WHY IT IS I CHOOSE TO BE ALIEN
SELECTED POEMS OF LAURA ULEWICZ EDITED BY STEPHEN VINCENT
Laura Ulewicz’s brave and original poems suffered in her life from the neglect that many women writers of the mid-twentieth century experienced. It was a miracle that they were found and preserved in this daring collection, so free from sentiment, and so keenly focused on the world around her. From her working class Detroit Polish family and its rituals to the urgency of gardens growing in her adopted California locations, from the Haight in the Sixties to the small Delta town of Locke, travels outside the country, particularly an extended stay in London, opened her eyes and engaged her poetic voice in a language that is both material and realistic, quotidian and devotional: “My lady-mother of discipline would snip the ramblers / Selecting the taut buds over the sprung clusters— / Buds hinting promise. It was her patient joy / To place them in a vase to watch them open.” It should be our pleasure and patient joy that her writing, found wet and moldy in her Locke basement, can finally be sampled and appreciated in this tantalizing new volume. Read it to hear a spirit too lively to disappear or obey the death sentence we eventually all share.
It is a joyous occasion to have a selected poems of Laura Ulewicz, a poet who might otherwise have continued to elude me if not for Stephen Vincent’s and Delete Press’s efforts. Reading her, I am aware of a person extra-sensitive to change, movement, and uprooting—both figural and literal. (Is this because she was the daughter of Polish American immigrants, as Vincent seems to suggest in his introduction?) Here, natural and cultural forces collide and co-mingle with Ulewicz’s biographical disclosures, reminiscences, and sudden illuminations. With diaspora on her mind, this book traces a series of tenuous belongings, a spiritual rootedness seasoned by encounter, errancy, nostalgia, and fleeting despair. As Ulewicz writes in a poem regarding her sojourn in Jamaica, “I kept wanting to go home / But I was home.” Like the most significant poets of her generation, if not the most celebrated, there is the sense that almost anything can enter into the poem, a porosity prompted by her music.
Taut, vivid, and increasingly relevant in today’s dizzying contradiction called America, Laura Ulewicz’s work exemplifies the heaviest inheritances we receive from postmodern poetry: its tender exhaustion, its urgency to report on the lives of those too often overlooked, and its insistence on challenging those standards of inclusion. This voice, unlike many celebrated writers of her generation, speaks as neither prophet nor professor, but human witness, with one foot still stuck in the mud of something dying, and the other climbing out to tell about it. Our duty as heirs is to listen, to lean in, to refuse to turn away from the telling, and to remember even what literary history has allowed us to forget.
This volume, as an act of literary excavation, salvages and preserves a remarkable body of work from the selective erasures of history and culture. To read Laura Ulewicz now, a name unknown to most readers of poetry, is to actively expand the literary record, particularly the constellations around the Beats and Jack Gilbert, in whose early relationships Ulewicz found herself at the meteoric start to her career. Defying categories in writing and in action, Ulewicz was, is, one of our finest postwar American poets. She wrote and published poems throughout her life, but was most active during the 1950s through the 70s. It is astonishing that these poems have existed for so long, forgotten. Solicited for inclusion in Donald Allen’s landmark anthology, New American Poetry 1945-1960, and for a Penguin triptych alongside Denise Levertov and Sylvia Plath, Ulewicz’s site-specific attentions are as modern, as accomplished and free of periodicity as poetry gets. The book contains an informative preface by Ulewicz’s executor and the editor of this fine collection, Stephen Vincent, describing her extraordinary life and literary activities in rich detail.
Why I Choose to be Alien is 98 pages. Year 2022.
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Stephen Vincent’s poetry books include After Language: Letters to Jack Spicer (BlazeVox Books, 2012); Walking Theory (Junction Press, 2006); Triggers (Shearsman Books, 2004); Sleeping with Sappho (faux ebooks, 2003) and Walking (Junction Press, 1996). From 1972 to 1981, he was the publisher of Momo’s Press, which first introduced the work of such writers as Ntozake Shange, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Hilton Obenzinger, Beverly Dahlen, and Jessica Hagedorn. In the Eighties, he was the director of Bedford Arts, Publishers, which became internationally recognized for the publication of books featuring the works of Masahisa Fukase, David Park, Roy DeForest, Miriam Schapiro, Mark Klett, and Christo, among others. Throughout his career, Vincent has occasionally taught Creative Writing at schools, including the University of Nigeria, San Francisco State University, and the San Francisco Art Institute. Since 2007, in addition to writing, his drawings have been featured in exhibitions at the Braunstein/Quay Gallery (San Francisco, 2009), the Steven Wolf Gallery (San Francisco, 2009), and the Jack Hanley Gallery (New York, 2011). The work has been subject to three books, The First 100 Days of Obama (Steven Wolf Fine Arts, 2009), The Last 100 Days of the Presidency of Barack Obama (871 Fine Arts, 2016), and Poetry Reading Haptics: The Primer (BlazeVox Books, 2022). He lives in San Francisco.
A review of Marcella Durand's The Prospect at Black Earth Institute.