A FIRST STEP: MARIANNE POLOSKEY'S
delivered in a deceptively plain-spoken language
through carefully crafted
takes the reader into a world at once intimate and universal·
the Shadows is a collection of mostly autobiographical poems, all
which have been previously published in literary magazines such as War,
Literature and the Arts, Christian Science Monitor, North River Review,
and others. The book, which chronicles different stages in the
of the poet ÷ from her war experience as a child in Germany, to
and separation from loved ones, to her coming of age ÷ has a
optimistic tone. Almost every poem, either by its ending or by its
comes through in a poised voice celebrating the sanctity and the joy of
life even in the face of overwhelming odds, as if the poet takes the
she is given by destiny and says in turn,
Playfully I followed
the thin letters with
my pen to make them more
Memories of family
and places, love lost and love fulfilled, memories of war and peace,
faces and words, are filtered through a sensitive eye, creating a
memoir where genuine emotion is rendered in evocative images and
portraits. The tone of her poems is often elegiac, echoing a peaceful
contemplative state of mind. Her language is image-rich and
while the underlining intention of most poems seems to be "making time
visible," as she says in "The Egg Timer":
And when the sand stopped
running, we were invariably
amazed at having allowed
five whole minutes of ourselves
to drift away while we
did nothing but stare
adheres to a school of poetry concerned with "the passionate pursuit of
the real," as Czeslaw Milosz defines it. She presents a poetry that is
better served by clarity of language in an effort to give proof, in
Hugo's words, "that writing is a slow, cumulative way of accepting your
life as valid."
form to her reality through a language that turns regular speech into
images, and although she does not enter into any prescribed metrical
or rhythm, preferring an open and free form, there is in her poetry a
effort at utilizing some of the less obtrusive poetic devices.
and there an anapestic, ionic, or iambic structure seems to emerge from
the lines, but any attempt at scansion is rapidly abandoned in favor of
a particular word, or a line break the poet uses in order to express
meaning she is seeking.
the Shadows make it clear to the reader that in this poetâs
choices form is secondary to content and clarity of expression.
is not to say that Marianne Poloskeyâs poems do not have their
order. Her poems rely mostly on alliteration, assonance,
anaphora, and enjambment to obtain
a blues-like inner movement, a meditative tempo taking its time to
its own environment and open its notes, thus pulling the reader into a
universe of deceptively simple sounds at work to create unique
The directness and elegant simplicity of these songs remind sometimes
Mary Oliverâs poems, as both these poets skillfully use words to
the metaphoric realm without blurring the crisp clarity of the poem.
seems to follow the advice Gary Snyder once gave to an audience of
at the Dodge Poetry Festival -- to start the poems as vision, picture,
movement, not as an idea, but as a complex of thought. Her poems,
in a true postmodern fashion, introduce the reader to the way the poet
experiences life through language. But, at the same time,
distances herself from the habit of allusions and reinterpretations of
past subjects, specific to postmodern American poetry with its
of intertextuality and its solipsistic pleasures of word-play, and her
poetry leans more towards romantic themes and imagistic language.
Marianne Poloskey avoids burdening her verses with a glossary of
and cultural meanings, or catchy word riddles, allowing them to become
their own point of reference in the here and now of their landscape, in
the distinctive voice of the persona of the poem.
Donât, as the bombs rain down,
tell the shelter any secrets
just to hear your own voice.
But if the building falls
and you survive,
shout loudly through the stones
that youâre alive.
["Shout Loudly Through the Stones"]
And indeed, the poems
in the face of a would-be child executioner, tell of parents not able
"halt the bombs" and of maternal rape, confessing overwhelming dreams
yanking you up by an arm
like a doll,
pictured us slipping out
of our bodies
as if they were clothes.
No longer targets,
we would float
through the window
into the wide-open
you and I,
rising purple in the sky.
of Poloskey's poems assume a confessional "I," relating a personal
her poetry is not moored in the inner-searches and self-reflection of
tradition, but rather its intention is the expression of a human
although singular and individual, in search for its own universality
for the common ground of human experience of history and time.
way the poet experiences the passage of it, becomes an emblematic
as many of the poems in this collection juxtapose present and past,
insisting on the atemporality of time and sometimes in its solid-like
And when I see a picture
of a child
whose slanted eyes
fear has rounded
I find myself once more
from a blacked-out window
into a bright-red street.
And then I wonder:
how many of this warâs children
as fortunate as I÷
able to remember?
particular care is given to line breaks, but there are instances when
poet seems to be so preoccupied with emphasizing one word or another,
an effort to expand the language of the poem in all its available
of meaning, that her line endings appear forced, as in the lines from
Hence" ("Every time I read of / war") where one wonders why "of" and
are so unnaturally separated in the poem.
when an effort at clarity drives some of the poems into a "soft
as if while straining to deliver a precise conclusion the poem turns in
the end into a fable needing to articulate its own moral. Such is
the case in "Haven," "Never Again," "Two Ships Passing on the High
and "Shout Loudly Through the Stones," as well as other poems in this
which end up spoon-feeding the reader, nailing shut the meaning of the
poem, where a more open ending would benefit both the reader and the
I guess there is always a choice to be made, and although I might
with her choices at times, I salute the effort at craft. In
knowing a lot more of her work than what is presented in this
work that has recently appeared in many magazines and anthologies, I
say that the minor shortcomings found in some of the poems from Climbing
the Shadows are addressed and dealt with in interesting ways in her
more recent poems.
But be it
or peace, love or departure, the poetâs introspection reveals a
a thought, a sentiment that once on the page becomes familiar even as
surprises. Consider these lines from "Graveyard at Saarbruecken,"
a poem which, without much preparation, puts the reader in the
hills of a German town where a cemetery shelters the remains of World
II soldiers, German and Russian, "side by side in earthâs
·five lines of abridged lives
in an unrhymed poem.
As if elevating them
might vindicate the past,
the town surrendered
this plot of hill
with its long view of freedom
where now a grand house might gloat.
Reading the names out loud,
we consider our own lives÷
what we would have missed,
leaving at their age.
imagery, delivered in a deceptively plain-spoken language through
crafted lines, takes the reader into a world at once intimate and
as in the poem "Lee":
It always seemed to be summer÷at least
summer is what I remember you in,
walking back and forth past these windows
pushing a wheelbarrow,
keys rattling on your hip, always
weeding or planting or pruning.
Poloskey, winner of the New Jersey William Carlos Williams Poetry
for two consecutive years and member of Bergen Poets, one of the oldest
poetry organizations in New Jersey, entered the public poetry scene,
richly imagistic poetry immediately caught the attention of Aaron
publisher of Chi Chi Press and one of the most active promoters and
of artistic and literary public events in New Jersey. Elson
offered Poloskey a publishing contract for her book. Reading Climbing
the Shadows, it becomes clear that this book is only a first step
a poet whose emotional honesty and straightforward poetic language
to a growing and diverse audience. I have no doubt that we will
many more poems and books bearing the unique poetic signature of
Poloskey, Marianne. Climbing
Shadows. Maywood, New Jersey: Chi Chi Press, 2000.
© by Ana Doina