Monday, April 20, 2009

Even More Poetry for National Poetry Month

Since last week was so much fun, we're extending our poem-on-poetry-a-day run for a few more days!

Today, we're moving slightly out of Braziller territory with two prose poems by Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert, whose work is considered by Charles Simic in his new book, The Renegade.

Here's Simic's commentary on Herbert's distinct sense of humor, followed by the poems:

One of the favorite strategies of Herbert is what Baranczak calls "unmasking," the unveiling of the true face of some object or idea which up to that moment had been concealed by its false appearance. A clock, for example, may appear as the placid face of a miller, full and shiny as an apple with one dark hair creeping across it, when, in fact, if you were to look inside, you would discover a nest of worms or the bowels of an anthill. Although Herbert's intentions are often satirical, his way of defamiliarizing the familiar reminds me of folk humor. It's the same freee play of the imagination and jocularity one encounters in fairy tales, riddles and creation myths, which thrive on making the familiar strange. These two prose poems show how such unmasking works:


I don't understand how you can write poems about the moon. It's fat and slovenly. It picks the noses of chimneys. Its favorite thing to do is climb under the bed and sniff at your shoes.(1)


The hen is the best example of what living constantly with humans leads to. She has completely lost the lightness and grace of a bird. Her tail sticks up over her protruding rump like a too large hat in bad taste. Her rare moments of ecstasy, when she stands on one leg and glues up her round eyes with filmy eyelids, are stunningly disgusting. And in addition, that parody of song, throat-slashed supplication over a thing unuterably comic: a round, white, maculated egg.
The hen brings to mind certain poets.

(1. Translated by Alissa Valles.)
(2. Translated by Czeslaw Mislow and Peter Dale Scott.)

(This essay was originally published by the New York Review of Books in 2007, reviewing Zbigniew Herbert's Collected Poems: 1956-1998, from HarperCollins.)

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