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Poetry # 6 Czeslaw Milosz

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

A Book of Luminous Things. An international anthology of poetry edited by Czeslaw Milosz

I should just award this anthology 5 stars and move on, especially since my hands are intent on non-compliance. But that great 'deadener' – habit, is stronger than disease, and my capacity for saying nothing of any consequence to no one, remains undiminished. I think back to the lucky audiences who’ve endured my presence and voicings for 50 or 60 minutes, and I’m proud to realise that they were ahead of their time. They intuitively practiced extreme social distancing. It’s easy to laugh, though not literally- my first speech therapy session is today.

I’ve been a fan of Czeslaw Milosz’ poetry for a while. Ted Hughes pointed me in his direction via Al Alvarez’s Faber Book of Modern European Poetry. With minimal knowledge of Milosz’ work and his compatriots Wislawa Szymborska and Zbigniew Herbert, I was inspired to lurch towards a TEFL job in Poland. It turned out to be my first rehearsal in performing to a reluctant audience. I was the only person in a town of 70,000, that didn’t speak Polish, apart from a Canadian pastor who was evangelising through, and two Americans I witnessed one night at a karaoke. But I wasn't that desperate to break cover.

There were many tower blocks there and they were named after poets, I lived in Ul Konipickiej (she came second in the competition to write the Polish national anthem). I was holed up in a top floor flat reading The Captive Mind, mystified to what I was actually doing with my life. I soon found out that the students I tried to teach, were oblivious to the products of the poetic propaganda. What was I expecting? I honestly don’t know.

However, I was more confident that A Book of Luminous Things would deliver on its promise. And I was not disappointed. In the introduction he identifies science and technology as having caused a 'deprivation' that 'pollutes the natural world' as well as the 'imagination'.

The world deprived of clear-cut outlines, of the up and down, of good and evil, succumbs to a peculiar nihilization, that is, it loses its colours, so that grayness covers not only things of this earth and of space, but also the very flow of time...Since poetry deals with the singular, not the general, it cannot- if it is good poetry, look at things of this earth other than as colorful, variegated and exciting...poetry is therefore on the side of being and against nothingness.

In The Middle Of The Road – Carlos Drummond de Andrade

In the middle of the road there was a stone there was a stone in the middle of the road there was a stone in the middle of the road there was a stone. Never should I forget this event in the life of my fatigued retinas. Never should I forget that in the middle of the road there was a stone there was a stone in the middle of the road in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Translated- Elizabeth Bishop

Epiphany is an unveiling of reality...This poem is like a joke and we are inclined, first, to smile, yet a moment of thought suffices to restore a serious meaning to such an encounter. It is enough to live truly intensely our meeting with a thing to preserve it forever in our memory.

I always got the sense that Milosz knew more than other poets. That wisdom is revealed in the brief notes on selected poems. He values conciseness and simplicity. Through these qualities the poems achieve a certain register, a luminosity. And they, like the editor, persuade through their lack of strenuous persuasion. Which brings me back to speech therapy. My 'outside voice' is fading so I have to practice loudness. This makes me appreciate when someone else can see beyond the surface.

Going Blind – Rainer Maria Rilke

She sat just like the others at the table. But on second glance, she seemed to hold her cup a little differently as she picked it up. She smiled once. It was almost painful. And when they finished and it was time to stand and slowly, as chance selected them, they left and moved through many rooms (they talked and laughed), I saw her. She was moving far behind the others, absorbed, like someone who will soon have to sing before a large assembly; upon her eyes, which were radiant with joy, light played as on the surface of a pool. She followed slowly, taking a long time, as though there were some obstacle in the way; and yet: as though, once it was overcome, she would be beyond all walking, and would fly.

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