Review by Gerry Cobb
AN URGENT REQUEST
by Sarah Luczaj
Fortunate Daughter Press
Huntington Beach, CA 92612-7887
2009, 31 pp., $10.00
An Urgent Request, a chapbook by Sarah Luczaj, is the first publication from Fortunate Daughter Press, an imprint of the California-based publisher Tebot Bach. As stated in the front of the book, “The Fortunate Daughter mission is to publish, annually, one chapbook by an exceptional poet who has not yet published a chapbook or book.” Sarah is an English poet, translator and therapist who has lived in Poland since 1997. Many of the poems in the chapbook have been published previously in journals and online.
Sarah has been writing poetry for many years and this publication is long overdue. An Urgent Request encapsulates several different poetic themes—death, love, language, transcendence, transgression—in a variety of approaches and voices which are somehow unified by the depth of spirit which binds them together. Poems about death, such as “For Jose Druet” and “Missing the Dead,” are shot through with loss but also move beyond personal anguish to poetic awareness: “If I could catch some daylight/as I catch/the snow melting from the roof/I could bring a bucketful/inside/and pour it out until it fills the room/in the middle of the night” (“Missing the Dead”). The poems of love for children and family (“Oh My Girl,” “Thaw,” “Postscript”) seem to be the most “personal” but one needs to be cautious: I suspect that Sarah adopts different voices and examines the observed situations of others with a semi-detached curiosity. Another word for this is imagination! The poems which deal with language and understanding represent the struggle of a writer living in a foreign country (e.g., “An Urgent Request”), a theme also reflected in the dream-like nature of the world inhabited by “Holiday”: set in Morocco, with French and German tourists, the whole scenario is at once narrative and slightly fantastic.
Further poems emphasize that the understanding of, and curiosity about, the world are rooted in a deeper sense of transcendence, meditative almost, where the daily concerns and joys of the world are seen from the distance of detachment, the knowledge that life is ripples upon the surface of a calm and silent sea (“Blaze,” “What More Can I Ask For,” “The Soup Needs Attention”). And finally, the injunction to her readers not to blithely accept what they’re told, either by parents or teachers (“How to Take Control of Your Life”) or by yourself and the constraints placed upon one by society (“Barking Back”).
At times the poems resonate with a wry humour, often underscored by a deadly serious point (“I was not sentenced to death for infidelity/blasphemy, murder/or not having put enough salt in the soup” from “My Life is Brilliant”) or a sense of irony, as in “Here is a List of Things I Ate Yesterday.” A poem such as “Imperative” starts off as if it is to be another rejection of social constraint, but morphs into a Buddhist lesson on the self, what one needs to shed in order to reach the essence. One of these is words, and for a poet, that is a supreme irony: the struggle to verbalise the unsayable, to give voice to silence.
An Urgent Request is the work of a poet who has found her own voice and who is eloquent, thoughtful, distant, sympathetic, questioning and inspiring at one and the same time. One could find influences and resonances from other poets and artists here but that misses the point; this collection is the work of a poet who has synthesised and moved beyond such influences. The book speaks with diverse voices and from varied viewpoints. We should not assume that all the emotions and feelings written here were actually experienced by Sarah Luczaj. It is enough that she has taken them into herself and recreated them in ways which have different meanings for all her readers.
Gerry Cobb is English and was a postgraduate student at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk, UK where he met Sarah. He has worked as a freelance drama teacher and currently works with people with learning difficulties in Norwich. He writes poetry, prose and songs. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.