Wislawa Szymborski won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her poetry in 1996.In awarding the prize, the Academy praised her “poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.” Her writing reminds me of Mary Oliver’s writing. Deceptively simple, witting and wise.
I discovered her in a conversation with a Polish-American colleague at a conference in 2014, amazed that I hadn’t encountered her writing sooner. A week later I cut out her poem Map from The New Yorker and put it in my notebook. And then it seemed like she was everywhere. It was like beach-combing for tiny little cone shells. At first you don’t see any, and then once you tune into their essence they are everywhere.
I am using her poem Possibilities to begin my workshop at the North Adams Makers’ Mill today. We will spend about 15 minutes writing in response to it and/or creating our own poems like it, followed by a few minutes of sharing what came up for us. Then onto a demoing gesso, matte medium and packing tape transfers. The remaining two hours we will play and work with the new techniques, while weaving them into some of our previous examples. If you read this in time and are local, come join us. We begin at 10 am. Here’s some more info about the class.
I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.
By Wislawa Szymborska
From “Nothing Twice”, 1997
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh