The Rhubarb King
Poems by Sharon Grenz Chmielarz, Cover Art by Andrei A. Tutunov, "Rain in May", 1956, Loonfeather Press, Bemidji, Minnesota, 2006, 60 pages, softcover.
If the cover of The Rhubarb King evokes a long ago childhood, it is no coincidence. Chmielarz grew up in a small South Dakota town with trips north to Grandpa and Grandma's farm near Fredonia, North Dakota in the time when every German Russian she knew was a farmer or ran a store in a farming town, and everyone spoke German--Swabian German--at home and in church. The book is inscribed to Theodore, with a quotation by C. Milosz: "Nobody remembers their names today. And yet their hands were real once."
These fourty-three poems are reader friendly, not obscure. Using scraps of memory, dreams and conversations, Chmielarz searches for the man behind her father and finds the Rhubarb King. Poignant, funny, earthy, threatening, the King dominates her world and the world of this book.
The book is divided into three sections, "The King," "In a Russian Garden," and "Rooms." Poems in "The Rhubarb King" show him driving down Highway 83 (between North Dakota and South Dakota), writing in names and dates in the family Bible, singing in church ("You'd think we two sang, the way the saved sing..,"), slapping down an ace and skating on a pond when he was a boy, "He skated at recess, downhill from the schoolhouse..."
The second section includes poems, among others, about life in Russia; also, a longer, historical poem in prose about German Russians and their houses, and an elegy to Rosina, one of Chmielarz's relatives who didn't emigrate to the U.S. and later starved to death under Stalin.
The third section continues the theme of hands: "Incredible inventions they are. Our constant song that anyone should have been so smart to have thought of making hands. Must have been a German. This last section also includes poems about the Weispfennig house and an estate sale in Fredonia, North Dakota.
The poems "Vinegar," "Bread," and "Tea," evoke the significance of food on the prairie/steppe, but Chmielarz lets the King's words be the final quotation as he describes his kingdom, the land that was to the old German Russians their Eden: He insists my eyes see. "Look! Look! Ain't it beautiful?"
Other poems include: "Long Distance Skating, North Dakota," "From the Photo Album: The German Russians, Their Houses," "In a Russian Garden," "Getting Through Siberia," "Bessarabia in North Dakota," "Cold Lightning in North Dakota," "A World of Its Own: Cabbage," "Weispfenning House, Fredonia, North Dakota," and "North Dakota Estate Sale."
About the Author
Sharon Grenz Chmielarz currently lives in Minneapolis. She's had four books of poetry, one chapbook, three picture books published, and her travel memoirs have been included in anthologies. Chmielarz received Minnesota State Arts Board and Jerome Foundation grants for writing.
The Rhurbarb King
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