Jan/Feb 2011  •   Reviews & Interviews

Accidental Being

Review by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

A Marzipan Factory: New and Selected Poems.
Grzegorz Wróblewski.
Otoliths. 2010. 112 pp.
ISBN 978-0-9807651-1-3.

"You are an accidental being / just like me," writes Grzegorz Wróblewski, in his poem "Black Head," and the lines go a long way toward describing the provenance of his poetry. Wróblewski's present volume, A Marzipan Factory (the volume in which this quote appears), continues his Dada-Surrealist portrayal of our Dada-Surreal lives. In his better poems (and there are gratifyingly many) contexts are implied. Variations upon common phrases, in the opening lines, generally make them seem familiar for just a moment. By the end of the poem, those almost common phrases arrive at mock closures that suggest that there is little in life that isn't purely subjective, even crazy.

There is, however, a definite "feel" to life, and, frequently, a sense of an objective reality within which human existence is a-swim, poignantly ludicrous. In the poem "Cindy's Cradle" the protagonist obsesses over the daughter that he has not yet had or perhaps never will have:

Look what he's up to
How he's losing his head in the center of this asphalt island
surrounded by the police and the angels
from parallel worlds.

Until the angels appear, there is not a word in the poem that is anything less than humble, quotidian. There is only a vague suggestion, in the opening line, that something is vaguely out of hand: "Watch out for the cars, man—I shouted." With the arrival of the police a well-known closure is suggested but then suddenly there are the angels.

This method is remarkably effective at expressing a riotous abundance of life in the midst of bland, irrational, often unsightly details. It is the blandness, at which Wróblewski is uniquely talented, that gives the poems of A Marzipan Factory their special poignancy.

The details of romantic love are among the most bland. In a poem such as "If She Was Still Sipping Wine With You" it is barely mentioned and is everywhere:

You used to only care about women
and now you discourse about jays all the time.
You explain they have souls,
you analyze their appearance and behavior...

You observe them for hours, I even caught you
working out their nervous
birdy hops

It is an effective preventive against triteness. If there could be said to be an overall pattern to the human behavior in A Marzipan Factory it is obsession. In no particular does that obsession arrive at a more muted mixture of bathos and pathos than romantic love:

The first girl I fell in love with
told me incessantly
about her passion for preparing hens' stomachs.

Even listening to Brahms
in the evenings didn't help us.

If there is anything more pathetic than a man in love, it is a man not in love.

It is not likely that Grzegorz Wróblewski would agree that he has a "method." It is certainly true that a reader will find the volume more diverse than most. Moreover, Piotr Gwiazda has recently received a grant from the PEN American Center in order to translate Wroblewski's book of prose poems, Kopenhaga (2000), from the original Polish, highlighting the fact that the poet avails himself of a particularly wide range of techniques and voices.

The poems in A Marzipan Factory (also translated from Polish) display a considerable range, as well. (One is even a prose poem.) Perhaps the most magical lines in the volume can be said to have been crafted with completely different tools than those described:

This is not a dog although the natives describe him as such
he must have fallen out of the sky
I realized it

from the way he would conduct his argumentation—
He made two steps forward
And then

The sandstorm came.

Even the translations from Kopenhaga that have been released thus far, however, tend to be most successful when they may be said to employ the method described here. The farther the poet strays from it the more often his poems seem merely trendy and sometimes over written.

In the final analysis, Grzegorz Wróblewski is a tremendously energetic and talented poet and painter who is working his way toward the recognition that he deserves. The volume A Marzipan Factory: new and selected poems, at its best, is a particularly effective celebration of our deeply flawed humanity. It is also a fine record of the poet's journey to this point.


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