This review of REVENANTS by Mark Nowak appeared in Publisher’s Weekly sometime in 2000.
A striking example of investigative poetics, this first collection of poems uses ethnographic techniques to research into the customs, history and stories of the poets’s Polish ancestry. Skillfully juxtaposed within this factual framework are mediations on the passing of time through astronomical and seasonal cycles, and the birth and rebirth of the earth. “Without the earth for him or her to walk across, the day, year… / returns (even in / these mountains) / the dimensions of the house to the cyclical paths of the sun” (44). The concept of home and neighborhood grounds many of these poems, which are filled with domestic details: recipes, descriptions of clothing, food sold at markets, descriptions of rooms. From these private and local situations, the poems move from the particular to the universal, reaching across oceans and time to access larger human stories. “We speak / of the mountains there, a spine that connects / her house and mine. / I think about / St. Casmir feeding birds. I think / about the Infant of Prague”(27). In the final section, Back Me Up, Nowak collages together quotes from ethnographer’s field notebooks, scholarly essays, and interviews conducted in Western New York with the Polish community he had grown up with. These assembled fragments both question and affirm the poet-ethnographer’s attempt to find his own identity within the context of his rich cultural heritage. This book is remarkable for its use of research, interviews and passed-down stories as sources of poetic exploration.