16. My favorite anthologies

My favorite anthologies of international poetry are Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers (edited by Charles Simic and Mark Strand), The Poetry of Survival: Post-War Poets of Central and Eastern Europe (edited by Daniel Weissbort), The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry (edited by J.D. McClatchy), and the beautifully-illustrated This Same Sky (edited by Naomi Shihab Nye). There’s some overlap in the collections. Sometimes I’ll read a certain poem, like Dan Pagis’s “Scrawled in Pencil in a Sealed Car,” in as many translations as I can find. Sometimes I’ll imagine that a favorite poem is in there, when it isn’t, like that Ruben Dario poem that starts, “I was a soldier who slept in the bed/ of Cleopatra the Queen.”

What makes a poem, a poem? In the new edition of Fernando Sorrentino’s Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, Borges says that he finds the idea that “all arts aspire to the condition of music” to be possibly true, because in music form and content are one. But he also thinks poetry has its own music: “For instance, when I was told that certain compositions of Verlaine had been set to music, it occurred to me that Verlaine would have been indignant about this, because the music is already in the words.” My own favorite poems are music, even when they’re not officially lyric poetry. …

Joseph Brodsky says: “…Every speech, every speech’s truth,/ is sleeping.”

Blaga Dimitrova says: “Write each of your poems,/ tersely, mercilessly,/ with blood–as if it were your last.”

Yannis Ritsos says: “Every word is a doorway/ to a meeting, one often cancelled,/ and that’s when a word is true: when it insists on the meeting.”

Anna Kamienska says: “Lord let me suffer much/ and then die.”

Vasko Popa says: “Let’s see you find the world now.”

Gloria Fuertes says: “…my body is an endless eye/ through which, unfortunately, I see everything.”

Paul Celan says: “It is time the stone made an effort to flower.”

Wislawa Symborska says: “The joy of writing./ A chance to make things stay./ A revenge of a mortal hand.”


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