Wednesday, November 29, 2006



Gagarin Street by Piotr Gwiazda
(Washington Writers’ Publishing House, Baltimore, MD, 2005)

Gagarin Street is a profoundly political and philosophical collection. The poet, Piotr Gwiazda, was originally from Poland and now lives in America as an Assistant Professor of English. He has written the kind of collection I would expect from someone of his background. Every poem is concerned with the consequences of life, love and war. Perhaps it is a bad sign that I guessed what the content would involve, but his poetry is of a respectable enough calibre to defeat any potentially negative preconceptions.

When I was a child I lived on Gagarin Street.
Today it’s called Pilsudski Street.
Ten years ago the sun rose, a little wind blew, a little bird sang,
a little empire fifty kilometres away
fell, and so did its heroes: Lenin, Pzerhinsky,
Bierut. This one, though, makes you pause for a moment
After his lonely voyage in spinning Vostok,
after his tumble from orbit, his fifty-fifty chance of survival.
After all, he was our hero – this they taught us
in middle school – “our” meaning all of us, all of the world.
Not so. Today his spacesuit rots
in a museum basement, his Russian face with Soviet smile
disappears from history textbooks, his round the globe celebrity
revoked (unanimously) by a municipal
subcommittee. Well, I suppose that’s how history is made
or unmade. Nothing is certain till it becomes history
and then it is unmade. I’ve been carrying
this city in my pocket for so many years and today –
look: a hole. What’s happened to it?
--Gagarin Street

A restless searching runs like a thread through these poems. Whether or not it is a result of the political disruptions that have occurred in Gwiazda’s homeland, I would not like to say; sometimes it is in connection with home, while with others it exists on a more personal level: "Have I ever loved? I don’t know. My past is still at large" -- The Refugee.

This is a good collection, but criticism I must point out is a dangerous flirtation with monotony, of a single depressed voice. However, not to be too harsh, it is Gwiazda’s first book -- lessons have to be learnt, criticism accepted or rejected. This is a good collection to read through once, but Gwiazda needs to be aware that some people may not be inspired to pick it up again, and to want to reread a collection is a sign of a good book.

That people will be tempted to pick up this book is for definite. It is an attractive book and the enigmatic cover of the collection depicts three fighter planes in pink negatives. It is an interesting image: the fighters fly in formation but their menace is not tempered by the colour, and it reinforces the message that no matter how you dress up war (Bush and Blair’s "fight" against terror, for example) it is still a disaster; it still wrecks hardship, oppression, desolation, destruction and loss for those directly involved and watching from the sidelines. This book is a lesson of what the consequences of war and oppression are. Perhaps the above-mentioned "leaders" could do with a copy.

There is much "angst" driven poetry about at the moment, largely led by the events of 9/11. What makes Piotr Gwiazda’s collection different is that it stretches the "angst" back further in time. It stretches to World War II, to pre-history, to birth. This is a collection that urges us to look beyond recent events, to put all in perspective and not allow other conflicts to be forgotten.


Fionna Doney Simmonds has published many reviews of poetry both in print and on the net. Formerly the Poetry Editor for feminist literary ezine, she has recently left that position in order to concentrate more on her writing. Living in the beautiful English county town of Shrewsbury, Fionna continues to draw inspiration from all around her and look for more ways in which to develop a wider appreciation of poetry in herself and others.


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