Piotr Gwiazda’s new book of poem Messages is a beautiful book that certainly has something to say. Pond Road Press has come up with a unique and interesting kind of publication. Messages is essentially a chapbook of poems, 45 pages, followed by 13 pages of an interview with the poet. This format allows the reader a sampling of poems and then some direct insights from the poet. I like this format. At least with Gwiazda’s poems, it works. Pond Road Press was founded in 2003 by Mary Ann Larkin and Patric Pepper. I think they’ve come upon an interesting and fresh format. I’m glad they sent me this book, asking me to review it on my blog. It was a delight to do.
Gwiazda’s poems are rich in images both modern and natural. He takes us from philosophical musings about what connects us all: our ideas, our differences, our sameness, to Dante, Purgatory, and the American midwest. Overall, we are confronted with the power and beauty of time. His poems contain generally short lines that are dense with meaning. It’s not a hard read, but it requires an effort that is satisfying.
In “Dante on a Plane” he combines the majesty of looking down at the clouds with the often inane language of modern air travel. “The clouds look different from above, / as does the human scar.”
He gets playful in the poem “Aardvark, Fat” writing “the ugliest mammal / staggered onto my desk / on baby legs / knocked // down the lamp, scratched / the computer screen / with grotesque claws.”
One of the book’s most beautiful poems is “Daylight Saving.” This poem, in five parts, takes up the theme of time: its beauty and its limitations. This theme rises from several poems but it does so richly in this one. He writes in part 1: “The clouds have parted. A boat returns to the harbor. In October, / blue is the opposite of blue. A tern. The violence of the visible: / always a distraction, always a confusion. Something gets / crowded out. But what?”
He goes on in part 4: “The color of yesterday is gray. The color of last week is green, / with thin streaks of yellow. Last year is of a fading color, the / kind I’ll never see again. The air feels like a knife blade. A perfect / day, split in half.”
Gwiazda’s images are crisp and sharp. Much of what I love about these poems is their visual quality. Gwiazda describes with discipline. He gives the reader just enough and no more.
At what feels like the book’s center is the multi-part poem “Time.” Part 4 of this poem is rich: “One time I was reading a poem / about a boat made of stones / that had lost their weight // but I understood none of it.”
He continues to play with time in “Before America,” as well as in “Things She Didn’t Say.”
The question and answer section of the book is also well done. The questions touch on Gwiazda’s process, his hopes for the poems, also his roots and some political considerations. The good thing about the question and answer section is that it supports the poems. It’s drawn from the poems. Often a section like this can feel entirely different from the poems. In this case, it doesn’t. The thoughtful questions and their responses enhance the poems one has just read.
I look forward to reading more of Piotr Gwiazda’s work. Messages is his second book of poems. His first is Gagarin Street (2005) and he has also written James Merrill and W. H. Auden: Homosexuality and Poetic Influence. (2007) He teaches English at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Messages is well worth reading. Both the strong poetry and the thoughtful question and answer section give the reader a great deal to consider. I’m grateful to have read it.