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From  Adam Zagajewski’s collection of poems titled Without End*; the following is from the poem – How High The Moon

My uncle supervised
our outings: he loved life
(but it wasn’t mutual)

If anyone told me then
that this was childhood,
I would have said no;

it was just hours and days,
endless hours,
the sweet days of June

on the banks of a canal
that never rushed,
drenched in damp dreams,

and the meek young moon
setting out alone
to vanquish night.

A review will have to wait until I have lingered on the unread poems. I am unable to place my finger on the pulse that brings these poems, those that I have read so far, so beautifully to life.

* translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh, Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, and C. K. Williams. 

From Microcosms by Wislawa Szymborska (translated from the Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh)

But then suddenly beneath the glass,
foreign to a fault
and so petite,
that what they occupy in space
can only charitably be called a spot.

The last set of stanzas of the poem may qualify as the literary equivalent of breaking the fourth wall.

He feels that he is racing against time, that it is slipping away from him, “running through my fingers like sand”: “Soon I will be forty, and when I’m forty, it won’t be long before I’m fifty. And when I’m fifty, it won’t be long before I’m sixty. And when I’m sixty, it won’t be long before I’m seventy. And that will be that.” Knausgaard apprehends everyone else’s mortality, too: “Until now, I thought, observing the crowds circulating in the concourse below. In twenty-five years a third of them would be dead, in fifty years two-thirds, in a hundred all of them. And what would they leave behind, what had their lives been worth?”

The New Yorker carries a review of Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 3,6oo-page 6 volume fictionalized autobiography that has been compared to Proust. Not all of the writing is angst and despair. According to another review:

Half the book’s bulk seems devoted to activities such as lighting cigarettes, drinking beer, going to the newsagents, making small talk. “I unscrewed the lid of the coffee tin, put two spoonfuls in my cup and poured in the water, which rose up the sides, black and steaming, then I got dressed.” Eleven lines are spent on a fly buzzing in the window, half a dozen on the mechanics of rolling a fag (“licked the glue, removed any shreds of tobacco, dropped them in the pouch…”).

An excerpt from the book in the New Yorker review mentioned earlier reinforces this view:

After a while I picked up the teapot and poured. Dark brown, almost like wood, the tea rose inside the white cup. A few leaves swirled and floated up, the others lay like a black mat at the bottom. I added milk, three teaspoons of sugar, stirred, waited until the leaves had settled on the bottom, and drank.

Mmm.

Excessive size and excessive descriptiveness are two of the common features of most books I have left unfinished. Yet there is an allure in the excerpts quoted from the book – what has been described as the banality of the everyday. As one of the reviewers puts it, “the banality is so extreme that it turns into its opposite, and becomes distinctive, curious in its radical transparency”.

3600 pages is more than a year’s worth of reading if you average 10 pages a day – an opportunity cost of 10 regular sized books. I am not sure if I can make Karl Ove’s struggle my struggle, yet.

‘Tis each and all a work of art,
That constant care and practice means —
The actor who creates a part
Has done his work behind the scenes.

  – from Banjo Paterson’s  Behind the Scenes (1893)

A wonderful poem that brings to fore that aspect of achievement that goes on behind the scenes – the slow and persistent honing of the craft, endless repetitions that take you one infinitesimal step toward perfection, that invisible foundation of time and effort on which the final few minutes of glory are built. In a world used to instant gratification, it is often easier to want than to be.

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