Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Some Like Poetry"

Some –
not all, that is.
Not even the majority of all, but the minority.
Not counting school, where one must,
or the poets themselves,
there’d be maybe two such people in a thousand.

Like –
but one also likes chicken-noodle soup,
one likes compliments and the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes to prove one’s point,
one likes to pet a dog.

Poetry –
but what sort of thing is poetry?
Many a shaky answer
has been given to this question.
But I do not know and do not know and hold on to it,
as to a saving banister.

by Wislawa Szymborska

Translated by Joanna Trzeciak

I won’t say this is one of the most memorable Szymborska poem (not that I have read many), but there’s an interesting personal story why I picked this poem today. :)

Being not altogether a widely read person, I only remotely remember Wislawa Szymborska as some Nobel Prize winning Polish poet, until Gilbert Koh mentioned her name offhand to me in an e-mail, leading me to search online, finding a few of her poems here [link]. Liking what I read, I decided to purchase Miracle Fair: selected poems of Wislawa Szymborska during my recent trip to Singapore, for someone whom I felt might enjoy it as well.

After a pretty long week there, I finally boarded one of those long overnight bus home. As I began to gradually doze off, the bus inexplicably broke down. The bus driver told us, one part of the engine had overheated and the bus couldn’t go any further. A replacement would be despatched from the nearest town and should reach us in about two hours. It was 1am, right smack in the middle of some rather ulu (remote) place. Fortunately, the bus driver managed to stop at a petrol kiosk, where there was a rather dirty but still usable toilet.

Escaping the stuffy bus, I joined some of the passengers outside in the chilly night air. There were a couple of street lamps, so it wasn’t altogether that dark. I fish out the collection of poetry from my bag, sat by the kerb and started reading. It must have been a really amusing sight, a guy reading poetry in the dead of the night, under a street lamp, next to a broken down bus. in some near God-forsaken place.

The replacement bus never did came, at least not at the promised time; and was despatched only much later the next morning, finally coming to our rescue after an interminable eight hours later, at 9am. During that long night, a few makciks (ladies) were cooing and soothing their poor children who fidgeted and cried on the bus. As for myself, I was safely ensconced in poetry, lulled to a quietness of spirit amidst all the dire desperation, through the soft words of Szymborska’s poetry.

Why do I read poetry? To quote Szymborska: “… I do not know and do not know and hold on to it,/as to a saving banister.”

BTW, to my fellow Malaysians out there, Selamat Menyambut Hari Merdeka!

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Blogger bibliobibuli said...

i like your story that accompanies the poem and think it should be a poem by itself!

i like too the way you seem to be asking yourself a question about what poetry is ... this poem goes very well with your 'ars poetica'

the first poem i came across by Szymborska was the one read out by sharanya at sim & see ming's wedding

7:09 PM, September 09, 2006  

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