Poetry Book Review: Inclusions

Before Červená Barva Press published Inclusions, the first book of poems written in English by Polish-American poet Joanna Kurowska, she’d had two books of poems in Polish published in Poland with one published in the U.S.

Language proves no barrier, however, but provides delight in whatever is present or whatever Presence is perceived. In the opening poem “Indian Summer,” for example, the poet pictures various people who come and go where “…happiness was /within reach; a thin screen/ separated them from it” but “they passed by, without/ stretching their arms to pick it.” Beside evoking an image of ripe autumn fruit with the word “pick,” we get the lyrical reminder that, yes, we can choose to seek what pleases us and makes us happy.

In the second poem, “A World Without Honey,” the poet clarifies that choice by presenting the opposite option, not with dark thoughts and a heavy hand but with a matter-of-fact levity that alights on such lines as “The world without honey/ is a desolate place. It is/ the wonderland of just milk” – a place where “The dew in a melon/ is no longer honey dew; / it is just dew.” Besides the humor of “just dew,” I couldn’t help but think of a “honey-do list” with no honey to do anything.

Also inherent in the choices we all must make is the milk-and-honey promised land we choose to accept or not, whether we’re aware of that option or not. For example, in “A Sunday Mass at St. Jacob’s,” the poet admits “It’s easy to believe in the cathedral/ Slightly harder to believe in the Virgin’s gilt robe.” In keeping with the title and theme of inclusions, however, the “I” of the poem asks to “…stay in the darkness of opposing beliefs/ Whatever is there, I am your complete other/ Loving you; choking with gratitude.”

This flexibility continues even in “The Mirror,” where a rigid, reflective surface can only present what is there and not how it’s viewed by the viewer until “She turned away from the mirror/ and heard the lark’s morning song.”

The emptying of self in that walk away from the mirror comes back again in the poem, “Nothing,” which begins, “I am thankful for nothing,” then takes an unexpected turn in “I can carry it in my purse,/ in a suitcase, a cart/ or in my backpack.” The poem continues with thoughts of filling that nothing with various somethings before resolving, “Or I can leave it empty;/ be thankful for my nothing. Living in its presence is like/ a stroll on the verge of a precipice.”

Before verging away from this discussion though, I’d like to backtrack to the title poem found a little beyond the half-way point of this lovely book. As the word, “Inclusion,” suggests, the “I” of the poem wants “to make sure/ that nothing is missing….” And so, “between the alpha and omega,” we find the return of honey and a little of everything in “the wave tickling my feet,/ and the toothless woman who, in the train,/ kissed her boyfriend.” But “most importantly/ i want to make sure/ that i, too, am included/ in the world deposited/ on God’s tongue.”

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler – poetry book reviewer and poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press, the book of Bible-based poems Outside Eden published by Kelsay Books, and the e-book, Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry

Inclusions, paperback

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