A Splinter of Hope
“I don't write poems any more. For this you need to have at least a splinter of hope.”
This from the notebooks of Anna Kamienska, which are excerpted in her astonishing book of translated poems, Astonishments. (Apparently a bit hard to find a copy of this one at present – selling right now for 11 000.00 at Amazon....).
The good news is that you can find her notebooks on Poetry Foundations's site. And what are these notebooks, but a splinter of hope?
In the notebook titled Industrious Amazement she says:
“I think about this notebook. It’s not a memoir. It lacks important things. I don’t note events, I don’t write about people and books, or only about those with whom at a given moment I become one, I see through their words. These are just signs, signals, scratchings on sand, water, air. Shavings, slivers. A snail’s trace.”
And in A Nest of Quiet she says,
“I have no talent. I’m not talking about the literary marketplace: I mean how I see myself. I write poems for myself, like these notebooks, to think things through, that’s all.”
This is the notebook that begins:
“I now exist on the principle of shortsightedness, which demands enhanced attention to the moment. Late wisdom, but close to the wisdom of childhood. A lovely summer day. Color, taste, scent. A squirrel. Cherries. Good tiredness. Cauliflower for supper. Clean house. And always darkness, darkness that spreads around all of it. Everything submerged in awful darkness.”
From In That Great River, she says:
“Writing down your thoughts is both necessary and harmful. It leads to eccentricity, narcissism, preserves what should be let go. On the other hand, these notes intensify the inner life, which, left unexpressed, slips through your fingers. If only I could find a better kind of journal, humbler, one that would preserve the same thoughts, the same flesh of life, which is worth saving.
Moreover the writer invents himself as a character in this form. He shapes himself from the shards of the everyday, from the truth of that daily life. Which is also a truth not to be scorned.”
It's the eccentricity that I value in Kamienska's notebooks, the utter truth of them. They seem to be written entirely for herself, but also, not. They strike me, because of this, to be uniquely women's writing. We who have often been overlooked, undervalued.
There is the poem by the eminent Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, that we might like to read here:
by Czeslaw Milosz
Reading her, I realized how rich she was and myself, how poor
Rich in love and suffering, in crying and dreams and prayer.
She lived among her own people who were not very happy but
supported each other,
And were bound by a pact between the dead and living renewed
at the graves.
She was gladdened by herbs, wild roses, pines, potato fields
And the scents of the soil, familiar since childhood.
She was not an eminent poet. But that was just:
A good person will not learn the wiles of art.
I myself would take the notebooks over the tomes of eminent male poets.
It's a form that I value.
I also value goodness. And while I don't think artists have to pass a ‘holiness test’ – as a reader, I'm going to seek out those voices like Kamienska's. I'm going to watch movies made by women, rather than watch a Woody Allen movie.
I'm the sort who leans towards the news of cauliflower for supper, on good tiredness. I'll take my splinters of hope where I find them.