Born Under the Influence
by Andrena Zawinski
75 Poems ~ 130 pages
Price: $20.00
Publisher: Word Poetry
ISBN: 9781625494160
To Order: For a signed copy and a lovely handmade bookmark order direct from the author:
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Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

Andrena Zawinski opens her latest collection, Born Under the Influence, with a telling quota-tion by the late Adrienne Rich:

          The words are maps.
          I came to see the damage that was done
          and the treasures that prevail

The quote from Rich is telling because of the questions inherent in it: What influences? How are words maps? What damages and what treasures do we speak of here? Exploring these is your reviewer’s goal.

Adrienne Rich herself was an inveterate champion of women’s issues. Both in her life and through her poetry. Yet, in my reading of Rich, I sense a mind and heart filled with pathos for people, for their circumstances, and for the pursuit of change through patient, intelligent work over time.

I perceive this quality in Andrena Zawinski as well. This assertion is supported by the way she has constructed her book. Organized under three sections, each is introduced by an informative epigram. The epigrams tip the reader off as to the poet’s direction within each segment.

Structure by Epigram

          I. this is how I like to construct myself,
                  my image the image of any woman

          II. embracing each other,
                    trying to hold the world together

          III. we tumble notes to the light and wind,
                      dip and land, our song our banner

By flipping back between epigram and individual poems, the author’s poetic narrative took on an inherent power, a shape, reflecting Rich’s “word-mapping” referenced above.


Below, the poet struggles, a bit out-of-focus, in her quest to “construct” herself. Satisfactory images do not come easily:

          Self-portrait, out of focus
          at Hotel Le Saint-Yves, Le Tréport, Normandy

          I was far outside the frame, beyond the pale,
          lost in the margins, smudged.
–Maggie Anderson

          Legs spread beneath a garden party of a dress,
          at the armoire’s mirror I tap the shutter button
          for a self-portrait. You doze off inside wide wings
          of sleep, our Bordeaux, baguette, Boursin
          on the bowed windowsill, sky freckled with late light.

          Here other women once waved white kerchiefs
          at soldiers leaving alabaster shores of Normandy
          for places far from here where we have dug in
          to listen to the roll of surf, terns all whoop and wail.

          In this snapshot, this is how I like to construct myself,
          my image the image of any woman in a hotel room
          watching wind skip along the emptied beach, listening
          for the last milk train coming in on a whistle and grind.

          Self-portrait caught where craggy cliffs of the Atlantic
          hunch over the channel and coast, the flash of camera
          reflected back in a blur, where I wrap myself inside
          the fluff and frill of hotel bedclothes, drift off with you,
          undisturbed, embraced by the long arms of dream.

Within this poem and others I sense the need for dependable role models. Trustworthy men and women who provide nurture at the most vulnerable and formative moments in life.

Moving into Section II, the poet expresses her debt to her “sister” along the road to self-definition … the incomparable Adrienne Rich:

          She, the one you call sister
          Cento for Adrienne Rich

          Wear the weight of equinoctial evening,
          autumn torture the old signs–

          a cracked wall in the garden,
          all night eating the heart out.

          Underneath my lid another eye has opened.
          She is the one you call sister.

          Night life. Letters, journals, bourbon,
          the stars will come out over and over–

          a clear night if the mind were clear,
          you there with your gazing eyes,

          a dark woman, head bent, listening for something
          at the oak table under the ceiling fan.

          This woman the heart of the matter,
          little as I knew you I know you.

          The I you know isn’t me you said.
          It’s not new this condition, just for awhile.

A “Cento” uses lines from another author’s work. The specific poetic sources contained here are referenced in the back of the book. Clearly, Adrienne Rich becomes an anchor, Zawinski’s “true north” in a world where waves are apt to toss her. Just as dependable role models are at a premium, Rich is the poet’s life-rudder.

In Section III, Zawinski's emotional teeth grind into the anomalies of life. The work has been trending in this direction. “Roses at the Coal Drifts,” reveal winter’s bleak conditions:

          Once winter settled across mine patch fields
          everyone shivered inside weather-boarded flats,
          huddled into each other like house wrens under eaves.

The poem goes on to describe how women were used by men who like to “tipple and gamble and get rowdy.” They literally became “house wrens under eaves.”

Zawinski’s concerns transcend women’s issues. Her notes tumble into the light and wind, forceful in their range of subjects. Exhibiting a global perspective, her interests extend to the world of the steelworker, those “Cowboys of the clouds,” the poor, the disadvantaged, boys without fathers, immigrants, even the Feminist movement gets into the action in “What a Doll.”

In all I counted over a dozen poetry forms … all used effectively to show that words have power, words are “maps” that help us face the “damage” that was done, and most im-portantly, see the “treasures” that prevail.

Born Under the Influence, is a gem that triumphs in the present moment and beyond.


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