ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Fred Pollack


When Zamyatin arrived in Paris,
the White emigres
wanted no more to do with him
than the Party or nascent Trotskyists.
He had been, after all, an Old Bolshevik,
though the revolution had meant to him
an orange and purple maelstrom
in which things – trams, people, artillery pieces,
large pectoral crosses – would vanish.
No one liked what he’d said
about literature requiring
“madmen, hermits, heretics,” not civil servants.
He did, however, run into
an old Count who thanked him
for the icebreakers that, as a naval architect,
he had built for the Tsar, “back when you did something useful.”

Penniless. The story got round
how he had written Stalin –
“You’ve made it impossible for me to write, or for
my wife and me to live here” –
and how Stalin had laughed: “This one has balls.
Let them go.” Madmen and heretics liked it.
He kept his Soviet passport. Wrote
a screenplay for Gorky, who had
by this point returned to Russia, where Stalin killed him.

The wife died. He died. In his classic,
We, from which everyone stole,
there’s a green translucent wall. On one side
is a state where every wall is clear
glass, and every bite and word and fuck
scripted. It’s just, in a way;
no one starves. On the other side
is a kind of northern jungle with hairy people
and beasts. I have lived my whole life
squatting beside the green wall, peering
from one side or the other.



Rehearing this relentless piece
by Villa-Lobos, I think how crows that ransack
garbage bins on the boulevard
(they overflow on weekends,
more now when everything is takeout)
are ragged and spattered,
while those that hang around the trees
of our lane are sleek and shiny
though probably hungrier. And how everything
in a historical/natural moment contributes
to a poem, good or bad. And how much I like
approaching the limit
of the flat, the bourgeois-generic, that which
can’t be imaginatively
transmuted (I don’t try); though I wonder
if I really do so to boast and ensure

Crowds protest
outside as, at my computer, I attempt
empathy. You can’t understand us.
But what (I cry) if I research, listen, work on
my soul, and interview you
before I write? It’s still cultural appropriation.
But what if, as is in fact the case,
my main aim is to attack your – our – enemy?
And there’s no moral, and my endings are always
ambiguous? Doesn’t help.

Am further interrupted
by a call from a (mainstream) poet friend
who will want me to congratulate them
on an award. I lose people easily.
Years back knew a Langpo
who said I was mainstream (what they were still calling
the School of Quietude); better quietude,
I said, than white noise,
which ended that. This one has published
what should but of course won’t be their final
interrogation of the soul.
Bird symbol. It’s a typical zoom call
for people not media pros;
both they and the little picture of me
keep looking down.


Howard and Western

A twist of a dial on Google Earth
would turn and raise the view,
and the towers of the Gold Coast and the Loop
let you know where you are.
One treeless broad grey-beige-and-charcoal
street crossing another
could be anywhere. I’d like to think
that’s not true – that a special
wind, grit, strength, smell, despair,
whatever, marks the place. But the scene
has neither wind nor blowing fast-food wrappers.
I was here maybe twice.
Grew up a few miles south
in a neighborhood then Jewish now Hindu.
Change here is comparable,
even more varied, and unimportant:
Golden Nails, the Phat Fades
Barber Shop, the Mahdavia
Islamic Center and Garcia’s fit
in with the Dollar Tree and Dollar Store,
Mountain of Mercy Ministries,
MoneyGram, and I think I remember
the giant lot that now serves Dress for Less.
The light remains, which as far as I know
no Diebenkorn or Hopper ever tried
to capture – the system’s purest. If there
were people in the image,
they would pass each other in a familiar,
remembered way: wanting not to be met
by insult on their course, pulled over and shot
for no reason, or simply
not to be tired and sad.

November 3, 2020



Agamemnon suddenly has a fit
of perspective. Troy isn’t worth this,
he thinks, and drops
the knife. Leaving Demeter, whose
pet deer he had killed (hence the sacrifice), at
a loss. Iphigenia gets up and
runs off. (I’ll never speak to him again!)
Something similar has happened
next door; she bumps into Isaac,
who feels an immediate bond.
Perhaps less creditably, Odin saves
his eye, frees himself from the Tree; I’ll rely
henceforth (he decides) on my own sources.
Tantalus grabs a bite. “Fate,” he says,
(his tone adds, “the bitch”)
“must be taking a break.” A certain

grinding subliminal stimulus
has stopped. Though myth is, of course, eternal,
the increased sophistication of mankind,
or its dumbing down, or both have led
to budget constraints: everything
occurs on low-rent intersecting lots.
Now they all stand around. “It’s like
a commercial,” grins Ganesh. “Reason,”
replies Prometheus, tearing off
his bonds and wringing the Eagle’s neck.
“Reason is a commercial,” sneers Loki
or one of the other trickster gods.


Author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure (Story Line Press, 1986; to be reissued by Red Hen Press) and Happiness (Story Line Press, 1998), and two collections, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press, 2015) and Landscape with Mutant (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018). In print, Pollack’s work has appeared in Hudson Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Manhattan Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Main Street Rag, Miramar, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Poetry Quarterly Review, Magma (UK), Neon (UK), Orbis (UK), ArmarollaDecember, and elsewhere. Online, his poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Diagram, BlazeVox, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Big Pond Rumours  (Canada), MisfitOffCourse (Issues 35, 64, 73, 76, and 80) and elsewhere.

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