One of the pitfalls of editing a literary journal is that out of the poets and writers you meet, 99 percent of them spend 99 percent of their time whining about their love lives. Eventually, the sensitivities are blunted until you reach the point where you pull the covers over your head at the slightest hint of another human being’s pain. Then you encounter a writer like Paul Polansky. And God help you if you ignore him.
Mr. Polansky’s stock-in-trade is genocide–specifically, the fight against the systematic efforts to exterminate the Roma (also known as Gypsies) in Eastern Europe. In his poetry collections, Living Through It Twice, The River Killed My Brother, and Not a Refugee, Mr. Polansky carefully delineates the atrocities of Czechs, Slovaks, Albanians, and others (even NATO and the UN are not innocent here) against the Roma.
“Art” is tossed to the winds–don’t look for little niceties such as form, meter, or rhyme in these poems. What remains is the raw power of the darker side of the human psyche–fear, hatred, grief, lose, violence, torture, and an ever-dimming hope of compassion and rescue. But perhaps that was the point of “Art” in the first place.
Mr. Polansky is a native of Mason City, Iowa. In his undergraduate days, Mr. Polansky opted to spend his junior year at Madrid University, which became the beginning of a lifetime odyssey through Europe, an odyssey which led him to become one of the most sought after writer-lectures concerning Eastern European human rights issues for our time. His other books include The Storm, a novel; Stray Dog (Poems of a Fighting Freak), a paean to, or rather against the violence in boxing; and Black Silence and The Gypsies of Kosovo (non-fiction).
Paul Polansky’s writings have a way of waking you up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat. They can also reawaken the most dormant social conscience. So don’t say I didn’t warn you…
— Robert Dunn, Executive Editor
Medicinal Purposes Literary Review
On Living Through it Twice
Paul Polansky’s spare, stark renderings of Romany survivors’ voices have the hardness of memorial stone. But in reading them, the stone dissolves and something infinitely tender and unspeakable takes its place. The restraint and hardness hold in the tears- just barely. The Romany Holocaust, the denial of it by the Havel government, the repetition of history today- these unknowns are thrown into sharp relief by Polansky’s unblinking gaze. When we see what he sees, we no longer have an excuse to avert our eyes.
— Andrei Codrescu, NPR commentator
Author of The Hole in the Flag: A Romanians’s Tale of Exile & Revolution
On Black Silence: “Lety by Pisek, I never heard of it.”
Paul Polansky’s cold revelations about the concentration camp in Lety by Pisek is more frightening because it is totally without pathos. His revelations are about the Gypsy people who survived Lety or their children. In Czech literature you can compare Polansky’s book probably only with David’s Star by Jiri Weil and Black Lira by Jiri Kolar. Ladies and Gentlemen, hold on to your hats, you are about to enter cold storage.
— Ivan “Magor”