interlocutor whose identity is never revealed—an old friend in Pieszyce?  A family member left behind?  Or perhaps these letters are occasioned by and written to some version of a past, pre-exilic self, a ghost subject or phantom limb of sorts that still speaks to the poet, impossibly, from another space and time.  Over the cruse of these 100+ letter poems, scenes of San Francisco’s fabled literary scene and Chicago’s working class mythos are brought to life through the poet’s telling and put into relief by images of the cherry trees of Poland’s countryside.   Of the Polish poets have resided and wrote in America—Czesław Miłosz and Adam Zagajewski the most notable among them—Adam Lizakowski is perhaps the most American.  Like Whitman, his line extends to the ends of the page’s geography.  Like Ginsberg, the poet sees the line as a vessel for his speech, which vacillates between the quotidian and the profound.  Like Williams Carlos Williams, the poet finds his subject matter not in ideas but in things—American things: squirrels; Bob Dylan; “checkerboard streets”; the IRS; eucalyptus trees; Chicago streets named after Poles, French voyageurs, and American presidents alike; orange groves in Sacramento Valley.  All of these unlike things find in common their unlikeness, and this proves to the poet the he is as much a thread in the tapestry as all of the “American” things he encounters.  In Letter 84, he likens Lawrence Ferlighetti to “Dr. Noah / [who] brought lunatics upon his Ark.”  Recalling Andre Bréton’s characterization of America as a “boatload of madmen,” the poet recalls the San Francisco Renaissance as a motley origin myth: “the clouds descended from [Ferlinghetti] / bearded and balding on Columbus Ave / Allen Ginsberg / Gregory Corso / Jack Kerouac / Kenneth Patchen / were like a good recipe for vegetable soup / cauliflower / carrots / onion / peas / potatoes” which was “cooked in a pot of poetry / in North Beach.”  Lizakowski’s collection asserts that America is a myth comprised of many origins.  

Brian Momar