Thursday, May 31, 2018

On Chopin's Mazurkas and Grateful Conversations (Vol. 9, No. 4)

Chopin's Piano at the Polish Library in Paris

I really identified with Chopin and Polish exiles, when I wrote my Ode of the Lost, and How to Make a Mazurka, two poems about nostalgia of emigres who lost something they did not think they could miss, something as basic as the color of the summer sky, or taste of a special kind of cake at Easter. 

Both poems have now been published in a brand-new anthology, Grateful Conversations, that I co-edited with Kathi Stafford. It includes workshop poems and self-portraits in poetry by my writing group, Westside Women Writers, that I started to attend in 2008.  Ten years of monthly workshops documented in 280 pages, including poems and photographs.  The preface and table of contents are reproduced on Moonrise Press Blog. I also cite three of my poems on my Poetry Laurels blog .

"Polish Sky" torn-paper collage by Barbara Gawronski in a California desert. 

An Ode of the Lost

~ to Adam Mickiewicz and all Polish exiles

Tired exiles in rainy Paris listen to Mickiewicz 
reciting praises of woodsy hills, green meadows—
distant Lithuania, their home painted in Polish verse, 
each word thickly spread with meaning, 
like a slice of rye bread with buckwheat honey.

“Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! ty jesteś jak zdrowie.
Ile cię trzeba cenić, ten tylko się dowie,
Kto cię stracił”—he says, and we, homeless Poles
without ground under our feet, concur, 
sharing the blame for our departure. 
There’s no return. 

Are not all journeys one way? Forward, 
forward, go on, “call that going, call that on.” 
The speed of light, merciless angel with a flaming sword,
moves the arrow forward. Seconds, minutes 
stretch into years. Onwards. Go. 
The time-space cone limits the realm of possibility. 
If you stay, you can go on. If you leave—

Can you find blessing in the blur of a moment? 
In a glimpse of soft, grassy slopes shining 
like burnished gold before the sun turns purple? 
Can you learn to love the sweet-fluted songs 
of the mockingbird, forget the nightingale? 

How far is too far for the lost country 
to become but a dream of ancient kings—
where children never cry, wildflowers bloom,
and autumn flutter of brown, drying leaves 
whispers of the comforts of winter? 

Sleep, sleep, eternal sleep, 
in the spring you will awaken…

NOTE: Quotation in Polish ( “My country! You are as good health: How much one should prize you, he only can tell who has lost you”) is from Adam Mickiewicz’s Invocation to Pan Tadeusz, or the Last Foray in Lithuania. The second quotation is from Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable.

The second poem reprinted in the Grateful Conversations was inspired by Chopin's mazurkas and dedicated to my maternal grandparents, where I heard Chopin's mazurkas and ate those made by my grandmother.  The mazurkas above are California variations on her recipes, with addition of ripe strawberries, not available at Polish Easter tables, to the chocolate-almond-shortbread mazurka, and candied orange peels decorating the royal mazurka of dried fruits and nuts. 

How to Make a Mazurka

~ after Chopin’s Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4,
   for my Grandparents, Stanisław and Marianna Wajszczuk,  
   who could play and bake their mazurkas like no one else

Take one cup of longing
for the distant home that never was,
one cup of happiness that danced
with your shadows on the walls

of Grandpa’s house, while he played
a rainbow of folk tunes
on his fiddle, still adorned
with last wedding’s ribbons

          mix it – round and round to dizziness

stir in some golden buzz of the bees
in old linden tree, add the ascent
of skylark above spring rye fields,
singing praises to the vastness of blue

           mix it – round and round to dizziness

add chopped walnuts, figs, dates
and raisins, pour in some juice
from bittersweet grapefruit
freshly picked in your garden

            mix it – round and round to dizziness

add dark grey of rainclouds in Paris
that took Chopin back to the glimmer
of candles in an old cemetery
on the evening of All Souls’ Day

         mix it – round and round to dizziness

bake it in the cloudless heat
of your exile, do not forget to sprinkle
with a dollop of sparkling crystals,
first winter’s snowflakes at midnight 

Other notable recordings: 

Swiatoslaw Richter in 1950 in Moscow:

Walter Gieseking in 1938:

Ignacy Jan Paderewski in 1912:

Imagine how this Mazurka could have sounded if you could hear Chopin playing it in Nohant or in his apartment in Paris!

Reproduction of Chopin's last salon at Place Vendome in Paris with his piano, 
Chopin Museum Warsaw, photo (C) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk

The Royal Mazurka, California orange version

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sharing the Delight in Chopin's Music - More Poems for the Spring (Vol. 9, No. 3)

Lilac, By Maja Trochimczyk

The Chopin with Cherries anthology of Chopin-themed poems was published by Moonrise Press in 2010. Perhaps it is time for an update and a follow-up? There have been many more poems about Chopin written since then.

Vintage Postcards ca 1900, Krakow. From Chopin with Cherries.

One collection is found on the website called "Hello Poetry" ( where I read  whole series of poems from around the world. Here's a sample that resonated with me.  I'm illustrating the poems with my photographs of spring flowers from Descanso Gardens in La Canada, CA. For music interludes, I picked some interpretations by Valentina Lisitsa, whose expressive  hands create magic on the keyboard. There is one by another Valentina, Igoshina, who looks just oh, so romantic, in her ballgown by the piano...

Crocus by Maja Trochimczyk


Find a beautiful piece of art. If you fall in love with Van Gogh or Matisse or John Oliver Killens, or if you fall love with the music of Coltrane, the music of Aretha Franklin, or the music of Chopin - find some beautiful art and admire it, and realize that that was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less.

by Tiana

Forget-me-nots, by Maja Trochimczyk

It is raining Chopin

It is raining Chopin

Reminding me that together we are an arpeggio
Alone, I am played in legato
I plant myself in every horizon and
at one end of each rainbow; the other end belonging to somebody else.
I watch the clock and can tell it is 8:00 when the train passes
but I can’t see the hands move.
It is 2012 not because of the fireworks in
limbo between December and January, but because
I can feel the red yarn in me tightening –
I have less.

By Emma

Azalea, by Maja Trochimczyk


torrential teardrops join pavement
transforming surface to sheets of glass
patient trees plants flowers quenching their thirst
stray animals bemused hovering with caution
only to find shelter in the rustic shed
the good Samaritan leaves scraps
through the makings of savory soup
passing cars washed in rain
will sparkle come sun
lounging indoors focusing through drenched windows
raindrops like opals
pattering on copper roof
cascade as peaceful shower
fairytale sound, sight and smells
invite nestling with a book
cup of tea and scone complete the pallet
with glowing candles
a sanctuary of Chopin preludes
surrendering to peaceful sleep

by Lorilynn

Magnolia reflections, by Maja Trochimczyk

Melancholic Chopin

Such passion flows from fingers

that scale the controlled embellishments
of Chopin.
The melodies swirl in your brain
as you try to imagine caressing
the ivories with every female voice
that Chopin encountered.
Expressing profoundly the experience
of Chopin's work cannot be described
on paper.
It must be felt.
Only then will you find passion in its raw form.

by  Wíštfûł Wáñdêręr 

Lilac, by Maja Trochimczyk

                        Listen: Chopin's Waltz Op. 69, No. 1 in A-Flat, by Valentina Lisitsa

I danced

There on that Orange flavor

I danced on a stick of cinnamon
The aroma from the petal blue berries swishing past the Gum trees.
I danced through the night with awareness of the other side.
There I touched the essence of hew.
Oh true dancing on a sonnet from Chopin.
Swans on the canal swimming sweet tunes of yesteryear, oh 
to be there again ..oh the Green grass.oh to touch the green grass
that moves to your innocent love.oh lovely.

Come dance all around the world.

by RGKirk

Azalea Forest by Maja Trochimczyk

Come Listen

Come listen to.

Come listen by.
Come listen, come listen

The sun dapples in adjectives

in a language without words.
The movement of the leaf
like the dance of the honey bee.
Through a turmulent stream of hellos
they talk to each other.
Can you hear them my darling?
Come listen to.
Come listen by.
Come listen, come listen.

Not many can, anymore.

If ever they could (which I doubt).
Ancestors of flat grey we paint
with colorful commentary,
but it's too much to hold.
It's too much to believe.
Their ears-- closed as their scions.
Come listen to.
Come listen by.
Come listen, come listen.

You can train yourself--

your ears, your eyes.
to catch the whispers of 
nightlace and dayfire.
Like the small entices of 
old friends-- long lost.  
Forever there.
The Chopin of the rain,
the Dead Kennedys of  
eyes in the night.
Just listen to.
Just listen by

Just listen, just listen.

by Pete Badertscher

First apple blossoms, by Maja Trochimczyk

In films, Chopin's music appears often, especially TV series from Korea and China. Whenever there is a scene of luxury, someone enjoying their villas, their wines, their riches, there is Chopin in the background. Whenever there is a scene of melancholy love -  "happiness in the rain" sort of thing - there's Chopin. Whenever there is a sweet nostalgic moment of someone who lost a loved one - there is Chopin.  Sometimes, Chopin's music appears as contrast: when a vicious killer, gangster, an all-out-evil person, sits there and listens to Chopin while plotting new crimes. But that is rare. "Beauty for beauty" seems to be the main "topos" associated with the expressive use of Chopin's music on the small screen. And why not?
Violets, by Maja Trochimczyk

The majority of poets I encountered on "Hello Poetry" also used Chopin's music as a starting point to reflections about love, desire, loss, missing someone desperately or remembering fondly the nights of gentle kisses and wine-red-hot passion... But there is so much more than that, so much more than that... As the last poet in the series above has noted. "Come, listen..."

Lilac, by Maja Trochimczyk

But I would not be a poet loving Chopin, if I did not have the last, poetic word on my own blog. I wrote about Chopin and violets in 2014 ( Yes, he definitely loved the delicate scent of violets.

On 21 November 1848 Chopin wrote to his friend Wojciech Grzymala to with instructions how to prepare his apartment for his arrival back in Paris: "On Friday, order a bouquet of violets so that the parlor is fragrant - let me have some poetry at home, upon returning."

Spring is...

...the poetry of violets
mist of lilac perfuming 
the air outside your window

Spring is...
...veiled by the Nocturnes - 
Chopin's notes floating up
into galaxies of nocturnal light

...sweetened by white hyacinth  
announced by the lively whistles 
of red-winged blackbirds in your garden

Spring is...
...forgetting darkness, oh, 
the densest, most suffocating 
darkness of death, winter, killings

... dark memories erased
by the flutter of sparrows' wings
and flurries of piano notes carried by wind

Spring is...
...the magic of the Minute 
Waltz and a half-forgotten melody 
of the nightingale - calling you back home, 

into childhood, back to Poland, not yet lost - 

(c) 2018 by Maja Trochimczyk

Anemone, by Maja Trochimczyk

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Celebrating Van Gogh's Mulberry Tree and Endless Summers (Vol. 9, No. 2)

Van Gogh, La Méridienne oú La sieste, d'apres Millet

Could Chopin ever be friends with Vincent Van Gogh? If thinking of their personal style and social circles, the answer should be: absolutely not! Chopin was a Parisian dandy, wearing elegant, tailor-made clothes and appearing in salons of the aristocracy. He was a teacher of princesses and a friend of princes. In contrast, Van Gogh lived a simple, provincial life in southern France, wandered through the fields, or sat sharing meals with peasants in a local tavern.

Chopin's birthplace in Zelazowa Wola near Warsaw. Vintage Postcard. 

Yet, the intensity of the art of both creative souls indicates a spiritual and creative affinity. Deep inside, they were kindred spirits, it seems to me - sensitive, emotional, lonely, somewhat embittered and incessantly creating, completely dedicated to their art. Also, they both loved the open fields in the summer...Many of Chopin's letters from rainy, grey Paris to his family in Poland contain notes on nostalgia for the childhood summers in the village - with folk music, sunlight, and fun! (Chopin's Mazurka Op. 7 No. 1, played by Artur Rubinstein)

Reconstruction of the double portrait of Chopin and Sand by Delacroix, 1838.

Chopin's death-bed by Teofil Kwiatkowski, 1849

Chopin loved art and artists - his best friends included Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) who painted the famous double portrait of Chopin and George Sand, later split into two, and Teofil Kwiatkowski (1809-1891) who painted the composer at his death-bed, surrounded by family and artistic friends. He valued highly the art of Auguste Clesinger, a sculptor who later married George Sand's daughter, Solange (Chopin took their side against Sand) and, after the composer's death, designed his tombstone in Paris. 

Chopin's tomb with sculpture by Clesinger

Mentions of painters are rarely found in Chopin's letters to family or friends, though in an early letter, the 15-year old pianist writes about his own artistic efforts. On August 26, 1825 from Szafarnia to family in Warsaw, Fryderyk mentioned his sketch of a folk musician from the village, that he drew after witnessing an impressive harvest performance by villagers. He refers to himself as possibly being a "painter, blinded to the quality of his own work." The most notable part of the letter, however, is its extensive description of the folk performance: hearing the music live in the village provided Chopin with a life-long inspiration for composing mazurkas and stylizing village music into high art. 

Another famous letter to family, of 18-20 July 1845, written from Nohant, is filled with descriptions of sculptures as part of artistic news from France. While the letter mentions some artists by name, its title to fame lies in its discussion of nostalgia and remembering Poland's fields in rainy Paris - being in "imaginary spaces" (espaces imaginaires) of the heart. It clearly reveals the homesickness and loneliness of the composer, even surrounded by nature on the beautiful summer estate in Nohant. 

The Anthology is now available on

Paintings by Van Gogh inspired many poets, most recently gathered in an anthology Resurrection of a Sunflower (2016) edited by Catfish McDaris and published by Pski's Porch.  I was thrilled to have three poems included in that almost 600 page brick of a book. It is available at the Van Gogh Museum in Holland and online, if you want to know what paintings most inspired the poets. (Mazurka Op. 7 No. 2, by Artur Rubinstein)

My "Mulberry Song" published in "Resurrection of  a Sunflower" was reprinted on the Poetry Laurels Blog in May 2017 - and it is found below.

Another poem that I wrote "after" a Van Gogh's painting is entitled "Azure" and was inspired by  La Méridienne oú La sieste, d'apres Millet from 1890 - an astounding painting of azure, sapphires and gold yellows that I saw in Paris in 2014 (see the image above). Since, my blog also reports on Monet's Waterlilies with a cycle of poems inspired by those amazing paintings, and contains tons of photos from Paris, I'm reproducing the poem below.


         ~ after Noon by Van Gogh and Millet

     Half of the day's work is done.
     She curls into a ball by his side
     He stretches up, proudly thinking
     of the bread they will bake,
     the children they will feed.
     Noon rays dance on the straw
     they cut with their sickles 
     to finish the harvest when the sky 
     is still the bluest of summer azure.

     She took the first fistful of stems 
     solemnly, among the rolling waves 
     of wheat ocean. She made a figurine,
     placed it high up on the wooden fence 
     overlooking their fields. She learned
     it from her mother, her mother before her,
     generations reaching back to that first 
     handful of grain, droplets of wine 
     and water spilled at its feet. 
     The offering for the goddess of harvest. 
     They move together in consort
     in the white gold of silence.
     They rest together, two pieces
     in a puzzle of bread to come.

(c) 2016 by Maja Trochimczyk, published in Resurrection of a Sunflower (Mazurka Op. 17 no. 2,  played by Yundi)

In 2013, the creative writing group I belong to, the Westside Women Writers, held a workshop dedicated to Van Gogh's paintings. Two of them, in fact: selected from Van Gogh holdings at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.  We wrote about Winter and about The Mulberry Tree. Here are poems about The Mulberry Tree that will appear in the Westside Women Writers anthology, "Grateful Conversations" (edited by Kathi Stafford and Maja Trochimczyk, forthcoming from Moonrise Press).

The Mulberry Tree by Vincent Van Gogh at the Norton Simon Museum

Wild Hair

Millicent Borges Accardi

Yellow mustard moss, green white
Gray lines.
A blue box learning
Up against the tree
Or perhaps a leather
mail bag
Near by.
Each stroke, a finger
A pushing back
of thick
The curl of a brush end
For leaves
And puffs of colorful

Millicent Borges Accardi's new poetry collection may be found on Amazon: Only More So @ Amazon and more information about her on her website:

Another poet inspired by The Mulberry Tree, Madeleine S. Butcher, imagined a lovely scene in the countryside, while Vincent painted and a child kept him company:

Sophie and Vincent

(after Van Gogh’s painting “The Mulberry Tree”)

Madeleine S. Butcher

It could be that this mulberry tree
is low enough for a child to climb
for a fine hiding place 
to survey her domain 
of far hills and reaching fields.

She might hide from her nurse
who is calling her name,
a wee figure almost gone - past the long fields -
her white apron flies up like a miniature flag.

And so this child becomes part of a branch
so still she is, sitting above 
in the tangle of limbs 
under cover of leaves
waiting for her friend in their mulberry tree -

with his satchel of chalks and charcoal and pens
who sits by the trunk in his wide-brimmed hat
fingering his pastels, ruffling the paper
and slowly, he too,  grows quiet and still, 
gazing out at the fields and the following hills,
their silent domain.

The afternoon moves along
to the swirl of  leaves and buzzing bees,
the soft grit of chalk, the scratch of pen
the heel of his hand blending sky to earth
wind to cloud, branch to leaf -
fields and sheltering hills. 

The afternoon moves along with the sun
and an occasional shiver of limb and leaf 
as mulberries are picked and many are eaten
but most are dropped in a perfect lazy rhythm,
down straight down on his wide-brimmed hat.

(c) by Madeleine S. Butcher, forthcoming in "Grateful Conversations" anthology

Kathi Stafford, the co-editor of the "Grateful Conversations" anthology, saw in the painting something quite different.


Kathi Stafford

               There is no blue without yellow and without orange.  
               ~Vincent Van Gogh

The branches flare out. They'll go so dead
in winter that one will think, What can come back
from that? But Lazarus arms surge unbound
in spring. Now the surface blurs orange and yellow,
purple fruit hidden in the air. A cauldron whirls

Deep beyond the woods.  Mitten-shaped leaves
paw what the bark stands down, as an autumn
brush heads  to closure. What can arise from
this consistent loss?  A plain mystery shows itself
in the roots, twisted, Medusa hair swirling 

Asps into the cold air. The tree collides with night,
stars and all.  Fence posts built from the Mulberry,
haphazard in night air.  Fruit       bark        hues
blaze in a bounty.  I hold them in my hands

as well.  Precious are the stripes of the wounded tree.

(c) 2013 by Kathi Stafford, forthcoming in "Grateful Conversations" 

For me, the Mulberry Tree is a supernova, exploding in an invitation to stop and feel the connection to Cosmos:

The Mulberry Song
~ after van Gogh’s Mulberry Tree at the Norton Simon Museum

Maja Trochimczyk

I am the mulberry tree, ablaze with color
before the last day of autumn
I came into being in a flurry of brush strokes
on a cardboard, under the azure expanse of unfinished sky
turquoise – into cobalt – into indigo
green – into chartreuse – into amber – into gold
buds into blossoms – into fruit – into earth
to fall – to fall not – to end – to end not –
to begin
The brightest star, an ancient supernova,
I am aglow but for a moment
I outshine reality with artifice
exploding off the canvas
paint – paintbrush – swansong
leaves of the earth – ripples in the stream – crystals in the air –
aflame, all aflame
I make magic of the mundane shape of the world
sic est gloria mundi
it is – it will be – it is willed to be –
once captured in a frenzy of light, becoming
time transfigured into swirls of awareness
crystallizing at the edge of oblivion
I am the mulberry tree – I am the alchemist tree –
let my song fill your day till it glows –
become pure gold with me

(C) 2016 by Maja Trochimczyk

The Mulberry Tree painting was so inspirational, that I dedicated another poem to this out-of-this-world tree - and it was recently published in the "Eclipse Moon" - an anthology of the Southern California Haiku Study Group edited by William Scott Galasso (2017).

 Vincent’s Mulberry Tree

There are no seasons in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, or rather it is always the beginning of autumn, when you approach the blazing mulberry tree of Vincent Van Gogh.  It came into being on a piece of cardboard, in a flurry of brush strokes, under the azure expanse of unfinished sky. I see the bare cardboard peek from under the cobalt and indigo traces, layered briskly by Vincent’s  paintbrush, in a frenzy of passion. This tree is the brightest star, an ancient supernova: it glows, but for a moment. Yet, it outshines reality with artifice, exploding off the wall, imprinting itself onto my retina, to endlessly flourish in my mind.  I come back two months later, and there it is, still exploding, still golden, still dancing in a frenzy of light, 

time transfigured into

gold swirls of awareness –
the alchemy of art

  The anthology took its title from a haiku by Diana Ming Jeong: 

  eclipse moon
  an abyss forged
  over time

Now that we have returned to  moonlight, it is time to listen to a nocturne (Op. 9 No. 2, illustrated with Van Gogh's "Starry Night"):