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

You can look back but you cannot go back

The sun has climbed to the center of my life,
I feel the height. I am now allowed
to play my role. Ahead of me: the big afternoon,
the affirmations, the chiseling of cold metaphors,
the wisdom of oracles, the old belief
that we can tell darkness from the light,
the relief of amor fati, and I shade my time,
sloping in sight of the finish line.

You can look back but you cannot go back was originally published on Meandering home

The Pleasures of an Ordinary Life by Judith Viorst

Judith Viorst (b. 1931) is among other things an American writer and psychoanalysis researcher. She is known for her children’s books and witty poetry. I read a sober summary of the pleasures of an ordinary life:

I’ve had my share of necessary losses,
Of dreams I know no longer can come true.
I’m done now with the whys and the becauses.
It’s time to make things good, not just make do.
It’s time to stop complaining and pursue
The pleasures of an ordinary life.

I used to rail against my compromises.
I yearned for the wild music, the swift race.
But happiness arrived in new disguises:
Sun lighting a child’s hair. A friend’s embrace.
Slow dancing in a safe and quiet place.
The pleasures of an ordinary life.

I’ll have no trumpets, triumphs, trails of glory.
It seems the woman I’ve turned out to be
Is not the heroine of some grand story.
But I have learned to find the poetry
In what my hands can touch, my eyes can see.
The pleasures of an ordinary life.

Young fantasies of magic and of mystery
Are over. But they really can’t compete
With all we’ve built together: A long history.
Connections that help render us complete.
Ties that hold and heal us. And the sweet,
Sweet pleasures of an ordinary life.

I like the rhyme of losses and becauses. And the phrase “the pleasures of an ordinary life” that falls out of rhyme / each time. These pleasures, we learn are friendship, parenthood, safety, rather than victory and wild pleasure.

With the extraordinary she also denies the “grand story” (of religion) but instead she finds comfort in tangible, little things.

What really matters is the shared “long history” that holds and heals us. The connections that render us complete, the little story of the ordinary, is the sweetest pleasure. There is no redemption for our soul, we won’t be welcomed in heaven with trumpets. But we can rest assured that the pleasures of an ordinary life will continue in the hearts and minds of future generations.

The Pleasures of an Ordinary Life by Judith Viorst was originally published on Meandering home

The Good Life

Mark likes to play computer games. In real life
he fixes televisions. There are solder spots on his hands,
when he sends his armies to the front lines.

Paul, who measures buildings before they are inhabited,
enjoys spinning a lifetime of infinities in his mind.

Oscar, the media guy, prefers sitting in the sun.

Justine with an e, who owns many clothes and signals,
squats tearfully on shattered glass.

Such a grand vision of humanity.

The Good Life was originally published on Meandering home

On my way home

I walk rather straight to
the subway station
an old hooker says fuck
fuck fuck let’s go fuck
it is the umpteenth century

there are those days that I just want to lie in the grass

there are those that I want to answer my call
unambiguous days, blushing in abundant sunlight
days I talk to some people, order something

look at the fat insects between the window panes
dying days, days of estrangement, preemptive reckoning,
reasoned days, rodent days,

I say unto the old hooker,
We must all do our work in mysterious ways

and I straighten my pace.

On my way home was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: The Feast by Galway Kinnell

Galway Kinnell (1927-2004) was an engaged, versitale and prolific American poet who won many awards (Pulitzer, National Book Award. I read a classing sounding poem, called the Feast:

The Feast

Juniper and cedar in the sand.
The lake beyond, here deer-meat smoking
On a driftwood fire. And we two
Reaching each other by the wash of blue
On the warm sand together lying
As careless as water on the land.

The feast is sweet. Birds wheel round
The remnants of the food. Let us be dumb
This afternoon, not a gull’s loud Speech
Wakes these bodies from the drowsing beach;
But wake when waves hush and we have become
As two cliffs that are laboured to sand.

The water stills. In the west the gold bars
Melt. We catch our breath to see the sunset
Renew the day on the reflecting lake.
And we who gave the sand a form now take
Its substance; and, between the day and night,
Awaken in the last light like evening stars.

As the light is denied a creature speaks.
I think it is the stones that wear each other
To cold sand who put a voice in our silence,
Or else under the cliff a surf begins.
It tells of another evening, and another,
Beside lapping waters and the small lapped rocks.

The sand grows colder, the ancient body warms.
If love had not smiled we would never grieve.
But on every landscape this turning crown
Flashes and fades. We will feast on love again
In the flaming light, and rise again and leave
Our two shapes dying in each other’s arms.

Over-the-top romanticism in the closing line? Observes Robert Langbaum: “like the romantic poets to whose tradition he belongs, Kinnell tries to pull an immortality out of our mortality.”

It begins with a nice peaceful scene at a lake, you can smell the deer-meat smoking. We are gonna play dumb, we become sand shapes, gained shape, lost substance. The water will come and destroy us but for the moment we enjoy.

Next: sunset. The gold bars melting in the West refers to the Gold Rush and the vacuity of men’s ambitions. The reflecting lake is a still, a moment that exists as a substance we have taken in the crepuscular intermezzo. When night falls, time flows again. The rubbing stones, the lapping water erodes the substance, but it gives us a voice at the same time. There is a transfer of substance from the sand to the ‘ancient body’, the substance that we have experienced during a passing moment, must exist somewhere. Our grievance is the flipside of a smiling love, somewhere, sometime, “But on every landscape this turning crown / Flashes and fades.” Somehow, the poet imagines how we will feast on love again lit by these ephemeral flashes. We will have become the substance that we glimpsed earlier, and can safely leave behind form. We have been forged to free form stones that accummulate their substance from our fickle experience. We leave to poet’s heaven, a dubdivision of Plato’s heaven that stubbornly demands the idea is substance, not form.


Reading: The Feast by Galway Kinnell was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Lives by Derek Mahon

We travel to Northern Ireland. Derek Mahan (b. 1941)’s poetry has been compared to Louis MacNeice and W.D. Auden. Some critics have called it ‘too controlled’. I found this poem worth reading, with an attribution to yet another famous Irish poet:


(for Seamus Heaney)

First time out
I was a torc of gold
And wept tears of the sun.
That was fun
But they buried me
In the earth two thousand years
Till a labourer
Turned me up with a pick
In eighteen fifty-four.
Once I was an oar
But stuck in the shore
To mark the place of a grave
When the lost ship
Sailed away. I thought
Of Ithaca, but soon decayed.
The time that I liked
Best was when
I was a bump of clay
In a Navaho rug,
Put there to mitigate
The too god-like
Perfection of that
Merely human artifact.
I served my maker well —
He lived long
To be struck down in
Denver by an electric shock
The night the lights
Went out in Europe
Never to shine again.
So many lives,
So many things to remember!
I was a stone in Tibet,
A tongue of bark
At the heart of Africa
Growing darker and darker . . .
It all seems
A little unreal now,
Now that I am
An anthropologist
With my own
Credit card, dictaphone,
Army-surplus boots
And a whole boatload
Of photographic equipment.
I know too much
To be anything any more;
And if in the distant
Future someone
Thinks he has once been me
As I am today,
Let him revise
His insolent ontology
Or teach himself to pray.
Alright, 1854-2000 = 146 BC: The Battle of Corinth. The “I” was something buried with the dead, a torc of gold in the first instance. That riddle was fun. The oar in the shore happened probably in ancient Greece as well, given the reference to Ithaca.
I found that the Navaho covered the eyes of the dead with some clay. That gives away what Mahon wants to say, that the ‘thing’ is mitigating the god-like perfection, in a way.
The lights going out in Europe never to shine again could refer to the holocaust, if his ‘maker’ is god? Struck by an electric shock in Denver? We might be missing something here.

With Tibet and Africa (heart of darkness) he makes this truly international. But now he is an anthropologist, who feels it is unreal, all these many things to remember. So he is not anything anymore, a rather existentialist anthropologist.

How does he pay respect to all these things, representing all these many lives that were lost and buried with gifts that have lost their meaning? He demands that a future generation don’t identifies with him, it sounds like he wants to break a chain. Or, and he might be well aware of the fact that such is impossible. In that case that future person should teach herself to pray. Indeed, the ontology he describes, the one in which you become the stuff the dead are remembered by and are at some point reduced to such a thing yourself, is insolent and ultimately nihilist. And that is of course why he turns to prayer.
This is a strange enough poem, and I have the feeling there are some more things to be dug up here. Any suggestions?


Reading: Lives by Derek Mahon was originally published on Meandering home