Poetry Highlight: “Summer Night” and “August Wind” by Marcin Oświęcimka

By: Michael Downs

As I try to write these words, a little more than a month has passed since Marcin Oświęcimka drowned while swimming off one of the Canary Islands. Marcin, a writer and graduate student at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, had begun a semester abroad at Universidad de La Laguna in Tenerife, working to complete his degree in English philology with an emphasis on American language and culture.

Though I am a writer and professor in the United States, for a brief time in Spring 2022 I taught in Kraków, which is how I met Marcin. Quickly, I came to admire his writing and to feel grateful for his spirit. Smart and witty, Marcin connected to others through tenderness and empathy. He organized events for the campus’s English language and literature club. He could talk about skateboard wheels as well as he could discuss poems by Charles Bukowski.

For an assignment in my class, he wrote a poem based on a painting by Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Some 75 years after Hopper finished his “Summer Evening,” Marcin looked closely at the image of a man and woman standing in garish porch light, and he called them “a couple like any other.” Such a bold statement! Literature usually explores what differentiates the individual from others. So, Marcin’s description challenged my expectations and raised questions. What would the poem reveal about couples that make them all alike? At the end of his “Summer Night,” published here for the first time, Marcin offers a paradoxical answer that leaves the reader to wonder about the distances between people in love.

As seen in “Summer Night” and a second poem, “August Wind,” Marcin was a writer and poet of great potential. In an email before he was to leave for Tenerife, we talked about the possibility of him studying in the United States. I knew of a scholarship, and he hoped to conduct research into attitudes toward different foreign accents in English. “No other country can provide so many opportunities to research that field,” he wrote.

As for his creative writing, Marcin told me that he’d been traveling back and forth between composing in Polish and in English. It turns out, he wrote, “that I’m a completely different poet in my mother tongue, and I’m currently having adventures exploring this side.”

Summer Night
after Edward Hopper’s Summer Evening

the guests returned to their homes
it was an enjoyable evening
(for them)
or at least it looked as if it was
firewood and charcoals are crackling still
in the barbecue

they are a couple like any other

the night has come and
moths are headed to the lamp
sizzling on the bulb
and grasshoppers and
an occasional owl
are looming
from the meadows
and from the woods

this corner of the world
is where time flows how
it was meant to
with the idle wind strolling along
and perhaps too many chances
to think about what we all
think we think about, but we don’t

a neighbourhood like this is too small
for having secrets
so that’s how I know
they are a couple like any other

I see their undraped curtains
and the door blind undrawn
And it doesn’t mean much
nor does it bare a soul

I see them in the spotlight
sitting on the ledge of the veranda
quite close to one another
but they are a couple like any other
here
infinity spans between them

august wind

august wind
sometimes carries
notes of autumn
to itself
although it’s still
summer around

and silver moon
shows up
now and then
in the middle of a golden day

so I find a single dry straw
among lush blades of grass
and a lonely white cloud
in a patch of clear blue sky

old age reminds us that
it not only reads our memoirs
but also
writes us back

– Marcin Oświęcimka

Small Press Highlight: Poet Lore

Reviewing America’s Oldest Poetry Journal

  Poet Lore serves as a solid pillar of both historical and contemporary literary journals by being the oldest poetry-based publication in the United States. Now located out of our very own Bethesda, Maryland and backed by The Writers’ Center, a nonprofit, this journal has been published out of a handful of different cities for nearly 140 years. Founded in Philadelphia, the journal in its formative years was a comparative literature project of Shakespearean scholars and life partners, Helen Clarke and Charlotte Porter; though the two quickly shifted their focus to that of living writers. The women moved to Boston after two years where the journal remained until it was bought by Washington D.C.’s Heldref Publications in 1976. Eventually, it shifted to The Writer’s Center where it has been published biannually for the last 25 years.  In its longevity, the journal has had the opportunity to publish the early works of renowned poets like David Baker and Mary Oliver. 

It is clear that Poet Lore’s staff is proud of its long and inclusive history. The website declares that “poetry provides a record of human experience as valuable as history”, emphasizing not only the importance of history but the inherent value of the written word. The journal publishes content that is both urgent and intimate, offering its audience “poems built to last” with an emphasis on quality. In an interview with Frontier Poetry, Poet Lore editor Emily Holland said, “we love featuring poems that broaden the spectrum of what poetry is – and can be – on the page.” In fact, the editors are so dedicated to the vast possibilities of poetry that in their newly redesigned issue, the editors opted for a larger trim size to publish poems that might not format well on a standard book-size page. They also printed multiple poems to a page to show connections between pieces. This sizing detail is one example of how the team emphasizes voices that lack widespread renown, reconfiguring the journal itself to better accommodate its contributors. In doing so, Poet Lore remains true to the vision of its founders by maintaining its progressive and inclusive legacy. 

-Review by Chloe Ziegler, Grub Street poetry editor

Grub Street featured in Poets & Writers!

Last month, Poets & Writers released a spotlight on poet Abigail Chabitnoy, who was published in Volume 71 of Grub Street!

In their monthly Literary MagNet series, Abigail and writer Dana Isokawa discuss her writing process, Indigenous background, and all of the journals she has work published in, including our very own Grub Street!

We are proud to be a part of Chabitnoy’s publishing journey.

Read Abigail Chabitnoy’s work In Grub Street here.

Poetry Feature: “On Being Mean” by Olivia Sokolowski

On Being Mean

 

A man walks up to me at the gas station air pump

and tries to explain how to use the machine. I understand

how to use the machine. When he won’t take the hint

I get back in my car and he shouts, I don’t want to hurt

you! I’m just trying to help! And that’s when I get the urge

to lean out the window and smile I’m just a mean

person! Right, don’t I remember your voice from last year

calling to tell me the same? Or was it my mother’s

laughter, saying zippy, zingy, feisty—little tap-

dancey words, maraschinos? Oh man, by now I know

the artistry of Mean, its well-lit pastry case

haloing flavors: blistering pineapple, thoughtless

plum… Rich beyond measure were the egg yolks

plashing the windshield of that new Subaru. I once

stole back a birthday gift, a mounted painting, and stayed

thirsty for that urge days later. Were you not

in the car when A. read us his poem about the body

in his backseat, dying, white hair loosing

from that figure which must have been his grandfather

but turned out to be the treasured family dog? O,

how the rest of us laughed! Like shards of hard candy

shooting out of the sunroof and into the mouth

of the moon. The moon is kind because she eats this

kind of laughter, fashions it into an ambergris

waxed with sleek window cats and tulle-purple dusks, an average

she used to perfume the crags of the quiet stadium

we parked beside. But now, I only want to cross

the highway of that memory to touch the dark

noses of the cows that grazed theresweet and sad

beneath the moon’s blue spit. Why can I only

see them now with their faces to the earth, how the pulses

of their breath ask a question the grass still refuses?

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia Sokolowski

On Being Mean

Olivia M. Sokolowski is a poet currently pursuing her PhD at Florida State University. She earned her MFA at University of North Carolina Wilmington and her undergraduate degree at Berry College. Her work is recently featured or forthcoming in Lake Effect, Tupelo Quarterly, Gulf Coast, and Nelle. You can also find Olivia streaming at twitch.tv/clockwork_olive.

Exclusive Art Feature: “Paused” by Rutvi Vakharia

Rutvi Vakharia

Paused

Rutvi Vakharia comes from Rajkot, India. She recently pursued her BVA in painting from MSU, Vadodara. Her interests are architectural segments, abandoned architectures, and her surroundings in the midst of sprawling urban cityscapes. She is a recipient of Nasreen Mohamedi Award for Best Display 2021. She has participated in annual exhibitions at Birla Academy (2022), Bombast Art Society (2021), and KCC Ami Festival (2020).

Exclusive Art Feature: “Livable Lives” by Jia Jia

Jia Jia Livable Lives Jia Jia is a multimedia artist. She works primarily in installation and incorporates sculpture, video, and performance. Her practice uses satire and humor to imagine everyday objects anew. She earned her MFA in sculpture from the University of Washington. She was the recipient of the Boyer and Elizabeth Bole Gonzales Scholarship in 2020.