Taking the Road Where It Leads
by Andrena Zawinski
Poets Corner Press, Stockton CA, 2008 (www.poetscornerpress.org) 23pgs.
A Review by Laura Orem
One of the pleasures of reviewing is here is the opportunity to write about chapbooks. Chapbooks are often seen as the red-haired stepchildren of poetry publishing, and many journals and reviews choose not to feature them in their pages. This is unfortunate. There is a lot of excellent poetry out there in chapbook form, especially since, as we all know, there are not many opportunities for poets to publish their work as full-length manuscripts. Taking the Road Where It Leads by Andrena Zawinski is an example of the best that chapbook publishing has to offer: a collection of deeply moving, highly crafted poems – a “real” book – it would be tragic to overlook.
Zawinski has that invaluable and necessary characteristic of the true poet: the eye that will not look away. Take, for example, “Morning News.” The poem opens with a description of what seems at first to be a peaceful woodland scene:
This morning, the heron huddled into himself,
head buried deep inside the ruffled tuft,
long bill aimed at bracken edging the bog,
thin plume arched up in victory, having had his fill
of a new clutch of downy-backed ducks.
The shock of the last line is carried out throughout the rest of the poem, which is unflinching in its honest reporting of “the fact that nature/can be such a terrible beast.” It never, however, slips into the gratuitous or the graphic; its matter-of-fact tone prevents overselling its point. This is a writer in control of her craft and too respectful of it to take the flashier route.
Even when the poet is tempted to embellish or imagine a different, easier scenario, her integrity does not permit it. In “Call Her: Corona for Morning, Circling Lake Merritt in Oakland, California and Imagining Paris, France,” the speaker begins by describing a sleeping couple: “Angelina/turns beneath her blanket on dewy grass,/turns there to kiss her lover on his cheek…So in this poem name him Romero, /because you can. Imagine them instead/as they dance lakeside, Bois de Boulogne.” But, then the poet tells us, “this is not Paris/but Oakland, California, and they/are homeless.” It is tempting to turn their story into a happy one, but who is really comforted by this transformation? Certainly not the couple in the poem:
name them what you will – call him Remy, call her
Adeline, because you can. That’s the thing
with poetry, it can pose lovers where
imagination wishes to have them
stir or waken or even dance around
in Paris. Here, part of the scenery
and art of invention, her hand
rests for now on her grumbling stomach
while a legion of pigeons guards the bank,
feet a polish of pink, eyes golden sequins,
garden varieties, yet necks lustrous
in a royal sheen of purple and green –
but this poem is not one for the birds.
Beyond the clarity and integrity of the speaker’s voice, there are wonderful moments throughout this collection – little gems of writing to savor like good chocolate. This is a writer who pays attention to both the sense and the sound of her words, as in this selection from “House in the Heartwood:”
the veined glass pane,
the hum of the furnace kicking in,
the drip drip of the kitchen spigot,
the rattle of ghosts conjured in its shadows,
the root cellar fragrant with herbs,
just like that – all gone,
up in smoke.
In “Ghosts in the Garden,” a poem about a visit to Charleston, SC, we find “all the nuisances of noisy history” in a deeply textured catalogue of detail. If, as William Carlos Williams said, there are “no ideas but in things,” and if Ezra Pound is correct that “the natural object is the adequate symbol,” then the adept and graceful “thinginess” of these poems fills them up with the kind of richness that brings the thoughtful reader back again and again.
Andrena Zawinski is a deeply gifted poet who compels us to look more closely at our world and more honestly at our perceptions of it. Taking the Road Where It Leads is a collection that should not be missed.
Laura Orem is a writer, artist, and teacher who lives on a small farm in Red Lion, PA. She teaches at Goucher College in Baltimore, where she is a Writing Fellow.