Thursday, September 28, 2017

Fatal whirlpools

I went looking for a fragment of one poem, but found something else entirely. And when it comes to poetry, it's usually just as well.

I'm reading a mystery novel by Zygmunt Miłoszewski. The text is liberally sprinkled with pop-cultural references along with some classical ones, a lot of them very, very Polish. When he quoted Wisława Szymborska, I went looking for the source.

Instead I found "In Praise of My Sister," which I've since been reading over and over, all while (silently) actually praising my sister (for entirely unrelated reasons).
There are many families in which nobody writes poems,
but once it starts up it's hard to quarantine.
Sometimes poetry cascades down through the generations,
creating fatal whirlpools where family love may founder.

My sister has tackled oral prose with some success.
but her entire written opus consists of postcards from vacations
whose text is only the same promise every year:
when she gets back, she'll have
so much
much to tell.
I love this poem.

It makes me wonder where poetry comes from. I don't think my sister ever wrote poetry; I'll have to ask her. To my knowledge, my parents weren't afflicted. But my brother was. He wrote on napkins and coasters and the insides of cigarette packages. Filled with mystical symbols and romantic angst. My attempts were more academically driven. (And far superior.) Have we opened the genetic floodgates? Pity my daughter.

But also I've been reading three different translations of this poem, and puzzling over them.

While in the fragment above (tr. Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh) the sister has much to tell, Adam Czerniawski says "she'll tell us / all / all / all about it." and according to Magnus J Krynski and Robert A Maguire, "she'll tell us, everything, / everything / everything." They're none of them... perfect.

I wondered also about Peter Piper — I couldn't be sure how meaningful or not that reference was to me ("And, even though this is starting to sound as repetitive as Peter Piper," Barańczak & Cavanagh). The original Polish (see Pochwała siostry) names Adam Macedoński, an activist, artist, and (minor?) poet. One translation leaves the reference, obscure as it is, intact ("and though it sounds like a poem by Adam Macedoński," Krynski & Maguire); another evades the issue entirely ("And — this begins to sound like a found poem —" Czerniawski). And I still don't know who Adam Macedoński is, and what Peter Piper is supposed to mean.

Days like this I hate poetry, and I love it. I have too much time on my hands, and not enough.

Days like this I praise my sister for being an accountant.

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