Quoddy Journals 2005-2010
By Mark Pawlak
ISBN 13: 978-0-9821600-5-3
Review by Dennis Daly
Mark Pawlek charts the spectacular shoreline and headlands of Maine’s Passamaquoddy Bay in this book of adept poetic notations. Between 2005 and 2010 Pawlec and his family rented a house overlooking the bay in Lubec, the easternmost town in the United States. According to Pawlek, who I listened to recently giving a poetry reading at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge Massachusetts, he, as an early riser, literally witnessed many sun risings before any of his countrymen. In fact images of an Atlantic dawn figure prominently throughout his journals. How appropriate! The American Indian word Passamaquoddy means people of the dawn.
One of Pawlek’s influences is seventeenth century Japanese haiku master Matsuo Basho, himself a keeper of a famous journal published posthumously. Pawlek’s title comes from Basho, whom he quotes to begin his journal,
Go to the pine if you want to learn about pine.
Although Pawlek sets up his book in a very visual way, many of his pieces are wonderfully lyrical. Take his very first piece entitled “Bold Coast” Partita: Chaconne. The image presented, reminiscent of Pound’s In the Station of the Metro, also exhibits nice subtleties of whispered song. Here’s most of it:
on tall stalks
to foghorn tune,
a single droplet
at each tip,
In a little poem headed by the line 5 AM Sacramental Landscape Pawlak outdoes himself. His imagery sets up a rite of pantheistic adoration that is both visually elaborate and musically well-toned. He says,
Now dawn arrives,
startling as the risen Christ
in Grunewald’s painting, “The Resurrection.”
A shimmering golden platter
rests on white muslin
spread across the bay,
reflection of the dazzling
eucharistic orb now suspended
an arm’s- length above the horizon.
Pawlak returns to the theme of morning light over and over. In another section he records this neat observation,
Notice that even pebbles
cast long shadows
in slant morning light.
Observe the bent figures
in waders, raking
the muck for clams
under the supervision
of blue heron.
The poet then notes that these observations have the power to utterly change a person. I believe it. It can be life altering to reach a point of understanding, a curious understanding in which a blue heron runs everything. I see them every day and often consider this. Strange birds!
I must say here that I am not the biggest fan of collage poems, but… when they are done well, which means balanced well, they surprise with insight and convert me to their structural cause. The balance that Pawlak achieves in his journals rival what William Carlos Williams achieved in Patterson. Pawlak’s structure is less dense I think—but that is a good thing. For instance he sandwiches a nicely drawn imagistic poem between two seemingly unrelated newspaper clippings. The poem begins this way,
Dull pewter morning sky;
oilcloth spread over harbor,
tucked in at shoreline,
set with and peppershaker buoys
beside toy boats painted primary colors;
humped-backed island at harbor’s mouth
in the shape of an overturned ladle.
The lead- in clipping from the Bangor Daily News reports,
“The Brady Gang came to Maine in the fall of 1937 for the same reason 21st century criminals venture north of Boston—seafood, foliage, and guns.”
The other bookend clipping details a list of District Court cases from the same newspaper. It goes like this,
…violation of scallop rule, $250.00
…hand fishing sea urchin without license, $500.00
…negotiating worthless instrument, $150.00
… violation of marine worm rule, $250.00
…failing to kindle in a prudent manner, $100.00
The resulting atmospherics work terrifically well.
Another successful balancing act provided by this poet/journalist juxtaposes the stark beauty of the rugged terrain with the funkiness of the permanent inhabitants—the townies.
The 2007 portion of the journal begins with a striking poem entitled Six Acts. This is a good part of it,
in first light.
Mist peels away
slowly in bands
to reveal the crown
bristling with firs.
while sun climbs,
hand over hand, up
a ladder of branches.
the jagged shoreline…
On the very next page the poet supplies a bit of humor with a prose description of a collection of beer mugs and steins with slogans including REENLIST, FIT TO FIGHT, BE ALL YOU CAN BE. Of course this cottage which provides such scenic beauty is rented from a Colonel in the National Guard. There may be a lesson here.
Later on in the journal, in a 2010 entry Pawlak seems to combine the funkiness with the profound starkness of the landscape. The poem ironically (perhaps doubly so) named Paradise begins this way,
Rusted tractor, lobster boat up on blocks,
tall weeds grown up around them,
parked on either side of the garage
at the corner of this gravel lane leading to the marsh.
The lobster boat badly in need of paint…
At Pawlak’s poetry reading he mentioned that the book ended when he finished saying everything he had to say for the purposes of the book. He also stressed that he would continue to write journal entries. Good for him. Great for us.