Holocaust Remembrance Day Reading

Tsigan. The Gypsy Poem

As part of International Holocaust Remembrance Day we invite you to a performance based on Cecilia Woloch's book Tsigan. The Gypsy Poem.

Cecilia Woloch is an acclaimed American writer and poet, lecturer at the University of Southern California, author of the volumes Carpathia (2009), Late (2003), and Sacrifice (1997), whose poetry is full of references to the history of her own family – Romani from the Carpathians.

The performance is a personal, lyrical story about searching for one's identity, of the memories of ancestors intertwined with the history of wartime trauma. A story filled with music, uncovering the painful history of Romani stigmatization. A moving testimony of the Romani's cultural and historical heritage.

Tsigan. The Gypsy Poem also involves elements of Cecilia Woloch's research work, enriched with music for an excellent music and drama performance.

Cecilia Woloch is the author of six collections of poems, most recently Carpathia (BOA Editions 2009), which was a finalist for the Milton Kessler Award, and Tzigane, le poème Gitan (Scribe-l’Harmattan 2014), the French translation of her second book, Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem. The text of Tsigan has also been adapted for multi-media performances in the U.S. and Europe, and is currently being translated into Polish for presentation at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Her novella, Sur la Route, a finalist for the Colony Collapse Prize, is forthcoming from Quale Press in 2015, along with a new collection of poems, Earth, recently awarded the Two Sylvias Press Prize for the chapbook. Other honors include The Indiana Review Prize for Poetry, The New Ohio Review Prize for Poetry, the Scott Russell Sanders Prize for Creative Nonfiction, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, CEC/ArtsLink International, Chateau de la Napoule Foundation, the Center for International Theatre Development and others. Her work has been translated and published in French, German, Polish and Ukrainian. She collaborates regularly with musicians, dancers, visual artists, theatre artists and filmmakers. The founding director of Summer Poetry in Idyllwild and The Paris Poetry Workshop, she has also served on the faculties of a number of creative writing programs and teaches independently throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Language: English with translation into Polish.

POLIN Museum

Paris Poetry Workshop

Write in the City of Light

June 14-20, 2014

 Part of a 3-week à la carte experience for poets in Paris

with a range of offerings extending from June 6-June 27


Cecilia Woloch invites twelve poets to join her this summer in Paris, “the city of light,” a city that loves writers, and that nourishes the imagination and the creative spirit. The Paris Poetry Workshop offers English-speaking poets the opportunity to come together for intensive workshops, intimate talks and public readings.  Participants will be inspired to generate new poems as well as hone their craft, to bring their writing to new levels of precision and depth.


This year's Paris Poetry Workshop is also scheduled to coincide with a number of exciting literary events allowing participants to spend one, two or three weeks immersed in poetry and in Paris.


Join Cecilia in Paris by June 6 for the launch of the French version of her book Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem. During this week before the Paris Poetry Workshop begins, Cecilia will be available for one-on-one meetings and manuscript consultations for a reduced fee. 


The Paris Poetry Workshop will commence on Saturday, June 14 ending in time for the Fête de la Musique on June 21. The Marché de la Poésie will be taking place in Paris at this time, a four-day gathering of poets and poetry publishers. Other internationally acclaimed poets will be in residence in Paris and will join us for talks, readings, and festivities.


Le Scribe-l’Harmattan, a Paris-based publisher, is organizing a poetry workshop led by Cecilia from June 23-27. All Paris Poetry Workshop participants will receive priority in this second, low-cost workshop.


All levels are welcome, but prospective participants should be prepared to work in a serious way, and will be required to send a one-paragraph bio and 3-page writing sample by way of application. To apply or for more info, write to Cecilia at ceciwo@aol.com 



Cecilia Woloch's third book, Late, is not only full of tender, sensual poems, but it is also imbued with realistic inspiration in facing deep losses.  This is a book of mature modern-day love poems, love of family and place, friends and lovers, with a knowing eye on the price of such loving, paying the price, and moving on, loving again.  What is most compelling is that throughout these poems Woloch never concedes to being overshadowed by lovers or for that matter her own sorrows, and therefore the poems pay close lyrical attention to the beautiful in life, even in dark moments, and to living bravely.

In the title poem that also concludes the book, we are given, in the form of anaphora, a condensed progression through young love, conflicts of the heart, failed marriage, and a widow-like disposition.  When newfound love comes, the soul nevertheless leaps to the occasion.  The poem is a miniature of the book's structure. 

With the line, "Or had I met you in the early wind of my solitude, I might have snapped," one is reminded of Mexico's celebrated feminist poet Rosario Castellanos, who oftenportrays damaging passion in a male dominated Catholic world.  Castellanos is attracted to self-annihilation as in "Warning to Whoever Comes":

. . . all I wanted to do was sleep

long and deep the way

a happy woman sleeps. 

But unlike Castellanos, who often sees death as cleansing, Woloch is willing to rise from the ashes:

Instead, you came late, you came after I'd made myself into harbor and chalice and wick.  More like the ashes than any warm hearth.  More like a widow than wanton, beloved.  And you lifted me over the wall of the garden and carried me back to my life.

Among the central themes is Woloch's love for her father and the inevitable grappling with his death.  She finds inspiration again through reading Rukeyser at the father's bedside.  In fact, a number of exceptional woman poets are quoted or invoked to become Woloch's guiding spirits. Rukeyser's words come as if from a ghost.

When I'm dead, even then . . . I will wait for you in these poems.  Who was speaking then, and to whom?  I'm still listening to you.

In "Here's to You, Jesus Robinson," Woloch recounts through her own imaginings the childhood story of a German friend, who was sent off to the countryside for the duration of the second world war, and how an African-American soldier, in a moment that resembled Communion, had given him chocolate wrapped as a gold coin. The experience is visionary: the first black man he had ever encountered is both beautiful and generous:

How sunlight fell into his hands; how darkness melted on his tongue.  How a man named Jesus Robinson stopped the war inside him once.


Woloch's lyrical voice resonates naturally through a range of poetic forms.  Her prose poems are often as incantatory as her pantoums, but always with a relaxed, accessible diction.  Woloch's method is not only a heightened attention to rhetorical structure but also to the multiple senses of words themselves as in "Dzien Dobry."

                        Dzien, I called out

                        to the bright empty room—

                        having meant to say

                        thank you, dziekuje,

and said only dzien, only

day, for dzien dobry,

good day—when I woke

to the grace of eat that

which is offered, knew,

in that light where to turn. 

"Dzien Dobry" is set in the lower Carpathians, just one location in a book that travels from childhood Kentucky to LA to Paris, whose filth Woloch exuberantly honors as honest and liberating: "Paris is beautiful like this; it's the beauty of love of the body of love."

Woloch accepts that happiness is forever endangered, an understanding reinforced through reoccurring images of the ephemeral, birds and ashes, but above all, particularly in a time full of anger and hate, she knows when to open the curtains, when to celebrate life through her generously humane poetry.

 Jeffrey Greene

Jeffrey Greene is the author of two collections of poetry, To the Left of the Worshipper and American Spirituals, as well as the memoir, French Spirits.  He lives in Paris and in Burgundy.