Wednesday, July 11, 2012

When Yesterday Was Today - Edmund Siejka


Sometimes it is good to go local. Edmund Siejka is a poet who lives on Long Island, New York, which is also my home. Reading his collection of poems “When Yesterday Was Today” made me feel a little at home. Many of his characters frequent the somewhat familiar setting of New York’s East Village as well as the very familiar setting of Long Island, New York. There is something a little comforting and homey about reading poetry that references newspapers that I know well, streets that I casually drive on and people who use the same local colloquialisms that I do.

My knowledge of poetry is admittedly limited. I have read Shakespeare as well as the many of the classical epic poems throughout my life. I have also explored Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe somewhat deeply. Other than that I have read a few well-known classics from poets such as Emily Whitman and Rudyard Kipling. I am not well versed on modern styles or theory.

With that said I really loved Siejka’s work. The poems are poignant yet not overly sentimental. His style is very accessible and easy to understand but far from simplistic. Siejka focuses on the everyday experiences of mostly everyday people who frequent New York City as well as its suburbs. A few of his poems speak in the voice of American soldiers during the Vietnam War.

When reading these poems several ideas come to mind. One pervasive theme that seems to run through many of the works is the exploration of change that we humans experience over the course of life. Many of the poems focus on a narrator looking back at earlier years and pondering life’s transformations both in himself as well as in others.

One of the more interesting looks at these changes is contained in “Sister Elizabeth”, a poem about a Catholic school nun who mercilessly administered corporal punishment to students. Siejka catches her later in life:

Over the years
Attitudes changed
Commitments weakened
And Sister, childless and alone, realized
Much too late
That her days of sacrifice and Catholicism
Chastity and prayer
Had been a life against nature”

Most of the poems, unlike the above are not about regret; rather they analyze life’s stages and passages from varying points of view. In what is in my opinion a very wise observation, Siejka concludes in “Autumn”,

I now realize
Life did not change
I did
And what I need now
Are good friends,
Honest talks
And simpler times.”

Siejka’s work should be of interest to anyone who is inclined to explore poetry and thoughts about the East Village, Long Island, or just aesthetically pleasing and philosophical observations about life itself.

Many of his poems can be found here.

When Yesterday Was Today can be purchased at Book Revue in Huntington, New York; St. Mark's Bookstore in the East Village, New York, New York; Cano's in Sag Harbor, New York and Housing Works in Soho, New York, New York. The book can also be taken out from the libraries at Cold Spring Harbor, New York and Seaford New York.

The author’s wife is a colleague and friend of mine. My copy of this book was complimentary.

8 comments:

Caroline said...

At the beginning of the year I signed up for a poetry challange. All I have to do is read one book of poetry. While I love poetry, I hardly read any.
You just reminded me that I have to start. I'd like to read mary Oliver whom I discovered last year.
It must have been nice to read poems which make you feel "at home" sort of. A problem many people have with poetry is that it's often not accessible.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - The other nice thing about these poems is that in terms of language and style they are very accessible. You do not feel that you have to do all that much work when reading them.

At times I have stayed away from poetry and really do need to read more of it. As I have said before there is so much to read and so little time!

Guy Savage said...

Brian, didn't know you lived in Long Island. I'm not too much into modern poets--although I have a couple I read. Much more into the Victorians. And then there's Conrad Aiken...

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Guy - I have lived on the Island my entire life. This was actually the first modern poetry that I have read. I have nothing against it, just have not had the time to delve into it. I need to be interested in less subjects!

Edmund said...

Hi Brian-
Thank you so much for the write up of my book.
When Yesterday Was Today can be purchased at Book Revue in Huntington, LI; St. Mark's Bookstore in the East Village; Cano's in Sag Harbor and Housing Works in Soho.
If you prefer, the book can be taken out from the libraries at Cold Spring Harbor and Seaford.

Regards,

Edmund

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Edmund! So glad that you stopped by. Thanks for the information on finding the book.

Please keep writing the great poetry!

Ryan said...

My great regret is that I have never been able to crack the poetry egg. I'm totally at home in the genre of literary fiction but poetry has, as of yet, not spoken to me.

That Being said, you might be interested in a book called By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart. It's poetic prose and I enjoyed it immensely.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi ryan - Poetry can be challenging and I find that it takes time to really "get it".

Thanks for the recommendation on Smart. I had never hear of her before. I quick look at Wikipedia as well as other information on her works leads me to believe that she was a fascinating and talented writer and person.