Category Archives: Poetry

The Passing of Adrienne Rich

As powerful and relevant as ever:

It doesn’t matter what you think.
Words are found responsible
all you can do is choose them
or choose
to remain silent. Or, you never had a choice,
which is why the words that do stand
are responsible
and this is verbal privilege

Adrienne Rich, “North American Time”

RE: Wislawa Szymborska, Poet Of Gentle Irony, Dies At 88­

So it goes. Find the full article here.

Wislawa Szymborska, Poet Of Gentle Irony, Dies At 88­

by DAVID ORR
Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska in 1996, the same year she won the Nobel Prize in literature. Szymborska, who was born in 1923, died Wednesday in Krakow, Poland.

EnlargeCzarek Sokolowski/AP

Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska in 1996, the same year she won the Nobel Prize in literature. Szymborska, who was born in 1923, died Wednesday in Krakow, Poland.
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February 2, 2012

The surest path to international fame as a poet probably doesn’t involve writing short poems about sea cucumbers. Yet for the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (pronounced vees-WAH-vah sheem-BOHR-skah), who won the Nobel Prize in 1996 and died Wednesday, the little things — onions, tarsiers and, yes, sea cucumbers — turned out to be very big indeed. Along with the work of Zbigniew Herbert and Tadeusz Rozewicz (and from a slightly earlier generation, Czeslaw Milosz), Szymborska’s poems suggest not only the beauty of postwar Polish writing, but also the potential strength of poetry anywhere and everywhere.
Like her peers, Szymborska is an ironist. But in Szymborska’s work, irony takes on a very particular character; it becomes playful, almost whimsical, as if the poet were more interested in juggling the ball in her hand than using it to score a goal. Her poems are usually short, they often focus on the quirks of an everyday subject or situation, and her tone stays firmly in the middle ground, well away from the darker pitches of rage, despair or ecstasy. She’s a poet of dry-eyed, athletic precision: an acrobat, not a powerlifter. The beginning of “Under One Small Star” is typical (all quotations are from translations by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh):
My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
And the poem concludes:
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.
This is often taken as a statement of principle by Szymborska, whose devotion to lightness extended even to elegies. “Cat in an Empty Apartment” takes the point of view of a dead friend’s cat, left alone; “Funeral (II)” consists of quotes one hears at, well, funerals (“you were smart, you brought the only umbrella”). Each poem is moving, but the sentiment emerges around the lines, rather than being spelled out within them. It’s misdirection as tribute.

New Book (Cover): Falling Up, By Shel Silverstein

Oh, this one brings me back. Although I’m sure I’ve read a few out of this Silverstein, I haven’t read the whole book. I’m looking forward to it.

Also posted in Commentary, New Book

Edgar Allan Poe – "Alone" Reading

I’d never read this poem before last week.
Alone, by Edgar Allan Poe
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then- in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life- was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

Also posted in Edgar Allan Poe, Video

Poem: Identification, by Wislawa Szymborska

I just found this gem on the poetry foundation website–gut wrenching as it is succinct.

 

Identification

BY WISŁAWA SZYMBORSKA

It’s good you came—she says.
You heard a plane crashed on Thursday?
Well so they came to see me
about it.
The story is he was on the passenger list.
So what, he might have changed his mind.
They gave me some pills so I wouldn’t fall apart.
Then they showed me I don’t know who.
All black, burned except one hand.
A scrap of shirt, a watch, a wedding ring.
I got furious, that can’t be him.
He wouldn’t do that to me, look like that.
The stores are bursting with those shirts.
The watch is just a regular old watch.
And our names on that ring,
they’re only the most ordinary names.
It’s good you came. Sit here beside me.
He really was supposed to get back Thursday.
But we’ve got so many Thursdays left this year.
I’ll put the kettle on for tea.
I’ll wash my hair, then what,
try to wake up from all this.
It’s good you came, since it was cold there,
and him just in some rubber sleeping bag,
him, I mean, you know, that unlucky man.
I’ll put the Thursday on, wash the tea,
since our names are completely ordinary—

 

TRANSLATED FROM THE POLISH BY CLARE CAVANAGH AND STANISLAW BARANCZAK
Also posted in Literature