Sunday, March 4, 2012

In the Way One Poem Leads to Another

“As it happens,” poet Roger Mitchell wrote to a group of friends and colleagues, “I lived for a year almost 50 years ago in Szymborska's home town. Never met her, but that didn't keep me from writing the attached.”

I’d not met Mitchell until recently, but, thanks to my poet-friend Elaine Sexton, I knew of his work, beginning with his exquisite poem Delicate Bait. Here’s an excerpt:
 . . . That we should come
and go, eating the few thousand meals,
a few hundred fish, a room full of grains,
that we should put the world in our mouths
and swallow, become the fish,
the deer, the goat, the field of wheat,
walking graveyard with no stones  . . .
Sexton, in her gorgeous way of building creative communities, included me in an e-mail to Mitchell and other poets and writers in which she generously shared a link to Wisława Szymborska and Horst Beckmann’s Hat.

In the way one thing leads to another, Mitchell responded to the group and attached a poem he wrote on learning of Szymborska’s death. I wrote Mitchell to ask if I might post the poem, and, to my great delight, he said yes.

With grateful thanks to Roger Mitchell, then, here is A Toy, in full.

            for Szymborska
Even the peasants heard of Troy,
watching the centuries slip past.
A little horse on wheels,
a string to draw it by.
The city fell, but cities do that.
All over Europe, up and down the Nile.
Here an army, there an occupation
patiently endured.
Carving little horses to sell
at the market on Senatorska.
I walked to work each morning
across the Bwonia, in between the cows
and boys in snappy uniforms
learning how to march.
Hoping you don’t mind, I put you into
my memory of that year.
Not very tall, you’ve come to the market,
partly to look at it, partly to see
what the peasants are selling this century,
you who have them all in your head.
You ask a woman in a babushka
if you can pinch the breast of the chicken
nesting on her forearm. She has her fingers
twined among its legs. Which you make note of.
You smile, the two of you caught
in dreams of some other place than this.
And yet exactly this.

© Roger Mitchell, all rights reserved. By kind permission of Roger Mitchell.


About Roger Mitchell: Roger Mitchell’s new and selected poems, Lemon Peeled the Moment Before, was published by Ausable Press (now Copper Canyon). He taught in the MFA program at Indiana University for many years, is now the Poetry Editor of Hamilton Stone Review, and lives in the Adirondacks. He is the author of ten books of poetry, a work of nonfiction, and numerous reviews and essays. More on Roger Mitchell can be found here.

Credits: The image at the head of the post can be found here. The quotation that opens the post is from Mitchell’s e-mail. The full text of Delicate Bait can be found here.


Suze said...

I'm amazed at the timing of this post.

I'm awed.

Mark Kerstetter said...

I like the poem a lot. And thanks for reminding me of Hamilton Stone Review.

Herringbone said...

Hi- I read and reread. Thinking maybe,I don't know. As I scroll down I continually come to Szymborska's picture from the previous post. I'm struck by her beauty ,the thoughtful look and reminded of her interesting voice.
The connections you weave are wonderful.The two selections from Sexton I read, seemed clear to me.Straight forward. As if it was meant to understand.
I only know Szymborska through you. A Toy seemed a tribute to a dynamic,reflexive life.
Delicate Bait. Origin and elemental, an integral part of the cycle, at what level is place.
Thanks for the amazing energy.

Jayne said...

In the way that Susan deftly connects us to one thing from another, we see her generous spirit and artistry.

I had the very same thought as Herringbone, seeing Szymborska's photo below this most recent post, this beautiful tribute poem. It me made me happily linger. :)

Rubye Jack said...

I love this poem and the idea of memories being intertwined or woven within each other and the past and present.

klahanie said...

Hi Susan,
Indeed, the interconnection is quite wonderful, almost by fate.
And yay, Roger Mitchell is a poet I'm very aware of.
Thanks for this, Susan and have a peaceful week.

The Solitary Walker said...

Roger Mitchell — that's another poet you've led me to. Thanks, Susan.

Steve Schwartzman said...

I'll echo what Solitary Walker said and say thanks for another introduction to another poet. So much to learn...

Nance said...

Both poets new to me, which just confirms my excellent taste in bloggers.

Britta said...

A beautiful poem, dear Susan - thank you!

Susan Scheid said...

Suze: Well, I was amazed that you missed seeing a post from me and wrote at just that point! I’m very touched you noticed that, and I hope you enjoyed the poem.

Mark: So pleased you did, and wouldn’t that be great, if you landed in HSR? Mitchell seems to me quite of a piece/in the line of Szymborska and Tranströmer. I’m loving Lemon Peeled and the Moment Before, which I’ve just recently obtained. Who can resist a line like this, after all: “A civilization sleeps in a quince”?

Herringbone: I must say, by the way that, as I reread Delicate Bait, I couldn’t help but have you in mind (how could I not, with your gorgeous photographs of fishing flies).

Jayne: Ah, clever, indeed, the way you’ve worked off the post title that way. Kind words, and may I only live up to them. I agree completely with you and Herringbone, by the way, on that photo of Szymborska.

Rubye Jack: Your comment, I think, catches perfectly the spirit of the poem.

Gary: I’m amazed! How did you learn of him? Perhaps from your time in Canada?

Solitary Walker: I was pleased to be led to him, too. So, you see, as Jayne has said, another example of the great chain of connection among us all.

Steve: You are welcome, of course. And isn’t it the case, so much to learn?

Nance: Perhaps we’ll now find a poet who writes about taking down the wallpaper . . . or perhaps (even better), about quality PT time, eh?

Britta: So pleased you enjoyed the poem. I like very much Mitchell’s spare lines. So much conveyed in so few strokes.

shoreacres said...

Yes, I do respond to Mitchell's poetry. This is as fine as the one you shared with me earlier.

He puts his words together in such a way that they resonate for me. There can be undertones as well as overtones in language, and my favorite of all, in this poem, is the phrase,
Here an army,
there an occupation
patiently endured.

What I hear, with the rhythm of the words, is a most peasant-like song: " a cluck, there a cluck, everywhere a cluck-cluck". Old MacDonald? Yep. And not so out of line, perhaps, given that the woman in the babushka is sitting with her fingers entwined among the legs of the chicken on her arm.

Did the poet mean for such a simple song to be roused by his words? Hard to say. Maybe not. But I love the juxtaposition of the farmer with the armies of occupation. And I suspect the best know more than they're telling.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan .. I definitely need to study more .. you include so much and have included so much in these two posts .. Hilary

Susan Scheid said...

Shoreacres: I'll say it over here, as I have over at your place: your comment on Roger Mitchell's piece is a post all on its own. My favorite line of A Toy is kin to yours, I think: "The city fell, but cities do that." And your closing line is perfect,perfect.

Hilary: It's always a pleasure to see you over here. Really, I can't imagine how you ever catch up, with those action-packed posts of yours and the big following you have!

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