Zero Visibility, by Grzegorz Wróblewski
Grzegorz Wróblewski’s new book, Zero Visibility, translated by Piotr Gwiazda*, has reached me — and I’m thrilled to have it. Wróblewski is constantly fascinating; he is often precise and whacky both. Many modes are here in this new book. One — perhaps my own favorite — is surrealist post-Soviet consciousness:
What was going through his mind when for the first time in his life
my dog saw a horse? He frozen like a statue, erect, hypnotized.
It was as if he had encountered a space alien.
He didn’t move until the horse disappeared over the horizon …
Another is the dystopian love poem (there are many of these in this volume; I find them strangely moving):
I Think about You Constantly
A shooting in Seattle, five people …
The Vatican hands over a priest accused of pedophilia,
while the Taliban kidnaps ten …
Traces of RDX found in the wreckage!
(I think about your constantly …)
Poultry processing plant is being evacuated.
Another mode, carrying the irony of the imagist-epigraphic wisecrack, is the extreme punchline juxtaposition:
When I Meditate about Cortez
… I am set upon by black flies.
Grzegorz Wróblewski reminds me constantly of what powerful things a poem can do through radical condensation — and specifically, again, through the irony generated by deft juxtaposition. We encounter a natural observed fact, described succinctly. We sense it is merely an observation, the result of looking. Then another natural phenomeon is observed, although the scene has slightly changed, perhaps merely after the slight passing of time. But we glance back at the title, and a hint of the contextual irony — and often a bit of sardonic (and Polish, might I add?) political wisdom — is surely about to come. Then it comes. The final line — in several poems in parenthesis. Four of five of the poems in this book function exactly as just described. Here’s one:
The sun leans to the west
The wind ceases
(How’s the dollar doing?)
This hardly needs explaining. Wróblewski strikes readers as having a deep knowledge of what “west” means, and (I think it’s safe to add, without my knowing the details) of what this means to the Polish poem — but there’s not a hint of pontification. Anxiety (over structure and stability and predictability) is pervasive through tone, and that tone is going to find its way, as here, into the very tropes of nature lyric. Wróblewski’s wise speaker is constantly checking himself and his surroundings, freed oddly by knowing that all categories of poetic checking are to be engaged. The result is humor, of course, but there’s so much more. “$” is of course a political poem, or, rather, a poem about the shaping ironic language produced from geopolitical consciousness.
I’m pleased and proud to say that this poet has been published in Jacket2 a number of times over the years. Here, to take just one of many examples, is the publication of two poems in 2006: LINK. Here is Wróblewski commenting at his best: “The human brain is probably still the greatest mystery of the universe. It reacts to its surroundings in different ways. We do not know what it does when we are asleep. Scientific theories about it change every year. Neurosurgery, psychology, psychiatry — basically, they all are helpless. We really don’t know what that eternal dualism of body and soul is all about. Dolphin hunters and theologians argue about it. Every individual is an unexplored planet.”
* Piotr Gwiazda has also translated Wróblewski’s Kopenhaga. He has had other English translators, including Adam Zdrodowski (A Marizpan Factory), Agnieszka Pokojska (Let’s Go Back to the Mainland), Joel Leonard Katz, Rod Mengham, and Malcolm Sinclair (Our Flying Objects).