1. Muses: What are the titles of the book you submitted to Muses Review? (Please, give the dates of publication and name of publisher.)
The Moonrise Press published two books of my poetry, several online chapbooks, and an anthology. Rose Always - A Court Love Story appeared in paperback and hardcover versions in 2008 and the anthology, Chopin with Cherries: A Tribute in Verse, was published in 2010. The first book is a novella in verse, consisting of poems, brief narrative fragments and stylized excerpts of court records. It tells an unlikely love story between a crime victim and a criminal who saved her life before she knew who he really was. Yet, her love was able to transcend the “toxic shame” and become timelessly beautiful. The poems draw from millennia of love poetry, from Sappho to country music. The book’s dramatic impact rests in emotional contrast between sordid revelations and gentle, hope-filled epiphanies of affection. The second book, Chopin with Cherries, celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Fryderyk (Frederick) Chopin, Poland’s national composer. Over 120 poems by 92 poets include reflections about Chopin’s life, illness, talent, love life, travels, exile in Paris. Other poets write about playing and listening to various pieces of music, such as nocturnes, waltzes, mazurkas, polonaises, sonatas and so forth.
2. Muses: Why do you like to write poetry?
When I talked to composer Iannis Xenakis for my doctoral dissertation back in 1992, he cited Sappho’s line about the intensity of love – written about three thousand years ago, it still has the power to move us. Poetry transcends time. What I put in poems is much more “mine” than all the music history and essay-writing I could ever do. I like capturing little revelations of the sublime beauty of the mountains, or the play of shadows, or wilting roses. I like writing about art and sharing poems with artists and musicians in readings that are multi-media events of organized chaos. My three favorite topics are love, religion and nature. My poetry is often described as philosophical, sophisticated, sensuous, witty, and ethereal. I try to express complex concepts in simple forms. I could describe myself as a “nature mystic” seeing Divine presence everywhere, or as a “Catholic mystic” – since my religious poetry is focused on divine revelations of loving-kindness in the communion of life that we all share. I started writing in English, with a two-fold purpose: to be able to express anything I want in a language that was quite stilted in my mouth, with words mangled by my foreign accent, and to be able to name the unnamable, a complex array of visions and emotions of a homesick exile with PTSD, an overachieving workaholic.
3. Muses: Where were you born?
My hometown is the capital of Poland, Warsaw, or Warszawa (“Var-sha-va”), which was founded 700 years ago and nearly completely destroyed by Nazis after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. After the war, my parents came to study at the Polytechnical University of Warsaw where they met and married. Like Poland’s most famous national poet Adam Mickiewicz and the country’s second Nobel-Prize winner for literature, Czesław Miłosz, I trace my family roots to eastern borderlands of Poland, i.e., what used to be Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and now is Lithuania and Belarus. My father was actually Belarussian and my grandmother spoke that language to us. Their family came from Ukraine and bought land in the villages of Mieleszki and Bielewicze in the Polish part of Russia. They stayed put, but the borders moved, so the village is now back in Poland. My mother is Polish, from the town of Baranowicze, near Mickiewicz’s hometown. After the war, the area went to the Soviet Union and is now in Belarus.
4. Muses: How do you pronounce your first name and last name?
Maja is the common European spelling of “Ma-ya” – a name with roots related to the Latin name of the month of May, and “Maia” (from Greek), which means “great” or “mother.” It is used in Slavic and Scandinavian countries in Europe. In Swedish, it means “pearl” or “beloved” and in Arabic it means “splendid.” In ancient India’s Sanskrit it means “illusion” – so maybe I do not exist at all. “Trochimczyk” (“Tro” like a “pro,” “him” – that man over there, and “chick” – that girl that is just so cute) is a rare Belorussian last name with Greek roots, related to sharing the bread at communion. The word “τροφη” means “bread” in Greek. The last name is also related to the more common Ukrainian and Belorussian last names “Trochim” and “Trofim” – with the same Greek origins. Apparently there is only one Maja Trochimczyk in the entire U.S. and I have yet to find another one in the world.
5. Muses: Do you like to memorize poetry of other poets? If yes, what poems have you memorized?
I cannot memorize poetry in English or other languages any more, just as I cannot really count in English. It has something to do with brain as a computer with two distinct operating systems, one in Polish for math, prayer, and memory, and one in English for daily life, writing, dreams and poetry. I did memorize quite a few Polish classics long ago, including famous fragments by Adam Mickiewicz. I cite one of those in my “Ode of the Lost” (The Cosmopolitan Review, June 2010). However, my best performances from memory are children’s verse by such great Polish poets as Jan Brzechwa or Julian Tuwim whose onomatopoeic “Lokomotywa” (Locomotive) – a description of a train engine starting its wild ride – is a hit even with English audiences, amused when the train disappears in the distance “to-tak-to-to-tak-to-to-tak-to…” (“like this”). Incidentally, I wrote just one poem in Polish, a silly ditty about the centipede looking out the window in the rain…It is my only rhymed poem, too!
6. Muses: Do you join poetry reading sessions? If yes, where? How often?
For over 10 years, I wrote poetry in English for myself and my friends. My daughter persuaded me to apply for the wonderful title of “Poet Laureate of Sunland Tujunga” in 2006; I did not win then (I did this year), but I met lots of poets and joined their groups, such as Chaparral Poets with Jim and Ursula Gibson, Emerging Urban Poets of Don Kingfisher Campbell and Poets on Site of Kathabela and Rick Wilson. Meetings of the Poets on Site served as workshops for Rose Always and Chopin with Cherries – with many contributions to the anthology made by the group’s members. The readings of EUP are traditional, consisting of a featured poet and open mike readers, similar to the ones at Barnes and Noble in Encino (Ron Dvorkin), the Cobalt Café (Rick Lupert), or Beyond Baroque (Marie Lecrivain). I’ve been featured at some of them and attend when I can drive there. I also attend readings at the Ruskin Art Club, Scott Kaestner’s readings at L’Keg Gallery, and James Levine’s at Burbank Barnes & Noble and Priscilla’s.
My favorite readings are by the Poets on Site, held in various locations, because these multi-media events involve artists, dancers, musicians and poets. I love the interactions of all the arts; I have a music history background and broad artistic interests, including photography. Kathabela is a poet, jewelry maker and an amazing “Connector” (to use Malcolm Gladwell’s term from The Tipping Point); her husband, Rick Wilson, a math professor at CalTech, is a flute collector and flautist who can play in any style on any flute, it seems, and he has over 100 of them! The most “famous” project of Poets on Site is the Audio Tour of the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, recently awarded a special prize by the American Museum Association. The tour consists of recorded “stops” at certain items on display in the permanent collection, celebrated with poems and music of Rick’s flute improvisations. You can listen on your cell phone, or on the museum’s website. My “Illuminata” about a Buddhist crown is a part of this project. The most entertaining recent project was “A Tour of the World” in Pasadena, with ethnic music from many countries, classical Indian dancing, and poetry in many languages, including my native Polish. Right now, as the Poet Laureate of my community I participate in monthly readings of Village Poets of Sunland-Tujunga, at Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga. I also just organized a “Maja and Friends” poetry corner for the 7th Annual Puppetry Festival at McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga. Great fun for all!
7. Muses: What course did you take in college?
I have three advanced degrees – two masters degrees from Poland (in musicology from the University of Warsaw, and in sound engineering from F. Chopin Academy of Music, Warsaw), and a doctorate in music history from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. You could say I collect degrees, like citizenships – Polish, Canadian, and American. In Poland, there were no separate undergraduate studies, but the M.A. or M.Sc. programs lasted for five years. History intervened and made my studies so long, you could say. I was ready to start a job as a music journalist for the Polish TV, when the martial law was declared to suppress the Solidarity movement and some of my friends were fired or detained. New employees had to sign an oath of allegiance to the Soviets, so, instead of doing that, I continued on to my second degree, training to be a sound engineer, with summer internships in film, TV, radio production, as well as classical music recordings, and computer music studios. I was really interested in avant-garde music, so I left all these more lucrative professions behind.
8. Muses: Did you pursue higher degrees after college? If yes, please be specific.
When I was still in Poland, in the 1980s, I started working on my doctorate on “space in music” – a heavy-duty philosophical topic mixed in with psychoacoustics, all the way to Al Bregman’s theory of auditory streaming and experimental music by Iannis Xenakis, Louis Andriessen, and Henry Brant, who lived in Santa Barbara, California. I took my dissertation topic with me when I emigrated to Canada in 1988. I finished the whole odyssey in 1994. With 12 years of school education, and two more years of a postdoctoral fellowship from the Canadian government, I studied for the most of my life! McGill University is usually listed as the best in Canada; the School of Music where I studied has been renamed “Schulich School of Music” and has become even better since was there. These were tough years – degrees, children, abysmal poverty – but I have learnt to write in English and, being an “exile,” started writing poetry for myself.
9. Muses: Do you have a poetry website? If yes, what is your website address?
Yes, www.trochimczyk.net and www.moonrisepress.com. I have posted some sample poems there from my two poetry books, Miriam’s Iris (www.trochimczyk.net/miriamsiris.html) and Rose Always (www.trochimczyk.net/rosealways.html). I also have a couple of older chapbooks that I keep out of loyalty to their dedicatees/subjects, and there are links to other poems published online.
10. Muses: Do you teach poetry in high school, or college, etc. ?
I spent eight years as assistant professor at USC, in the Music History and Literature Department of the Thornton School of Music. After a hiatus due to my professional shift into the nonprofit arena (I’m the Director of Planning for Phoenix House in California, responsible for government grants and contract proposals), I’m back to teaching part time. I’m starting things slowly, with a creative writing program at McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga. I taught music history, with an extensive writing component: I made students write more than other professors, because I felt that their writing skills were so abysmally inadequate, even for someone who just wanted a career as a performing musician. As a college graduate, the one thing you need to know is how to read and write. Being functionally literate seems to be the minimum requirement for higher education...
11. Muses: Aside from poetry, what other artistic pursuits do you participate in?
In music, my main field of study and professional activities, I’m not a performer. I stopped playing instruments (viola and piano) to have time for children and work. I have developed an amazing repertoire of Polish lullabies! One of these days, when I have more time, I’ll do more singing, I think. I also love taking pictures of various things, mostly mountains, leaves, and roses from my garden. I used my photographs in both books of poetry, Rose Always and Miriam’s Iris. I also published some of these photographs in other venues, like poetic diversity and The Houston Literary Review. It is fun to do, but I’m not a professional photographer who knows all the technical details of the cameras. Machines turn me off, the more complicated and modern, the worse. Also, I studied ballet as a child, and love to dance. In Heaven, I’ll be a ballerina, for sure. My recent attempts at flamenco dancing were not entirely successful. You will not catch me on Dancing with the Stars.
12. Muses: Do you have any video performance of your poetry? If yes, can you give us the web address.
There are many poems recorded on DVDs of Poets on Site. I participated in all but one of their projects in the past two years. The site to purchase those is: http://www.oldflutes.com/poetsonsite/. My own performances will soon be available on YouTube and DVDs from Moonrise Press. I think I have about 10 poems recorded from various events associated with my Poet Laureate role.
13. Muses: Do you have any positive reviews about your poetry books? If yes, can you give us the web address/es.
Murray G. Thomas really liked my Miriam’s Iris and his review is in the February 2010 issue of Poetix.net, at: http://www.poetix.net/reviews2_10.htm. Thomas writes: “"Rarely does one find a book of poetry which holds together as well as Miriam's Iris. Although presented as a collection of individual poems, it reads like it was composed as a whole, as a single poem of multiple parts.”
I did not think he needed to review Rose Always which is in some ways similar (overarching structure built from small poems), so I did not send it to him. Come to think of it, the Muses Review is the first journal I sent this book to...I made a promise not to publicize it for as long as it was a dangerous thing to do. It is not.
The anthology "Chopin with Cherries" has had, so far, two positive reviews, though both written by poets whose work I sought and included in the anthology. Alison Ross and John Z. Guzlowski are represented by one short poem each among 123 works by 92 poets, so you should not think that they are praising this project just because they are published! They have ample publication records on their own. While both praise my editorial skills and an ability to put together a very well “woven” narrative out of the disparate poems (something that Thomas also pointed out in Miriam’s Iris, maybe I should be a novelist instead…), they like quite different poems, showing that the book has something for everyone!
John Z. Guzlowski in The Cosmopolitan Review, vol. 2 no. 1 (Spring 2010):
14. Muses: Who is the most famous Polish poet (living or dead) in your opinion?
Famous? Among the Poles, or in the world? If the latter, Pope John Paul II takes the honors, though he is not known for his poetry, written when he was still Karol Wojtyla. Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) is the romantic classic who holds keys to the national psyche, with his Pan Tadeusz, a pastoral epic, describing utopian, peaceful life on a country estate, and The Forefather’s Eve, a romantic drama, suffused with a plethora of national and philosophical issues. Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) who won the Nobel Prize for Poetry and spent years as an émigré, teaching at UC Berkeley is a good candidate for the crown, competing with a fellow Noblist, wry and sophisticated, Wisława Szymborska (b. 1923). On the internet, she’s more popular at this time.
15. Muses: Poland is known for Frederick Chopin, a musician and Nicolaus Copernicus, a scientist. Can you name other famous Poles?
Some were mentioned above. Historically, King John III Sobieski (1629-1696) should be remembered for breaking the Siege of Vienna, destroying the Ottoman Empire’s Army, and liberating Europe from the threat of being subjugated by a Muslim invasion. This amazing victory by a small, well trained Polish-Lithuanian army, back in 1683, had other memorable consequences, like the establishment of coffee houses across Europe, with first supplies provided from the loot of the Turkish camp. Americans should know about Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817), an engineer and brigadier general who played a major role in the American War of Independence as well as unsuccessfully tried to defend Poland before it was taken over and divided between three unfriendly neighbors, Russia, Prussia and Austria. There is a great biography of him by Alex Storozynski; highly recommended! Another famous Pole is Maria Skłodowska (1867-1934) universally known as Madame Marie Curie and considered French. She was Polish, but married a Frenchman and spent her adult life in Paris where she worked on the theory of radioactivity, discovered radium and polonium, and was the first person to receive two Nobel Prizes, in physics and chemistry. There are 16 Poles or people of Polish descent on the Nobel Prize list, so I could go on for a very long time.
16. Muses: Name at least three poems you like in your poetry anthology. Why?
I like every single one of them, all 123! Otherwise, I would not have included them at all. One of the earliest submissions came from Marian Kaplun Shapiro, who connected Chopin’s music to Buddhist teaching. Katrin Talbot also found lessons about life in the gentle, expressive music. Emily Fragos reflected on the meaning on beauty in the madhouse that our lives can often be. Sharon Chmielarz, Mark Tardi, and Leonore Wilson brought out cinematographic images associated with the music. Alison Ross talked about “eyeless sun,” and Millicent Borger Accardi thought that Chopin was “more Polish than Poland.” John Z. Guzlowski remembered his father haunted by the noise of German tanks hoping to obliterate the memory of war with Chopin’s music. Georgia Jones Davis and Kathi Stafford thought about Chopin’s sorrow and life. Lois P. Jones and Taoli Ambika Talwar found a richness of sensuous experience in listening. Russell Salamon, Lola Haskins, and Marie Lecrivain heard romance and love in the nocturnes. For Kath Abela Wilson, the romance was of “falling in love with Chopin.” Rick Lupert heard Chopin in a French cathedral, Marlene Hitt – in the wind chimes, and Ruth Nolan from a car radio on the way to Palm Springs. Elizabeth Murawski and Jeffrey Levine reflected on the difficulties of Chopin’s life. Then, of course, there are the classics: the first English translation of Cyprian Kamil Norwid’s “Chopin’s Piano” by Leonard Kress as well as sonnets by Emma Lazarus, and free verse by Amy Lowell and T.S. Eliot. There, I’m starting to quote the table of contents! The list of poets and poems is posted on the website and the two reviews, by Alison Ross and John Z. Guzlowski, include some quotations of their favorites. In addition, there is a sample of poems I selected for The Cosmopolitan Review (Spring 2010 issue). My own poems arise from memories of my childhood summers in Polish villages, hearing Chopin in the golden fields at harvest time or while eating cherries up the tree in the orchard.
17. Muses: What is your religion?
I was raised an atheist and converted to Catholicism as an adult, after a lot of soul searching. With its incense, robes, priests, and outdated rituals, the Catholic Church seemed the last place to find God, but I was wrong. I’m an usher in my parish, Our Lady of Lourdes of Tujunga. I could describe myself as a Catholic mystic, drawn as I am to mystical poetry including visions and love poems of Hadewijch, Dante, St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the writings of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit who was a paleontologist and a visionary mystic. His idea of a “noosphere” – the sphere of mind surrounding the globe as a uniquely human creation – is now being gradually put in place by the electronic connectivity of the Internet. His belief was that the process of evolution is not finished, but we are all involved in it, helping evolution move along, while we, the whole humanity, evolve into a cosmic Body of Christ, like sparks in the cosmic fire. These visions brought him close to being expelled from the Church, while he should have been declared one of the most important saints. He reconciled science and faith, for one…
18. Muses: Where can we buy your poetry books? (Please, give the exact website address of each book.)
The paperback editions of Rose Always and Miriam’s Iris are already available everywhere, i.e., all over the internet, from Moonrise Press, the publisher, lulu.com, the distributor and the partners, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a variety of internet book companies around the world. Chopin with Cherries will soon be available everywhere, but now only through Moonrise Press and Lulu. All these books are now available in two formats: print paperback or PDF download with color photographs and illustrations.
Rose Always: www.moonrisepress.com/rosealways.html
Chopin with Cherries: www.moonrisepress.com/chopin.html
19. Muses: Which poetry form is better: free verse or metered verse?
Depends for whom: it is all good, if it is well done. As a poet, I like writing in free verse, but it has to be “metered” in a way – without rhymes, but with some sort of rhythms, repetitions of refrains, or assonances that make it “poetic” and transcend what’s written beyond being disguised prose, simply divided into short lines. I really do not like the genre of “prose poetry” at all; neither do I write long rhymed poems. My non-Polish favorites are Emily Dickinson, Rainer Maria Rilke, T.S. Eliot, and e.e.cummings, so this taste informs what I like writing. But rhymes are good for humor. I love limericks of all sorts! Sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, are just too formal to my taste. I started writing haiku and haibun, having so many friends involved in those art-forms. Alas, it is not a natural outlet for me. I am talkative, and always have more to say…