Sunday 9 March 2008

One idea per poem

Sunday morning - Finished reading Waslawa Szymborska yesterday, something happened and her poetry became suddenly much more accessible, re-read some of the early ones and found I understood them better, in fact could not understand why I had not understood them before. She sometimes tells you in the first line what the poem is about, or maybe in the second line.

I think I should write a review of this book, prepare it for later. So here is what I've got in addition to what I've written up to now: this book is a collection of works she has written over the years, starting in 1957, the latest ones being from a book called The End and the Beginning, published in 93, which includes the war poem of the same title which is the one Maxine Hong Kingston read out, with the lines:

Someone has to shove
the rubble to the roadsides
so the carts loaded with corpses
can get by.

And later:

No sound bites, no photo opportunities,
and it takes years.
All the cameras have gone
to other wars.

I was glad to find that poem there, I would like to learn it by heart.
Have read only this morning about an attack in a yeshiva in Jerusalem, 8 dead. I read the names. The youngest was 15. It happened on Friday. I didn't see it reported in the DomPost, and I must have missed it on the BBC. More Palestinians will be killed in retaliation and the situation will become worse. The cameras will be there then. More rage, more fear.

Back to Szymborska. Each poem encapsulates one idea, strictly. I noticed that because of one exception: a sweet poem about her sister, where she deviates ever so slightly, and in that context, it jarred. The poem starts from Szymborska's POV, saying how wonderful it is that no one in her sister's family writes poems - her sister, her sister's father and mother, her sister's husband - she explains why - and then there is a slight switch to a more universal tone and she really writes about her sister, and describes her as good at talking

she has tackled oral prose with some success

and writing postcards from her holidays:

when she gets back, she'll have
so much
much to tell.

It seems to me that the switch from the first part, about the family, which she relates back to the sister, is in reality about herself, and the description of the sister as a talkative person is a portrait and different in tone. So the two bits don't quite fit as well as they might. The only reason I noticed it, I believe, is that all the other poems are so beautifully of one piece.
They are often - always? - about abstract notions.
The sister poem is more whimsy-ish.

Apart from that, have greedily started Paul Theroux, Sir Vidia's Shadow, (1998, Hamish Hamilton), got it from the library, and the first 70 pages are already so thought-provoking about many things, Africa, the Indian caste system, the notion of elites of various kinds, and on every page, about writing, Theroux's and Naipaul's (sorry forgot to mention, the Vidia is VS Naipaul and it is the biography of the friendship between the two writers.) I must ration myself, too much prose.

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