polish/spanish/english: a few thoughts on poetry & other writing

The revista literaria El Malpensante has an interesting article based on the column written in a Polish newspaper for 30 years by the Nobel prize winner Wislawa Szymborska.

In Cómo escribir and cómo no escribir poesía they have selected a few of the replies Szymborska made to readers who aspired to write poetry. Most of the article is interesting, but I have selected just two snippets.

The first, chosen because it ties in with my interest in translation:

Para H. O., de Poznan, un posible traductor
El traductor no está obligado a serle fiel al texto únicamente. Debe dejar ver la belleza de la poesía conservando su forma y reteniendo, en la medida de lo posible, el estilo y el espíritu de la época.


Which translates roughly as: “The translator does not have to be faithful to the text alone. He should let the beauty of the poetry be seen, maintaining the form, and, as far as possible, the style and the spirit of the age.”

I chose the second snippet because it made me think a little more positively about my day:

Para Putzka, de Radom
El aburrimiento debe ser descrito con gusto. ¿Cuántas cosas están ocurriendo en un día en el que no pasa nada?

“Boredom should be described with pleasure/enthusiasm. How many things are happening on a day when nothing is happening?”

For me, the Spanish phrasing there has an advantage over English in that the word for “described” – descrito – triggers a mental jump to “written” – escrito. And it reminds me that all this ‘I can’t think of anything to write about’ that I seem to be suffering with lately as far as poetry is concerned could probably be solved by actually stopping and focusing on something specific without worrying how ordinary it might be.

Which in turn reminds me of Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when one of Phaedrus’ students has problems getting started on a 500-word essay about the USA.

After getting more and more frustrated as he tells her to narrow the subject down, first to the city, then to a single street, then a single building, she eventually ends up writing 5,000 words triggered by focusing on the upper left-hand brick of the façade of the Opera House in Bozeman. The section can be read on Texas A&M university website.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

5 thoughts on “polish/spanish/english: a few thoughts on poetry & other writing”

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I love the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; it came flooding back in an instant when you described how he made her narrow her topic down, and down, and down. Brilliant.

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    1. It’s an image I treasure and I was glad to be reminded of it. Lucky I found the section on line – if I pick up my copy, half the pages fall out!

      I first read it in the Eighties, just in time, I think, but wonder what it would mean now to anyone who came new to it. Do books have a ‘best-before’ date?

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      1. Some do–I think Zen/Motorcycle is timeless. I read it about a decade ago, when I was 18, and re-read it just a couple of years ago. I find it even more relevant now, I think, since so many of us are living lives depleted of true Quality.

        I really love the lines “We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness and call that handful of sand the world.”

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      2. Interesting. I was familiar with the title long before I read it and was pre-disposed to appreciate it.
        I just wonder if any young person today who has so many ‘self-help’ books and so much ‘docu-drama’ TV available could possibly feel as enthusiastic about a fairly dense book as I did. After all, I read books almost compulsively, and this one was iconic for my generation, even if I was over a decade late to the party.

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