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Tuesday
May282013

Book Review: The Wall & Beyond

The Wall & Beyond. Joanna Kurowska. eLectico Publishing, Little Elm, TX,  2013. Trade paperback, 53 pages.

Reviewed by Dan Burns

Joanna Kurowska’s latest book of poetry, her fourth published collection, is an enjoyable, concise presentation of fifty-three poems spanning as many pages. One might initially think that the collection is sparse, but after reading just the first few poems, you will quickly come to realize that there is much more on the pages than meets the eye.

Throughout the poems, there is a recurring motif of “the wall.” The author shared with me that “the wall” signifies a dividing line of sorts between various pole opposites she has experienced throughout her life: dreams and reality, the idea of God and world suffering, estrangement and acceptance. She understands “the wall” is part of human nature, and she has vowed to strive to reach beyond the wall, to affirm life as she knows it and wants it to be.

As I began to read the book, I felt the presence of “the wall” in my own way, a feeling I often get when I begin to read a work of fiction by a new author, and especially when I read poetry. The poet must convey story and meaning and a sensory perspective, all with the minimum of words. The words must be perfect—select and few. The metaphors must be meaningful and appropriate. The poet must say much without saying anything at all, and in effect, puts up a wall between the poet and the reader. I vowed to reach beyond that wall to try to understand what the poet was trying to say. Often, finding the true meaning is much like an archaeologist trying to carefully unearth a buried treasure. You have to dig and separate and brush off the stuff that gets in the way.

For me, the joy in reading poetry is to be such an excavator. I want to learn about the author. I want to understand what the author is trying to convey and at the same time, I want to understand the author’s approach to conveying that meaning. As readers, we also get to filter the words through our own individual interpretation. That’s the true beauty of poetry. For the reader, it’s as much about what he or she gets from the poem—personally, spiritually. I can’t say that I perfectly understood every poem, but I was at least left with what the poem meant to me.

The Wall & Beyond was educational and enlightening. The author immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1988, and there is much of her time in Poland that is conveyed in her poems. Poem after poem, I found myself pulling out my dictionary or getting online to research a word or a place that was unfamiliar. I learned about where she came from. I traveled with her on her journey, and in the end, I was fortunate to feel, if only slightly, what she felt.

I was especially taken by her simple poem, in a train:

people caught in oddity,

 bashful, open their faces

and cast around

little question-hooks


they catch nothing

save identical faces

of other passengers wrapped up

in wall-like silence

How true it is that we live in a world, in a society, where we all live together and yet each of us puts up a wall, a wall keeping others out and at the same time keeping us from reaching out.

There were many instances when I wanted more. Maybe there was nothing more that the author wanted to say, or to share. But I had made the investment, and I wanted a bigger return. There are several poems that are four, six, and eight lines in length, and when I came to the last word of the poem, I wondered if there needed to be more. The author made the decision, but as a reader, I’m not sure I wanted to let it end. Often, my mind went further to explore the possibilities. Just as often, I let it end as the author intended.

The Wall & Beyond is a quick read for those who want to read quick, and it is a book of poetry that can linger on for as long as you wish. There is plenty in this slim book to keep even the most particular reader engaged and thinking, two objectives every writer should strive to achieve into their work. At the end of the book, I found that I was able to break down the wall between poet and reader, and Joanna Kurowska did a fine job of reaching a hand over and pulling me to the other side.

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