Of Wislawa Szymborska’s poems, most American poetry readers are familiar with the one called “Could Have,” sometimes titled “Any Case,” which for some became almost an allegory of the 9/11 tragedy. If I’m not wrong, the New Yorker (?) printed the poem over a picture of the WTC, sealing its fate as a 9/11 poem. It’s an excellent poem, though its writing predates the terrorist attack and refers to the Holocaust, a tragedy of a much larger scale. (She later DID write a 9/11 poem, “Photograph from September 11.”) But the good thing about Szymborska’s poems is their seeming simplicity makes them like Colorforms, peel them off one situation and stick them on another. They leave lots of room. She ignores poetry workshop directives like, “Get all the senses in there! Did it smell like nutmeg?! Was the sky slateblue or greengrey!”
When Szymborska died last week, I didn't blog about her, though she’s a favorite of mine. I didn’t feel I had anything to add besides more fan love. Then I read this blog at Slate this morning, clicking in when I saw “the Szymborska poem above my desk,” fully expecting to see “Could Have” and finding instead “ABC!” That was refreshing.
All this is leading up to the fan love I promised and my favorite Szymborska poem – "Contribution to Statistics". This was the first Szymborska I ever read. It appeared years ago, before she won the Nobel Prize, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a newspaper that sometimes prints poems. Of course it was in German, as “Beitrag zur Statistik,” and because I first read the poem in German, it remains for me far superior to the two English translations I’ve since read. (One even uses a baseball metaphor – “not even in the ballpark” – which makes me groan in dismay. Sport metaphors!)
Anyway, I liked the Slate blog about the Szymborska poem that enjoys a “place of honor” hanging above the writer's desk, because “Contribution to Statistics/Beitrag zur Statistik” has a shrine in my home, too. However many years ago I cut it out of the paper, plonked it into a frame and hung it next to the mirror in my bedroom, or in all four bedrooms I’ve had since then.