Sunday, April 13, 2008

National Poetry Month, Day #12 & #13: Kaia Sand and Wislawa Symborska

I've never read Kaia Sand before I found this poem in The McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets, about 10 minutes ago. And I love it. There's a little synchronicity in that the other day at writing group, I wrote about being on a horse and getting to the edge of the field, and at the edge of the field you see "ten more fields followed by ten more followed by ten more." In the McSweeney's book, she is at the end of a poem tree that begins with Michael Ondaatje and moves through four poets before landing on her.

The President Probably Talks
by Kaia Sand

the president probably talks to someone every day

sometimes his lips are moving, but our volume’s too low

sometimes his voice is a tenth the volume of mine

sometimes his voice trembles inside my ten voices

sometimes his ten words devalue the currency

sometimes we promise

sometimes someone looks into someone’s eyes for truth

sometimes we think we see it

in someone’s ten coughs, tuberculosis is passed from cot to cot

sometimes ten walls separate me from two people making one decision

somewhere somehow ten women join ten women join ten women and march

my ten voices are still talking

somewhere in this city, ten meals in ten days is a boon

sometimes senators dine together

sometimes ten layoffs boom the business

sometimes we promise our poor

sometimes I feel like a holy ten-voice roller

in some sudden kiss, courage intensifies ten-fold

sometimes ten men join ten women join tens and tens and tens

sometimes someone somewhere hears this


Here's a poem by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska
(I'm going to include two translations here. I read somewhere that this poem, "Could Have," is about Holocaust survivors. I've read it over and over and I couldn't see it/feel it. It reads to me as an almost tongue-in-cheek poem about how we like to make sense of surviving, in general, make sense of accidents perhaps, believe in coincidence and meaning in the seemingly random unfolding of things. Then I found "Any Case," clearly the same poem, but translated so very differently. THAT ONE reads like it could be about Holocaust survivors. Here are both of them, if you care to compare and let me know what you think--the difference is subtle, but it is there, especially at the very end.)

Could Have
[trans. by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh]

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. On the left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck--there was a forest.
You were in luck--there were no trees.
You were in luck--a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant...

So you're here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn't be more shocked or speechless.
how your heart pounds inside me.

Any Case
[transl Grazyna Drabik and Sharon Olds]

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Closer. Farther away.
It happened, but not to you.

You survived because you were first.
You survived because you were last.
Because alone. Because the others.
Because on the left. Because on the right.
Because it was raining. Because it was sunny.
Because a shadow fell.

Luckily there was a forest.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A frame, a turn, an inch, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the water.

Thanks to, thus, in spite of, and yet.
What would have happened if a hand, a leg,
One step, a hair away?

So you are here? Straight from that moment still suspended?
The net's mesh was tight, but you? through the mesh?
I can't stop wondering at it, can't be silent enough.
How quickly your heart is beating in me.

If you have read this far, you probably will love Wislawa's Nobel Prize lecture/acceptance speech she gave in 1996, which starts with this sentence: "The first sentence in any speech is always the hardest."

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