Szymborska has died, and I feel it as a strangely personal loss, as I’m sure many do who loved her poetry. Part of my strong feeling of connection with her work, with her poetic voice, emerges from having first encountered her poems at a time in my life (and the life of our country?) when I needed them in a particular way. Here is an excerpt of a letter I wrote to one of my MFA mentors soon after I moved to New York City in 2008:
“I happened to see an exhibit at the Guggenheim by the visual artist Jenny Holzer this month, which consisted of words projected in light on the outside of the building. I realized later (when I got home and looked it up) that the words were a poem by Szymborska [who I had just been reading]. I also realized that I just happened to be there at the right time—the work is being projected every Friday, starting at 6:30, and I happened to go come out of the museum after the display had been set up for the evening, so I felt lucky. I’m interested in the way Szymborska’s work gives a real sense of trying to represent a poetic, conscious response to being a human in the twentieth century. . . . There is a grandness to [her work] that I admire, that reminds me of Beckett, in a way. That is, it courageously faces the absurdity of modern life, with a sort of humor and unflinching awareness that becomes its own kind of grace. One poem I especially liked was “One Version of Events,” which includes the lines, “A small animal/ dug itself from its burrow/ with an energy and hope/ that puzzled us.”
That day in October 2008 as I sat outside the Guggenheim at dusk and saw words in light begin to move down the side of the building, something important happened. A moment of wonder and engagement opened up, reminding me why I continually scramble toward art and poetry and understanding of the variety of ways we are human. Just for that moment as I followed the words’ movement, a space opened up around everything. And for that, I am grateful.