Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Joanna Kurowska, PhD, Poet
Joanna Kurowska PhD is the author of five poetry volumes, most recently The Wall & Beyond, eLectio Publishing, 2012; Inclusions (Cervena Barva Press; forthcoming in fall 2013); The Butterfly’s Choice (Broadstone Books; forthcoming 2015). Joanna’s poems appeared in American and European journals, such as Apple Valley Review, Bateau, Christianity and Literature, International Poetry Review, Kultura (Paris), Levure Littéraire, Off The Coast, Room, Solo, Tipton Poetry Review, and elsewhere.
In your opinion, what are the ingredients for a perfect poem?
A Perfect Poem recipe:
1. An epiphany
2. An original thought
3. Select words
4. Spices (punctuation marks, adjectives, metaphors…)
Take some genuine epiphany you have experienced. Process it long enough in your mind, so that it (the epiphany) solidifies into a clear, original thought. When the thought is ready, pour in a portion of select words. Mix together into a smooth mass. Taste, if needed add a spice or two (do not overdose!) Form the mass into a nice shape. Cut off the redundant pieces. Arrange on a piece of paper or in a word processor, bake until thoroughly cooked and crispy. Brush off the crumbs. Serve/consume in a nice, relaxed environment, best if with a cup of tea or a glass of wine.
What are your methods for writing poetry?
Typically some kind of epiphany or insight initiates a poem but much of actual writing is a process. There is an element of discovery during the process itself. Poems seem to have lives of their own, so I try to let them surprise me as well. As for working on a poem’s “physical” shape (form), it really resembles cooking (see the recipe above). If you add too much flour, or not enough water, or wrong shortening, the dish won’t taste or even look as it should. So it’s all about the right ingredient, balance, proportion, taste. And of course, about the idea, which is the poem’s flavor—or the “dish’s” essence.
What is your favorite genre of poetry?
Any theme may be interesting as long as the poem is disciplined, original in—or showing a mastery of—form, and contains a thought that surprises me, makes me discover a new concept, new associations. Like Emily Dickinson’s poetry—though I’m still far from truly knowing this amazing poet. I’m typically bored by purely “linguistic” poems—ones that heavily play with language but seem devoid of the “deeper current” of some original thought related to the extra-linguistic world.
Who is your favorite poet?
It’s hard to select! I much love the Polish poet Bolesław Leśmian. In his poetry, things merge into one another. For example, when an axe cuts into the wood, the wood simultaneously cuts into the axe. This way, Leśmian creates a new being, half-axe, half-wood. This sort of Bergsonian flux may happen between images (like the axe and the wood) and/or between words, so that, for example, a verb merges with an adjective, the adjective with the verb, etc. This makes Leśmian’s works difficult to translate. In general, I like poems that are economical, translucent, insightful, surprising—like for example Ted Kooser’s Telescope or Anna Kamieńska’s A Prayer That Will Be Answered … I think wordiness is the greatest enemy of good poetry—and of clear thinking, for that matter.
What is ‘Ściana'?
Ściana is the Polish word for “wall.” Walls have long fascinated me. Why do we build them? Walls can be protective but can also block our horizon. Think about the defensive walls built during the Middle Ages, or the Chinese wall, or the Berlin Wall, or the Israeli wall. There are walls of silence, walls of indifference, walls of fear. We compartmentalize our own selves by building metaphorical “walls,” for example between our private self and the social one; or between our past and present; or between the “tough” self we project into the world and the vulnerable child within. There are all sorts of walls… Some of my poems are my attempts to explore their significance.
Do you have a favorite poem of your own?
I have a few favorites. Number one is the poem Silence, which will appear in the volume Inclusions (forthcoming this fall from Cervena Barva Press). Another poem of mine I like is The Wall’s Corner from the volume The Wall & Beyond (eLectio Publishing 2013). Here it is:
The Wall’s Corner
when the wall meets itself
it stares at itself in amazement
first with its right eye then its left
immediately, it feels hostility
but not right away does it change into stone
the object of its stare
it knows not what name to give
that which is seizing it over
from its very foundations
Where is your favorite place on Earth?
There are several places I like in particular. Some parts of Wisconsin, the lakes and forests in my native region of Warmia and Mazury in Poland (north-eastern part of Poland), Vancouver… But beauty is everywhere, so the whole Earth is my favorite place. The only ugly places found on Earth are those created by us, people—death camps, prisons, slums, garbage heaps; also the moral ugliness of greed, bullying, envy. Notwithstanding our frequent peans to beauty, we are the only species that create ugliness, lots of it.
Where do you like to write?
Anywhere I can be completely alone and in silence. Most often in my recliner, with a laptop on my lap. Sometimes in a library or in the park. I love to write in cafes; alas all the Starbucks in my neighborhood typically play some loud, distracting music (The noise in American cafés and restaurants drives me mad… One cannot hear one’s own thoughts. Sometimes I even I think that is precisely the point, to prevent people from thinking!) I usually carry with me a small notebook, to write down my ideas, in case something comes to my mind. But the actual writing is done at home.
What are you currently writing?
A poetry collection; a novel; some scholarly stuff. It may take a while before I finish all this!
List 10 things about yourself that people may not know....
1. I have a cat named Rufus.
2. I believe we can and should learn a great deal from animals.
3. Rufus is my Great Teacher!
4. My favorite literary character is Tekla from Conrad’s novel Under Western Eyes.
5. I did not learn to appreciate poetry fully until I was in my 30s.
6. Nag Hammadi scriptures fascinate me.
7. Some people make the Earth feel like a hospitable place; I was lucky enough to have met such persons.
8. My favorite color is green.
9. My favorite pass-time is hiking.
10. I love wild strawberries that grow in Poland.
Connect with Joanna….