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Friday, February 03, 2012
From the Poetry Center Archive: Clare Cavanagh on Wisława Szymborska

In honor of Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, who died on Wednesday, 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center offers this tribute—a discussion of her work by Clare Cavanagh, her award-winning translator, on March 20, 2011 at 92Y. This clip also features a reading of the poem “Identification” in both English and Polish.

You can download the mp3 here.

“I remember being at a conference in Poland with American and Polish poets,” Cavanagh recalled, “and somebody talked about Szymborska—one of the very well-known American poets (fortunately I don’t remember his name anymore)—as being a straight-speaker, and I just felt like slapping him. She’s the opposite of a straight-speaker. She’s a master of voice, and she listens to so many kinds of voices and creates the illusion of straight-speech while challenging what straight-speech even is.”


It’s good you came—she says.
You heard a plane crashed on Thursday?
Well so they came to see me
about it.
The story is he was on the passenger list.
So what, he might have changed his mind.
They gave me some pills so I wouldn’t fall apart.
Then they showed me I don’t know who.
All black, burned except one hand.
A scrap of shirt, a watch, a wedding ring.
I got furious, that can’t be him.
He wouldn’t do that to me, look like that.
The stores are bursting with those shirts.
The watch is just a regular old watch.
And our names on that ring,
they’re only the most ordinary names.
It’s good you came.  Sit here beside me.
He really was supposed to get back on Thursday.
But we’ve got so many Thursdays left this year.
I’ll put the kettle on for tea.
I’ll wash my hair.
Try to wake up from all this.
It’s good you came, since it was cold there
and him in just some rubber sleeping bag,
him, I mean, you know, that unlucky man.
I’ll put the Thursday on, wash the tea,
since our names are completely ordinary—

In an ongoing effort to share with our readers some of the great literary moments which the Unterberg Poetry Center has presented across the decades, this blog has begun to feature regular postings of archival recordings. For access to other recordings, please click here.

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Unterberg Poetry Center webcasts and access to our archive are made possible in part by the generous support of the Sidney E. Frank Foundation.

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