Reading: Writing a résumé by Wisława Szymborska

Fellow Dutch poet Martijn Benders mentioned a poem by the famous Wisława Szymborska that I didn’t know yet. I like it so here it is.

Writing a résumé
What needs to be done?
Fill out the application
and enclose a résumé.

Regardless of the length of life
a résumé is best kept short.

Concise, well-chosen facts are de rigueur.
Landscapes are replaced by addresses,
shaky memories give way to unshakable dates.

Of all your loves mention only the marriage,
of all your children only those who were born.

Who knows you counts more than who you know.
Trips only if taken abroad.

Memberships in what but without why.
Honors, but not how they were earned.
Write as if you’d never talked to yourself
and always kept yourself at arm’s length.

Pass over in silence your dogs, cats, birds,
dusty keepsakes, friends, and dreams.

Price, not worth,
and title, not what’s inside.
His shoe size, not where he’s off to,
that one you pass yourself off as.

In addition, a photograph with one ear showing.
What matters is its shape, not what it hears.

What is there to hear, anyway?
The clatter of paper shredders.

The dread of having to reduce yourself to a résumé. Especially the replacement of landscapes by addresses, of lived experience by dead facts, is a perfect poetic capture of the culture of bureaucracy. Intuitively, I would like to say that this is caused by a lack of meaningful community.

We can read this poem as a definition of such a meaningful community: It is where your pets and dusty keepsakes, your dreams and friends count rather than your de rigueur facts, diplomas and certificates.

What are the paper shredders shredding? Résumés. Modernity is a factory for everybody’s fifteen minutes of fame. When your résumé has been processed it says with a sterile and monotonous voice: “Next”.

I am so familiar with the sentiment herein described that I may not be the ideal person to interpret this poem. As a person who has freed himself from the need of writing and sending in résumés (although I have one for fun) this reminds me of how I can still meet very new people from the start and we get to know each other without reference to certificates and accomplishments.

Reading: Writing a résumé by Wisława Szymborska was originally published on Meandering home

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Kamiel Choi

Dutch philosopher and poet, sometimes sharing thoughts on the internet.

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