"of prophetic dreams": Zbigniew Herbert

The next book club at Words Without Borders will be devoted to Zbigniew Herbert's The Collected Poems 1956-1998 (a great book that also had a great cover, pictured left). It will start next week, and will be hosted by James Marcus and Cynthia Haven. Other participants will include, says Marcus, "a wide range of Herbert experts, including (so far) Peter Dale Scott, Anna Frajlich, Andrzej Franaszek, William Martin, and Alissa Valles (who translated most of the new Ecco collection)."

Do check it out. Marcus provides some initial thoughts on Herbert, along with the opening to Herbert's poem "Mr Cogito and the Imagination" ("Mr Cogito has never trusted / the tricks of the imagination // the piano at the top of the Alps / played concerts false to his ear").

A few years ago, PEN held an event called "State of Emergency: Unconventional Readings," intended to call attention to the erosion of civil liberties in the US since 9/11. Two of the writers who participated, Francine Prose and Don DeLillo, read poems by Zbigniew Herbert, as Edward Hirsch recounted in The Washington Post a few days later. DeLillo read "Report from the Besieged City" ("in the evening I like to wander near the outposts of the City / along the frontier of our uncertain freedom"), while Prose read one of my all-time favorite poems, "Five Men":

what did the five talk of
the night before the execution

of prophetic dreams
of an escapade in a brothel
of automobile parts
of a sea voyage
of how when he had spades
he ought not to have opened
of how vodka is best
after wine you get a headache
of girls
of fruits
of life

Read the rest of that incredible poem (translated by Czeslaw Milosz) here, and listen to Francine Prose read it here. Hirsch's piece is here, and a long piece on Herbert by translator Alissa Valles is here.

1 comment:

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