A Poem For September 11th


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

Today I was researching poetry which Jenny Holzer has used in her phenomenally moving installations over the years, and I came upon this video of her PROJECTIONS with poems by Wislawa Szymborska for MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, which I found excruciatingly powerful to view on this day. Holzer features “Tortures” and “The Joy of Writing,” poems which can be found in View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh (Harcourt Brace & Co.). The video can be viewed here.

At The New Yorker, where I was poetry editor for many years, just after September 11, 2001, we ran Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” on the back page of the magazine. It had arrived on my desk – miraculously – days before the event, and it seemed so natural that a Polish poet would supply the poem we all needed to read.

“Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski (translated, from the Polish, by Clare Cavanagh):

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

(From Without End: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski, translated by several translators. Translation © 2002, and used by permission of, Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Photo of Jenny Holzer Mass MoCA exhibit by Flickr user Amy.)