An Interview with Linda Nemec Foster
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Describe your book Amber Necklace from Gdańsk

Amber Necklace from Gdańsk was published in late 2001 by Louisiana State University Press. This full-length collection of poems was inspired by my Polish American heritage and my first visit to my family's homeland in 1996.

The book poignantly reflects on the immigrant experience—an experience of loss and discovery, of ambivalence and pride, of deep tragedy and redemption. My own ethnicity as the daughter of second-generation immigrants from Poland is colored by America's somewhat disinterested view of the "other" Europe—only recently emerged from history's dark shadow—and of a country that for over a hundred years did not exist as a political entity.

In the book's opening poem, "The Awkward Young Girl Approaching You," I struggle with this sense of ethnic identity:

Who will speak for the dispossessed,
those who come from nowhere,
whose birthplace cannot be found
on any map...?

My attempts to reclaim an ethnic heritage, to search for myself in the mirror of my family's history, resonate throughout my verse.

Divided into four parts and employing a variety of poetic styles and forms, Amber Necklace from Gdańsk, moves from lyric childhood memories and descriptions of immigrant life to prose poems that interweave the mythic and historic past with the present. The book captures the stark sense of loss that permeates Poland—from Chopin's self-exile, to the silence of rain, to the overwhelming horror of the Holocaust—and concludes with a group of poems that reveals resilience in the face of a haunted past and an iconoclastic present. It is my hope that this book resonates with the land, history, and culture of my ancestors. Who will speak for the dispossessed? These poems will.

What motivated you to write it?

When I was 13, my grandmother encouraged me to write to a cousin in Poland who was my same age. Even though I could not understand Polish and Maria could not understand English, we had other relatives translate for us when the letters arrived: my mother and father translated Maria's letters for me and Maria had one of her brothers translate my letters for her. We continued to write through high school and college, but lost track of each other after Maria got married.

Then, 12 years ago, Maria wrote to my mother asking for my address and we started up our correspondence all over again—as if all the years had just melted away. In 1996, I traveled to Poland for the first time with my husband and daughter to visit the family I had only heard about but never seen. Waiting for us at the Krakow Airport was Maria—her arms filled with bouquets of wildflowers to welcome me "home." At that moment I knew I had to write about the country, landscape, and family my four grandparents left behind when they came to America. This trip was a significant event in my life and an amazing wellspring of inspiration for my writing.

How long did you spend writing it?

Most of the poems in Amber Necklace from Gdańsk were written within a 2-3 year time frame.

What was the most challenging aspect of the research/writing?

The most challenging aspect was being open to the emotional truth behind the poems as opposed to the "factual reality" of certain events. As a good friend told me: "You're writing poems that use metaphors and images not a newspaper article that lists 'only the facts.'" That advice was extremely liberating for me.

What other books would you recommend to someone who likes this one, or who is interested in its subject matter?

I would definitely recommend books of poetry by contemporary Polish poets (in English translation, of course!). Some of the most stunning poetry that's been written in any language since World War II has been Polish poetry. I'd suggest books by Czeslaw Milosz (Nobel Prizewinner in Literature), Zbigniew Herbert, Wislawa Szymborska (another Nobel Prizewinner in Literature), and Adam Zagajewski.

See Also: Linda Nemec Foster Interview on Amber Necklace from Gdańsk »