MARK PAWLAK: OFFICIAL VERSION
Hanging Loose Press
231 Wycoff Street
ISBN 1 931236 59 3
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|MARK PAWLAK: OFFICIAL VERSION|
This is Mark Pawlak's fifth poetry collection. The contents are divided under five headings: THREE OFFICIAL VERSIONS, ALL SHOOK UP, WILSON'S PHALAROPE, PROTECTIVE AND DEFENSIVE DEVICES and LEADING BY EXAMPLE.
OFFICIAL VERSIONS, is a substantial collection of 32 strong poems, presented as a literary journey through conversation, contemporary lists, the newspapers and politics. This is not, however, a journey for the faint-hearted as Pawlak's verse requires knowledge of events — past and present, British authors, music, police weapons, politics, and more. The journey has no prescribed route, but is suggestive rather, of the restless enquiring mind trying to come to terms with modern-day perplexities. These principles are stated in the very first poem CREDIBLE INFORMATION, 1999-2003 WHICH TAKES THE READER FROM THE June 19, 1999 wedding of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones through to the Coda of May 6, 2003, where President Bush flies out to the carrier Abraham Lincoln "via a small Navy plane" and the poem ends with a White House statement about the President's decision:
The White House spokesman denied the accusations of Democratic opponents that the President's decision to make a "Top Gun"-style entrance — emerging from the four-seat jet, dubbed Navy One, in a full flight suit with a helmet under his arm — was in any way intended to turn the Abraham Lincoln, its crew and fighter pilots returning home victorious from the Iraq war into a prop for the President's re-election campaign.Each section of poems ends with a haibun that dates from the years 2000 to 2004. The first of these is entitled HART'S NECK HAIBUN, TENANT'S HARBOUR, MAINE. Haibun are a mixture of poetry and prose and in this first haibun we see the writer arriving at Hart's Neck:
We arrive at Hart's Neck in hard, driving rain. There are three parked cars blocking the path to Maplewood Cottage. Numerous corpulent adults and a six-month-old baby are inside tiny, two-room Birch next door. How do they all fit?where, by the end of the holiday,
Spiders throw nightly lawn parties. Mornings, I find their tent canopies still pitched in the mown grass of the side yard. Tiny lanterns strung along the fringes shimmer in dawnlight.
Gonna pitch a Wang dang doodle All night long All night long
Grasshopper days, cricket nights, spider web morningsThe next section ALL SHOOK UP begins with the poem DO'S AND DON'TS, which places plagiarism on a new level as the poet takes remarks from a variety of writers, musicians, and a church organ handbook, and weaves them into his poem:
"It's more important," Ornette Coleman once said, "to play the correct feeling than the correct note."In this section there are a variety of list poems: MATCHINGS: BRITISH AUTHORS, 1343-1928, SOLUTIONS: BRITISH AUTHORS, 1343-1928, BABY, all shook up and ALLEY OOP. ALLEY OOP covers three pages of what might be termed rap lyrics, which places the fragile and gently human against a background of music:
Be-Bop-a-Lula Bip Bam Boogie Oogie Oogie Bop Ting-a-Ling Sh'Boom Tick Tock Tutti Frutti Wah-WatusiThe next poem HART'S NECK HAIBUN, BOOK II: 2001, begins
July 25and wittily alludes to boat names, before concluding
August 10It is not dreams, but reality that pervades this collection, and keeps it on track. Pawlak's tone, observant and self-appraising, is clear sighted and without illusion, but reassuring in its ability to state things as they are, and to place them among so much of which the reader may be aware from his or her own reading of books and newspapers.
The section WILSON'S PHALAROPE contains several more conventional poems before ending with HARTS NECK HAIBUN, BOOK III: 2002. In the first poem, ELEPHANTS FIND LOVE, we see the real animals of the world - Alaskan shorebirds, penguins, monkeys, Asian elephants. Here, too, in the poem THE SHARPER THE BERRY are real people: the City Slicker, the Clever Dick, the Drama Queen, and others:
Nose out of joint, City Slicker? Blown a gasket, Hot Shot? Fit to be tied, Arty Farty? Going through the roof, Curtain Raiser?The haibun takes us from July 26 to August 8, 2002. Restaurants and eating-places are recorded, with details of the available fare. Characters who live in the area are presented, as in the detail of the watcher:
Hand painted sign posted in front yard:Not least among these figures is the enduring presence of Pawlak himself, with his recording and questioning, in a life of constant passing through, pausing, consolidating, moving on. It's a life in which, if anything, he makes sure everything takes a hold on him.
The next section's title poem, PROTECTIVE AND DEFENSIVE DEVICES, shows us that Pawlak is aware if the bigger picture, ranged against the contingencies of daily life, often with ironic humour as in the following two examples:
Peerless handcuffs. Precision American made, Tempered steel, double safety lock, 2 keys. Model: Subpoena. Leg irons. Kick proof, pick proof, and run proof. Model: Irons.The poems in this section are sprinkled with aphoristic observations that impress with the truth or partial truth, as in 21st CENTURY NEWSBRIEFS 1:
PRESIDENT DECLARES WAR ON TERRORISM As with the War on Poverty, as with the War on Drugs, a successful outcome is guaranteed. PRESIDENT CREDITED WITH INVOGORATING ECONOMY Night and day, at the South Bend, Indiana, A. M. General factory, new Humvees roll off the assembly line, painted shades of sand.The final section LEADING BY EXAMPLE, speaks about life in a way that marks Pawlak out as an urban survivor and one who speaks for those who tough it out among all the reversals and compromises that modern living imposes, as in the poem ALL THE NEWS — SEPTEMBER 23, 2001,
"FORGET THE PAST," the headline instructs. "IT'S A WAR UNLIKE ANY OTHER."The last part of the haibun, HART'S NECK HAIBUN, BOOK V, 2004, takes place from July 28 to August 8 and begins with the lovely poem
Time here measured by the movement of great blue herons stalking crabs in the shallows at low tide.It ends with a list of items that Pawlak finds necessary to take along on holiday:
. . . three horses, two dogs (Muggins and Sport), one carriage, three cases of wine, two packages of stovepipe, two stoves, one iron pot, four washstands, one barrel of hardwood, seventeen cots, seventeen mattresses, four canvas packages, one buckboard, five large barrel and one half-barrel. Two tuns of butter, one bag of coffee, one chest of tea, a crate of china, a dozen rugs, four milk cans, two drawing boards, twenty-five trunks, thirteen small boxes, a boat, and a hamper . . .Pawlak is an up-beat, up-town (sometimes out-of-town, off-beat) guy who knows the real world but is still on top of it. On top of it, too, with his language, style and versatility. His native urban resilience, his techniques and his genuine interest in everything around him, enables him to move easily from the vernacular to the elegant.
The significations and semiotic potential of OFFICIAL VERSIONS are endless. The manner of its layout and construction are important both to understanding this doubting, questioning work and the way in which Pawlak has felt composing his unique vision. That vision, after all, has allowed us entry to a reader-writer conspiracy and a feast of sensuality, mystery, poetic processes and a sense of urgent being. It contains love and beauty, horror and war, creations and recreations, all the universals are there. It contains the sheer joy of dreams and desires, while tragedy or man's inhumanity to man intersect or violently veer away from each other in vertiginous sheerness.
|reviewer: Patricia Prime.|