The Joy of Writing

I have been noticing how much I love what I do. I am so grateful that I’m able to make a living telling stories about a period and a place in which I enjoy spending a great deal of time. I laughed at the frustration of pushing back Magda Digby and Alisoun Ffulford this spring–hush! Emma’s got a deadline! Not now! Quite different from the frustrations in a typical office job.

On my bulletin board is a printout of one of my favorite poems on writing–I especially love the last two stanzas.  It’s by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who has a great sense of whimsy. Of course, this is a translation, by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, in View With a Grain of Sand (Harcourt 1995):

The Joy of Writing

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence–this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

–Wislawa Szymborska

Her poems remind me of both of my grandmothers, one Polish, one half Polish half Ukranian. They each had a sense of humor I particularly appreciated as a child, wicked! My maternal grandmother had nicknames for everyone on her street in what’s now the East Village in Manhattan, names that evoked such characters. We’d hang out the window and she’d keep up a running commentary on the street scene. My paternal grandmother cheated at cards–I loved to play with her!

Well, that led me to unexpected places.

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