Tuesday, February 25, 2014

the poet will constantly ask herself

"The job of an apple is to be a different poem in the mouth 
of every eater."  


Poetry searches for radiance,
poetry is the kingly road
that leads us farthest.
We seek radiance in a gray hour,
at noon or in the chimneys of the dawn,
even on a bus, in November,
while an old priest nods beside us.

The waiter in a Chinese restaurant bursts into tears
and no one can think why.
Who knows, this may also be a quest,
like that moment at the seashore,
when a predatory ship appeared on the horizon
and stopped short, held still for a long while.
And also moments of deep joy

and countless moments of anxiety.
Let me see, I ask.
Let me persist, I say.
A cold rain falls at night.
In the streets and avenues of my city
quiet darkness is hard at work.
Poetry searches for radiance.

The poet will constantly ask herself why she is writing, for what, for whom. What is a poem, she will ask, and what is its job? There are the things you know you want from a poem, radiance, for example. But the answer is not a static one. Because as we write our poems, the poems change us, what we can give the poem changes and what the poem gives back becomes more complicated and also more simple, more exacting, more generous. As well, there is the poetry you want to read, and the poem you want to write. There is also the poem you are able to write.

I, too, wish for poems that are wise and splendid, radiant, that transcribe the soul.

I wish for a poem that transcribes the ordinary light that bathes a kitchen, late February. A light that reaches right into how thinned out it's possible to be. How exhausted, and yet, how splendid.

The excerpt below is from an essay on BookSlut about Zagajewski. Recommended.

"…I’m not entirely opposed to a free, wise, splendid poetry that manages to link near and far, high and low, the earthly and the divine, a poetry that manages to transcribe the soul’s motions, lovers’ quarrels, the scene on a city street, and can, at the same time, attend to history’s footsteps, a tyrant’s lies, that won’t fail in the hour of trial. I’m angered only by small poetry, mean-spirited, unintelligent, a lackey poetry, slavishly intent on the promptings of the spirit of the age, that lazy bureaucrat flitting just above the earth in a dirty cloud of illusion."

- Adam Zagajewski, from 'Against Poetry'


  1. A beautiful post, Shawna. I love your line about "a poem that transcribes the ordinary light that bathes a kitchen, late February." That is lovely. I also love your first photo, the colours and the dappled light of the dishes beyond. Thanks for writing today :).

  2. Shawna, You find such great poetry, to my mind at least. And you ask such good questions, that already contain lovely insights. Thank you for this post.

  3. oh my.
    "we seek radiance in a grey hour at noon or in the chimneys of the dawn
    even on a bus in november . . . "
    that alone spoke to me. such a beautiful image.
    just as i always find certain lines in each poem you share with us that speak to me.
    but to me . . .
    whether you ever wrote another word . . . YOU . . . your own poetry is the picture you make.
    each one is always superb. and moving. and speaks volumes. and well . . .
    more than enough.
    xo ♥

  4. Thank you all. Adam Zagajewski is one of my favourite poets - glad you liked his poem.

  5. Thank you for introducing me to Adam Zagajewski. "Poetry searches for radiance" ....your images are filled with poetic radiance!


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