Thursday, July 12, 2012

poets attach great importance

C H I N E S E   P O E M 


I read a Chinese poem
written a thousand years ago.
The author talks about the rain
that fell all night
on the bamboo roof of his boat
and the peace that finally
settled in his heart.
Is it just coincidence
that it's November again, with fog
and a leaden twilight?
Is it just chance
that someone else is living?
Poets attach great importance
to prizes and success
but autumn after autumn
tears leaves from the proud trees
and if anything remains
it's only the soft murmur of the rain
in poems
neither happy nor sad.
Only purity can't be seen,
and evening, when both light and shadow
forget us for a moment,
busily shuffling mysteries.

(translated by Clare Cavanagh)

 The above is one of my favourite poems by a favourite poet.  It can be found in his new and selected.  The last lines are sublime.  It would take a whole lifetime of writing poems to come to the beauty of this image of the light and shadow busily shuffling mysteries.

While looking for the poem online, I came across this longer essay by A.Z.  And these lines jumped out:

"While organizing my papers (something I should do far more often), I came across a clipping from the local paper, a review of one of my books written by a very young person. The review's title — “The Old Wave.” A typical example of gratuitous, thoughtless malice. After all, we'll all die one day, even young reviewers."

Which I thought was interesting to read in the context of the current debate surrounding negative reviews.

And isn't it lovely that he was able to just bury this review in his papers, forget about it, until he could brush it off as what it was.

A book that I think anyone who is interested in the responsibility of the reviewer, in the ethics of reviewing, ought to read is Stephen Collis's book Phyllis Webb and the Common Good.  He talks about 'interestedness," receptivity, response, responsibility.  His is a refreshing approach.  I think there is a lot to learn about the intersections of the critical and poetic communities via the story of Phyllis Webb, in her eventual renouncement of poetry and disappearance into art making. And really, not a bad time to re-read Tillie Olsen's book Silences, yes?

Meanwhile, all these apricots.  And what to do with them?


  1. Wow. What a terrific poem. Thanks for sharing it. I will look out for more of Zagajewski's poems.

  2. THe New and Selected is brilliant. Thanks, Chris.


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