Review: Our Flying Objects - Selected Poems
72pp, Equipage Press (2007)
by Tom Jenks
Before I turn to the content of this book, there are two other things to recommend it. Firstly, it is a beautiful artefact: square rather than rectangular, the cover matt black with raised silver lettering like a plaque or the plate of some mysterious machine. The pages are creamy, the ink soft grey and the writer’s biographical notes are printed on opaque, tracing style paper, all giving the pleasing impression of the poems emerging as if from mist. Those in such a rush to pronounce the printed book dead should hold their tongues and get back to poking people on Facebook. Secondly, Equipage is the enterprise of Rod Mengham, a writer whose work I know and admire. This book is part of the recently launched Cartalia series, of which there are eight to date.
We are fortunate enough to have printed a few of Grzegorz Wróblewski’s poems in Parameter. When I first opened this book, I got the same feeling that I got when I opened that first packet of poems: that here is a writer; here is what we and magazines like us do it for. Wróblewski is a Pole living in Copenhagen and these poems are translations which, whilst they read impeccably, nonetheless read differently than poems written in English: something disjunctive in the cadences, the music cooler and more distant, transmitting via a different frequency. This, for me, is part of the pleasure. One of my favourite volumes of translated poetry is Penguin’s edition of Yannis Ritsos, part of their Modern European Poets series from the 1970s. Whilst there are obvious differences between the two poets (Ritsos was Greek, for one thing), I can see something of Ritsos in Wróblewski’s short, controlled pieces with their arresting images and off-kilter narratives and the overriding feeling, when finishing the poem, that you are only really glimpsing what is going on, that there is more to see and to see it you must look and think again. Magic Training Ground is a good example of this and short enough to quote in its entirety:
These are the Nordic woods!,
says Alan and shows me
a remote, sleeping stone
that unexpectedly starts
to go up! I rub
my tired eyes…I am
a believing man.
I have always lived close to
I like the unexpectedly, the sly implication that we should expect some stones to rise of their own volition. But what is really going on? I can’t say for sure and I like that, too. I like that Wróblewski does not feel the need to tell us. His writing is like the fleeting lines of Japanese painting, all about outline and suggestion rather than laborious, literal representation. We are not directed around these poems. There are no signposts, just space to move through. Like the people in The Birds That Come Flying Today Off The Sea, we might find this space both familiar and unfamiliar:
The birds the come flying today off the sea
Open their beaks in surprise
as if we had never been here before
This lightness of touch demands great skill. It is harder to say something in five words than fifty and it is the ability to do so that marks out poetry from prolixity, Basho from a blogger. Mark Twain once wrote to a friend: “Sorry for the long letter. I didn't have time to write a short one." Grzegorz Wróblewski evidently did have time and he has used it well. These are bright, hard, jewel-like poems that glitter in the light, reflecting, refracting and returning it but never giving up their essential mysteries. These are poems to be held in the palm and turned over and over, to be read, re-read and savoured.
|2 poems by Grzegorz Wróblewski|