Los Angeles Times Review of Tsigan

By CAROL MUSKE-DUKES

 

     Cecilia Woloch's new book, "Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem," is aptly

subtitled. The poems have an impassioned, wandering, breathless style,

as if the author were relating a harrowing tragedy, a story that has

never before been told. And, in a sense, this is the case. 

 

     The background of the Roma, the gypsy people, has never been fully

documented; the elusiveness of the nomadic tribe (both geographically

and historically) is legendary. The poet tracks her paternal grandmother

back to the village in the Carpathian mountains where she was born,

suspecting a blood connection to the gypsies, but her ancestor's origins

remain obscure. There is only the hint of the half-pejorative, half-awed

family reference to gypsy blood that draws Woloch into a kind of

romantic espionage from country to country: 

 

     Twilight: moving east 

     en route to Krosno, moving south 

     toward that corner of the map 

     where Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia touch 

     the upper curve of the crescent moon 

     of the northernmost Carpathians. 

     The Lemki, Wallachians--nomads-- 

     followed the curve of this crescent, traveled 

     the peaks from Romania .... 

 

     She records in single-sentence descriptions that multiply, page to

page, like gravestones, the atrocities committed over the centuries

against the Roma. Still, during her travels, she is warned by a scholar

of gypsy culture that "it would be nonsense to create personal

mythologies." 

 

     This is the question the reader, caught up in the intoxicating

swirl of language, may ask: Are we reading this meditation on diaspora

as the author's desire to document a kind of psychological ancestry or

as a way back to the sources of literary self-invention? 

 

     Perhaps the book's elusive intentions are less compelling than the

poet's own answer to the cautioning scholar: 

 

     I'd like to write 

     my name in snow; 

     I'd like to fly ... 

     into the blank page. 

 

     Like Keats' epitaph--"Here lies one whose name was writ in

water"--Woloch seems to be telling us how the essence of poetry is its

own disappearance into silence, how improbable this mystery has always

been for the bourgeois mind, the government of convention, how removed

is the gypsy soul from the armed borders and maps, from the sad republic

of clocks.