Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mark Pawlak's Official Versions


Mark Pawlak's Official Versions comes out of the poet's lifelong obsession with the news as source of poetry; a found poet extraordinaire, Pawlak brings a razor-sharp wit to his keen observations of the hypocrisies and weirdnesses of modern political and existential life.

Tonally, his work reminds of Mark Twain, even if it's closer to Bern Porter or Charles Reznikoff in terms of its reliance upon borrowed language; it's no surprise that his work was chosen for Best American Poetry when Billy Collins was the editor (though Collins, typically, chose one of the less-political poems of the book).

From his Downeast Maine haibuns to his newspaper poems, Pawlak delights in the everyday uses and misuses of language, and wants to share all of it--from the ridiculous to the sublime. One of the political poems that caught my eye was the following, from a poem called "Regime Change":
Historical Afterword:

“The Baghdad communiqu├ęs are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. We are today not far from a disaster.”—T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) writing in the Sunday Times of London on August 22, 1920, about the British occupation of what was then called Mesopotamia.

In his version, the entire piece is "struck-through" by a line, as if to suggest that this is information that someone doesn't want us to know. The British occupation of Iraq at the end of the World War I involved a bloody crackdown resulting in the deaths of many thousands of Iraqis, and one of the first uses of air bombing to "pacify" a population. Those who don't know history....

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