political still has plenty of currency in People's Poetry, it seems.
least, one might fairly conclude so, considering the presence -
at the spring 2001 People's Poetry Gathering in New York City -
of Romany poets Gregory Kweik and Katja Tanmateos, activist Paul
Polansky, and folklorist Carol Silverman.
amid the poetry slammers, poetry happening-ers, and poetry of the
blues-ists; among the multicultural explorers guiding audiences
through Sicilian, Korean, Urdu, Filipino and even Sign Language
poetry; was this small cadre of Romany activists doing a bit more
than exploring the cosmetic character of Gypsy culture - they were
providing an active forum for delineatoin of the Romany experience
of discrimination and stereotpying across the centuries, a pattern
of oppression which occurred while the Roma were fiercely resisting
assimilation and defending their dynamic culture.
be sure there were other activists around and about at the gathering,
sponsored by City Lore and Poets House in collaboration with a host
of poetry associations in and around Manhattan. Janine Pomy-Vega,
Hettie Jones and others brought poetry from prison, and there were
practitioners of Eritrean poetry, for example, known for its affiliations
with so called "fighter poets," whose stories were there
to be shared.
well and good for the politically-oriented literati. But it was
the Romany poetry and music segment for many which offered up the
most clearly multifaceted and politically charged program - multiculturalism
which had not forsaken an ascerbic investigation of the socio-political
issues of a people.
and activist Polansky should be no stranger to those in tune with
the activities of cultural activists. Not so long ago he published
two powerful books, through the impressive small press house Cross
Cultural Communications (CCC), that treated a controversial, compelling
historical puzzle - the fate of Gypsies, or Romany People, as they
are known, in Eastern Europe during and after World War II. Through
oral histories and poetic interpretation, the volumes he published
addressed what Polansky contended was a concentration camp at Lety
(in what is now the Czech Republic); and the subsequent treatment
of the Romany poeple by that Eastern Eurpean country.
those more interested in the literary aspect of all this, not that
the first CCC volume consists of a bilingual group of poems. It
was the task of the second volume to provide an explication of the
author's pursuit and "discovery" of what he described
in austere and hauntingly powerful accounts te "Romany Holocaust."
these accounts come in the form of oral histories of the "Lety
of these volumes is not the first time that Cross Cultural Communications
has tackled a controversial subject. While over the years the small
press has focussed largely -- and successfully -- on promulgation
of books elucidating the poetics of minor and sometimes endangered
language groups, CCC has been known to tackle contentious social
and historistic topics. Witness in particular its association with
the Sicilian Antigruppo, an anti-fascist, anti mafia organizaiton.
this case, CCC's association with Polansky brought the small press
in concert with a man of impressive qualifications. Polansky is
a midwesterner who studied journalism and history at Marquette.
His studies brought him to Spain, where he became involved in publishing
and researching into the history of Eastern Europe. In the past
quarter century he has been engaged in a deep study of primary source
material in European archives, and in such projects as the creation
of a Czech Historical Research Center in Iowa and in Prague. Over
the years, he pursued such subjects as the study of Czech emigrant
patterns, the history of Czech composer Anton Dvorak, and other
was in the course of these pursuits, notes Polansky, that he began
to follow the trail to documents which he later described as bearing
on a "Death Camp" for Gypsies during WWII. His assertion
was as simple as it was chilling -- that the camp was run by the
Czechs, with minimal German oversight. Polansky futher asserted
that he had met untoward levels of resistance in his attempt to
review documents, get to the bottom of the story of the camp, and
examine the subject of Romany treatment in the Czech Republic --
both in memorializing the camp, and in detailing contemporary attitudes
and conditions confronting the ethnic minority in that nation.
stark and uncompromising, his book, Black Silence: Oral Histories
of the Lety Holocaust Survivors is a powerfully stated volume. While
dark as the subject matter addressed by the author, it is at times
as riveting a tale as you might expect to encounter in any of the
horror-filled accounts of WWII-era concentration camps.
the poems. Living Through It Twice approaches the subject through
a more aesthetic angle -- the original poems, written in Czech and
English, of the author. Polansky's work in this volume is at once
true to the polemic of the people whose plight he "uncovered"
and combines terseness of diction and plain language to make its
People's Poetry Gathering was a welcome opportunity to explore Polansky's
earned political point of view first-hand.