Revenants

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Mark Nowak encounters the whispers of creation and cultural remembrance in his eminent, visionary poetry. Revenants is an original return to a splendid ethos of ancestral word patterns, and the images bear the solemn pleasures of time, place, and singular landscapes.—Gerald Vizenor

This first book length collection of poetry by the editor of the journal XCP: Cross-Cultural Poetics explores the Polish American neighborhoods in and around ...

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Overview

Mark Nowak encounters the whispers of creation and cultural remembrance in his eminent, visionary poetry. Revenants is an original return to a splendid ethos of ancestral word patterns, and the images bear the solemn pleasures of time, place, and singular landscapes.—Gerald Vizenor

This first book length collection of poetry by the editor of the journal XCP: Cross-Cultural Poetics explores the Polish American neighborhoods in and around Buffalo, New York, finding collective truths in the particularity of a unique culture.

Mark Nowak is the editor of Theodore Enslin’s selected poems, Then, and Now, and an associate professor at the College of St. Catherine in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His poems have been anthologized in An Anthology of New (American) Poets and Children of the Cold War: A Scrapbook.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A striking example of investigative poetics, this first collection uses ethnographic techniques to research the customs, history and stories of the poet's Polish ancestry. The poems are filled with domestic details: recipes, descriptions of clothing, food sold at markets, descriptions of rooms. From these private and local situations, the poems move from the particular to the universal, reaching across oceans and time to access larger human stories: "We speak/ of the mountains there, a spine that connects/ her house and mine./ I think about/ St. Casmir feeding birds. I think/ about the Infant of Prague." In the final section, "Back Me Up," Nowak collages together quotes from an ethnographer's field notebooks, scholarly essays, and interviews conducted in western New York with the members of his local Polish community. These assembled fragments simultaneously question and affirm the poet-ethnographer's attempt to find his own identity within his rich cultural heritage. Many of the poems lack C.S. Giscombe's austere punch or Susan Howe's missionary zeal, to name two poets working in similar modes, but Nowak's quiet investigations should find an audience with anyone interested in Polish-American identity or in poetry's potential for projecting the self into the self-descriptions of others. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Nowak (English, Coll. of St. Catherine) writes of the Polish American experience as he moves through immigrant neighborhoods, savoring gardens and markets, grandparents, disillusionment, and more. Many of these poems contain a freshness and a profundity: "How/ in the morning it's/ the anotherness/ that pleases us,/ (which of course we lose/ throughout the day...." Others are, quite simply, confusing. In most poems, the poet intersperses Polish words at critical points. These are defined in a glossary at the end of the volume, but referring to it constantly is a serious distraction from the poem's flow. Footnoted definitions would have helped. Also, since many poems lack titles, the focus of each can be initially difficult to fathom. The most successful poems are in the final section, "Zwyczaj" ("custom or practice"), which deftly and artfully intersperses anthropological/ethnographical observations with quotations from interviews with immigrants. Recommended for larger poetry collections and libraries that serve Polish communities.--Judy Clarence, California State Univ., Hayward, Lib. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566891073
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2000
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

A poet and labor activist heralded by Adrienne Rich for "regenerating the rich tradition of working-class literature," Mark Nowak regularly leads transnational poetry workshops between American and international trade unions. The author of Revenants and Shut Up Shut Down, he has also been a contributor to the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog.

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


The Pain-Dance Begins


    It is

    an intricate dance

    to turn & say goodbye

    to the hills we live in the presence of

    When mind dies of its time

    it is not the place goes away


    —PAUL BLACKBURN


Worn shoes in the days of my youth
now have hung the bear.
                       The boys I knew
(Kujowski, Michalski, Czechowski ...


            follow the sledge
lamenting the Shrovetide Bear.

His neck will be stuffed
with fresh black pudding


and his shoes will be enormous,


for we have worn ours, skutek, have
for the magnificent years of our youth
gone through more than our share.


And for this the Shrovetide Bear
(and not the boys I knew ...
will be taken to the gallows.


Under a Norway Spruce
            (in Transylvania at the end of
the Carnival ...


two girls crowned with evergreen
(for they have not worn out their shoes)
the sentence they will pronounce
will be the death of theBear.

And the boys I knew, they
just go to the plaza, they


just buy themselves new shoes.


     On the day on which it took place,
two hundred years ago or present-day Lithuania,
                                (time is that way ...
"So take a bite of iron," he said, "It will render
                                harmless
the spirit that's in the corn." Except today,
     zwyczaj, your teeth aren't that strong,


even the thought of it makes your teeth feel weak.


"You slice your bread so thin," he said, thinking
    I was really making sure there wasn't
anyone inside. "And it's so white, your bread.
    Whatever happened to all the grains?"


                                So it's bleached wheat,
so I don't want to bite the iron, so I tell the man
from Lithuania, "You're nothing but a savage."


    But the next morning, or at some point
within the next few hundred years (time is that way ...
    bread may rise in ovens built for
other purposes, perhaps in Lithuania. It will rise,


it will not be white, it will have a myth told about it.


    On the day on which this takes place,
zwyczaj, I have no doubt you'll be born again.


Stworzenie


You must not whisper these words in the darkness. These words
these. You must not whisper them.
                                     So began the world. In the darkness
so began the world. The world began this way. It began with these words.


You must not you mustn't no.


The gods they said do anything but don't do that. Said that to kids just born.
They knew they would. Said you must not you mustn't no and knew they would.


What a way for gods to start the world.


Would think they could do better than that. Would think they could forgive.


But they didn't, and these words these
nobody wants you to know.


Forget your cosmogonies, your
green-glass bottles filled with
                             toenails.
lilac petals.
yeast.
          Civilizations
"it's been said" must write
their history, wzorek,


for without this alphabetic word
it would be
               impossible
to drag some former families
into the present,
                   especially when
their past in this place


does not quite belong.
(It is unsettling ...

The very first crossing of the sea
meant that the newspapers would say,


"A child is born
beneath a single star."


And then the clerics ...


And then the clergymen ...


Then decrees from the Pope ...


I mean, I want to tell my story
straight,


         except that's not how
my hair grows, & will never be


the sun's journey across the sky.


Wzorek, there's still the Virgin Mary
glued to the dashboard of your car.


There's sausages smoked in steel drums.
the slaughterhouse.
              an East Side backyard.


Can't we name it all where the world
emerged? Or worlds,
if we're taking any of this seriously.


Struggling to be the sun again,
these few words I have
           (may they remain ...
a calendar, a tool.


Piper from the village of Sopotnia.
Mirzec woman in festival costume.
Would the days bring you together
how this English book does,
                      facing each other
on the opposite page?


Samotnik, you could be the name
of a vodka they sell in America.
                             You could
be the timber of the house behind


that woman's face.


See her, how the sunrise catches her,
clouds pass between them and shade
her left cheek and eye.
                        But then that's
a relative darkness when you're
speaking of a Pole.


"A Polack in school? they used to say.


For this the old ones gathered at the market
     (in the stories it's been told ...
Onions in tin ladles. Butter on a cast-iron
pan.
            Envelopes with locks of hair:
Nowicki, Barus, Michalski, Nowak ...
none of them golden.


Bowls filled with non-blue eyes.


Zwiastowanie


"I am a goat browsing in the corn."
"I am St. Casimir blessing owls in the trees."


(We speak of identity w/ split tongues ...


"I am fertilizer pouring from a wound in my side."
"I am sewing sheep-costumes for the wolves."


"I am St. Casimir cooking fish on a kerosene stove."


"I am wearing a bird-skin parka."
"I am St. Casimir in black wooden shoes."


"I am the head of a goat on the street-lamp in front of your house."


(Even the saints forget themselves ...


"I am from the village of Gorzén Dolny."
"I am the hornets' nest in your left ear."


"I am St. Casimir, goddamnit. Look at these goat-skin shoes."


(Listen, freak, tell me who the fuck you are ...


"I am the corn and nothing but the corn. So help me god."


"I am the mile you walked back to your name."
(Continues...)
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Table of Contents

The Pain-Dance Begins 9
Zwyczaj 81
"Back Me Up" 95
Glossary of Polish Terms 127
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