In mid-February 2020, Bart Solarczyk published his first full-length poetry collection, Tilted World (Low Ghost Press). The release party at the now-defunct Coffee Buddha in the North Hills was a celebration of more than 40 years of writing poems, many of them tributes to his wife, Tami Laroche.
Less than two months later, Solarczyk’s world came to a halt. In early April, Laroche exhibited signs of COVID-19. The next day, she collapsed and died. And while the cause of death was determined to be a heart attack, Solarczyk and the rest of his family have been quarantined in the time since, due to Laroche's earlier symptoms. As the uncertainty about Laroche’s death lingers, her legacy lives on in her husband's poetry. The poem "Blue Blanket" is especially poignant:
She’s sick/& sleeping/on the sofa
wrapped/in a big/blue blanket
we will never/be children/again
blue blankets/can never be/the sky
“Tami was a muse in a way,” says Solarczyk, who lives in Ross Township and grew up on the South Side. “There are a number of poems I wrote for her directly. Whenever I was at a reading, I always made sure to do a poem for her.”
Solarczyk’s poems are short bursts of insights and observations. Sometimes they are culled from “the waste a man can/shape into a poem,” as he writes in "Caged, Bled, Fisted." Others reference dreams or dream-like states, including "Gravity Anchors Our Dreams" or "Dreams Fall Home."
“I think our dreams are intertwined with whatever our reality is,” Solarczyk says. “I guess I see dreaming as maybe a superior state, or maybe in the optimistic sense of having a dream. To have dreams is important.”
Solarczyk had released nine short chapbooks before he was approached by Kristofer Collins and Scott Silsbe of Low Ghost Press about publishing his work. Approximately 100 poems were considered for this collection before being whittled down to 62.
“I admire how well he’s able to capture the balance of humor and hardship that we all experience,” Silsbe says of Solarczyk’s work. “And I appreciate how much wisdom he can distill into a single, short poem — I think he’s a real master at the economy of language. What I think I love most about Bart’s poems is that they are such a pleasure to read. They are not only enlightening but also very entertaining.”
Now 65, Solarczyk admits that he’s not always felt accepted as a poet in Pittsburgh. A social services counselor, he’s been reticent to share his work with clients and co-workers until recently.
But fellow poets including Silsbe, Collins, and Bob Pajich not only embraced his work, but brought him into their community after years of recognition in Erie, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Dearborn, Mich., but relative anonymity in his hometown.
“I was drawn to that type of poetry that those guys write,” Solarczyk says, noting that the grittiness of their poems meshed with his own style. “… Tami and I, for the last few years of our life, had formed a new circle of friends with these supportive poets.”