* writing the woods with wislawa szymborska

In the summer course I’m teaching, we have been discussing ideas of writing as performance; that is, what gets going as soon as words are on the page. It’s similar to what William Stafford means when he says, “The moon you are describing is the one you are creating,” which I wrote about in a post from this Spring. 

I came across this week’s poem, “The Joy of Writing” by Wislawa Szymborska, and share it here because of the connection it has to these concepts of writing as performance. From the beginning, the poem ties the act of writing to what’s being described, creating a singular conceit of “these written woods.” The metaphor is stretched enjoyably far. What I find most enjoyable of all, at least this week, is the startling nature of the last line: “Revenge of a mortal hand.” In contrast to the title of the poem which sets up low dramatic expectations, Szymborska takes us down to that last line with a sense of mortality and complication that is surprising as well as apt and necessary.

The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides 1824-7 by William Blake 1757-1827

The Joy of Writing – Wislawa Szymborska

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence – this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Happy mortaling!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


* Mary Oliver, William Blake & the friday influence

Blake Dying – Mary Oliver

He lay
with the pearl of his life under the pillow.

Space shone, cool and silvery,
in the empty cupboards

while he heard in the distance, he said,
the angels singing.

Now and again his white wrists
rose a little above the white sheet.

When death is about to happen
does the body grow heavier or lighter?

He felt himself growing heavier.
He felt himself growing lighter.

When a man says he hears angels singing,
he hears angels singing.

When a man says he hears angels singing,
he hears angels singing.

night startled by the lark - wiliam blake
night startled by the lark – wiliam blake

This week on the Influence: Mary Oliver!

I picked this poem up at work while shelving Mary Oliver’s latest book, A Thousand Mornings.  

The words stopped me as I shelved.  There is simplicity in this poem that is akin to still life painting – but a poet’s take on it.  A moment – a dying moment – as still life.

She conjures much with little.  From pearl to space to her choices in colors – all of it culminates into the hanging presence of Blake’s hearing angels singing. 

There’s not much to do once you get into this kind of moment in a poem but acknowledge it.

Blake’s relationship with the angels takes me back to being 18, sitting in Dana Levin’s Form and Theory class, her introducing a Blake poem, prefacing it by saying This guy saw angels in the trees!  

Being, again, 18, I was like – yes, of course, totally – eager to understand and see them too.

Seeing the angels in this poem is another lesson.  Oliver’s repetition in the last two couplets – their very emphasis on Blake’s words – drives home to me how all a poet can do is tell what they see, how they see it.  And all that’s needed to honor this seeing is to listen.

Happy listening!