Feaured Poet: Michał Choiński

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Michał Choiński teaches literature at the Jagiellonian University (Kraków, Poland). He has written two books on the history of American literature: Rhetoric of the Revival (V&R, 2016) and Southern Hyperboles (Louisiana State University Press, 2020). His first pamphlet, Gifts Without Wrapping came out with the Hedgehog Press in 2019, as a winner of a poetry competition. His second pamphlet Too Many Rooms is one of the finalists for Wolfson Press Chapbook Competition 2022. Choiński’s poems and translations of poems have appeared in journals in Poland, USA, UK and Canada (including Neon, Alba, The High Window or The Ekphrastic Review). He has taught literature and creative writing in the USA, in Italy, in the UK, and in Germany. In 2022, he’ll be a Fulbright Fellow at Yale University, writing his next book.

Website: https://michalchoinski.com/

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Michał  Choiński writes in English, although Polish is his native language. In one of the interviews, he explained his choice of English as the language of poetic expression:

‘The choice of English (…) seemed natural, almost instinctive (…) In my first chapbook, Gifts Without Wrapping (Hedgehog Press), I even use Polish names, cultural rites, as well as references to meaningful locations in Poland. I guess English is for me a membrane, a translucent lamina which generates just enough space for me to reflect back on what I explore in my poetry, a glove that prevents me from getting my hands too dirty.

Choiński’s poetry engages the notions individual and collective identity, moving between various religious, geographical and cultural contexts. It aims to deconstruct cultural fascinations with the carnal, and its taboos, experienced against the canvass of changing spaces and voices. In the words of Judy Brown, ‘[Choiński’s] cool-tongued and sharp-edged poems anatomize the intersection of bodies and hopes, rituals, fears and discomforts. Their forensic voices seek to measure and document, then surprise with their uneasy willingness to turn the knife to themselves

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Michał Choiński: Four Poems from Too Many Rooms

JUDASZ

Behind the door,
the footsteps are finally receding.
It feels like it’s been longer this time –
the pattern must have changed.
I promised myself I’d only listen.
Eyes closed –
nothing will betray me.
And these footsteps could still be anybody’s.
I know now it’s the act of looking
that makes it real.
The concave display through the peephole,
leaves nothing to hold on to.
Standing there,
motionless,
like a boy who sinned,
I curse my ears
for picking up
on the distinctive irregularity
of the fading rhythm.
Next time, I won’t say a word.

NOW YOU KNOW

I eavesdropped on you
talking in your sleep.
You spoke in a voice I didn’t know.
You mumbled things about a man
with a knife,
and the moon
that eclipses the sun.
Then came the terror.
I forced myself not to wake you up,
letting you suffer,
wherever you were.
I just listened to your breaths
growing deeper.
But you did not come back to me,
even at the apex,
with tears and sweat
all over your face.
And when your muscles relaxed,
when we embraced,
I knew now I only wanted to listen
to that other voice,
and nothing you’d verbalize
in the light of day
would ever matter.

THE LAST VETO

That place had too many rooms.
I immediately thought
we’d never get enough
to fill them up.
But she liked it, and declared:
“There’s some potential here”.
Earlier, we had agreed,
that while searching,
we’d avoid getting petty
over redundancies.
But those rooms
weren’t about the space,
we could carve out
and divide.
Their design was full of implications.
Having used up
two of my vetoes,
I was anxious
to say no again.
She saw all of that,
and speeded things up.
“We’ll be in touch”,
she concluded.
I understood
our frustrations were mutual.

HER ACT OF PASSING

“This will be ours,” she stated.
I followed her finger,
aimed at things
she presumed we’d need.
Not long ago, we used to hide,
like snails between rocks.
Now, even our scents behaved differently,
as we moved to new territories.
Her indexing has become like a dream
of a historic mind –
and she’d know right from wrong
only from the perspective of time.
I followed her to a point.
When I heard her say
she preferred the dead
to stay in their graves,
I already knew that in order to own
myself again,
I’d not only have to flee
the regime of that finger,
and see through her passing.

***

Michał Choiński: Four Additional Poems

STANDING LIKE THAT

The stone is small and irregular.
It feels like a growth
on the inside of the palm.
The muscles flex as you clutch it.
Glimpsing sideways, you realize
that you probably don’t have the aim
like the others.
So, standing like that,
you just want to eject
that thing you’re holding
at the first possible moment.
You fail to bring the gloves,
and the limestone absorbs
the drops of sweat from the hand.
It angers you,
as you don’t want it
to carry your sweat signature.
But, of course, you know
that one cannot trace the stones
back to anyone.
They belong to all.

(First published in WordCity Journal)

DIGGING

I’ve been watching them
for the better part of the afternoon.
“Not deep enough”, one mumbled.
Coats covered in soil.
They’re frowning,
tossing dirt,
knowing these last scoops
will not be enough.

They seem so eager
to finish,
I’m almost embarrassed
to be spying on them.
The afternoon drizzle didn’t help.
The soil is wet,
and it sticks.

But, is it really too shallow?
Dogs keep away
from this neighbourhood.
And yet, they shovel like two oil derricks,
What are they afraid of –
of what goes in?
or of what may get out?

They’re angry now –
they won’t finish
before the sundown.
It’s better this way –
I won’t have a chance
to see what ends up
down there.

(First published in Neon)

PAREIDOLIA

I liked that for you the world was broken,
and glued back,
with the cracks exposed.
Over time, I became afraid
your shapes would evolve,
and grow menacing,
like mine.
I regret we never spoke about
what we saw in each other.

(First published in Alba: A Journal of Short Poetry)

MEMBRANE WITH VEINS

My body retained the palmaris longus.
Hers didn’t.
“I’m more evolved,” she laughed,
putting our hands next to each other,
tapping on the tendon
with the tips of her fingers –
“You know they will take it out,
if you ever need spare parts?”.
Other than that, we were analogous –
both in height and in weight.
Our marathon BPs
were only two minutes apart.
After one year,
we decided to move in together,
and we hung the image
of that couple from Bosch’s painting
over our bed.
But then, we couldn’t agree
if the sphere
is made of glass with cracks,
or if it is a membrane with veins.
From that point on,
I asked her to sleep on the side
closer to the door,
which, to my disappointment,
brought us both more comfort.

(First published in The Ekphrastic Review)

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