What does it mean to leave your home country and create a new life? What do we gain? What do we lose? How do these transformations define who we are?
These are some of the questions that Carol Seitchik addresses in her new collection of poems, “The Distance From Odessa,” which winds through the period between her grandparents’ journeys from Russia to the United States, through Setichik’s childhood, to daughter Becca Feldman’s decision to marry an Israeli and make her life there. And although the Beverly resident has only lived in the U.S., she has done some wandering of her own, at least in terms of her career.
Seitchik had been a visual artist for many years when, two decades ago, she developed a sensitivity to the materials she used that hurt her health. When she could no longer work in three dimensions, she turned to drawing.
“I made very large portraits,” she says, “other-looking faces, 3 feet high, very strange-looking. They were like my friends, my group.” She made about 30 of them before she decided to “talk” to these creatures and then write down what they said. This led her to a writing group and then to a mentor who told her that she was writing in a definite voice. That voice became poetry, and early on earned a prize in a writing contest.
“I was just flabbergasted,” Seitchik recalled. The prize was a week’s residence at a world-class writing workshop, which led to more training, more practice, and now, a very long-running poets’ group.
“The Distance From Odessa” (Atmosphere Press, 2021) is her first book. It contains almost 60 poems, divided into two sections: “Migration” and “So Many Worlds.”
“I started this book with a whole lot more poems,” Seitchik said. “The editor said, ‘Too much miscellaneous stuff. I want you to get on message.’” It is a message that resonates with many of us.
In “First One Over,” she writes:
A length of family is fashioned from scraps
when the name of the first one across
is written immigrant. The aura, the scent
of memory persists. Home is left behind –
nostalgia, steeped in pungent air, ambles
alongside you and perhaps always will.
In “Between Two Lands,” after her daughter moved to Israel, she writes:
When you cross the distance that divides us
I will imagine the tracks in the sea
that would carry me there to find you.
You must know, we are in this together.
And now there are two granddaughters as well. In “For Sylvia,” she writes:
Oh-ni-yah, she says, in Hebrew,
as she points to a boat –
and I say boat and she says boat
as we walk toward the ocean,
the sun angling at dusk,
lighting up a billowing sail.
As might be imagined, the pandemic has been difficult for Seitchik and her husband, Alan Feldman. They had been in the habit of making long visits to Israel, and of having her daughter’s family visit here. But they last saw them in August of 2019. “We are grandparents-in-waiting,” she said.
The good news is that their eldest granddaughter, at age 9, can now call them herself. Seitchik has regular drawing sessions with her grandchildren on Zoom. The 9-year-old is working on perspective. The 5-year-old has her own creative flair. “We draw trees together … decide whether it is a fruit tree … what kind? Or just green leaves. And then we talk about different fruit and different leaves. So it’s about learning English as well.”
Seitchik herself continues to draw. “I have a couple of drawing notebooks; they’re right on my table. Sometimes, if I don’t know what to write next, I close the computer and I start drawing. I love it.”
“The Distance From Odessa” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.