Posted by: birdmaddgirl | 13 June 2014

favorite poem fridays #2 – “Draft of a Modern Love Poem”

“Draft of a Modern Love Poem”

And yet white
is best described by gray
bird by stone
in December

love poems of old
were descriptions of the flesh
described this and that
for instance eyelashes

and yet red
should be described
by gray the sun by rain
poppies in November
lips by night

the most tangible
description of bread
is a description of hunger
in it is
the damp porous core
the warm interior
sunflowers at night
the breasts belly thighs of Cybele

a spring-clear
transparent description
of water
is a description of thirst
it produces a mirage
clouds and trees move into
the mirror

Lack hunger
of flesh
is a description of love
is a modern love poem

by Tadeusz Rozewicz
(Translated by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire)


i first encountered this poem because my friend Kim sent it to me. so i love that about it. i’m also a notorious sucker for works in translation, those occluded and dazzling windows. Rozewicz, like another favorite poet of mine who is likely to appear later in this series, died just this spring.

there’s something about defining through negation that tends to grab me. a number of poems i admire do it, and it’s been pointed out to me in my own work (although it’s not something i’ve ever intentionally set out to do). i’ve no Polish, so my comments are truly bound to the work of Krysnski & Maguire. but i love the stark simplicity of this poem, reinforced by the short lines and lack of punctuation. there’s a fairy tale quality to the language, and yet it is utterly moored in the mundane world of human suffering. is “a description of love” necessarily rooted in suffering? does “a modern love poem” require “lack hunger absence”? and if so, what about our world has changed to make this true? how did the flesh become as nothing? the addition of the historical dimension, such a small gesture, is a truly remarkable one, deepening what would otherwise be a limited conception of the love poem, extending the poem’s concerns beyond poetics and love into the realms of history and politics and all the messy affairs of life.

and by the way, what is going on with the white and red business? if both can be “described by gray” then have red and white collapsed into one another? are we losing distinctions that are otherwise perceivable when we understand the world in this way? is this truly “best”? in spite of the authoritative tone, the poem seems to question its own logic, to simultaneously assert and undermine its own thinking. as the lines make hunger a “tangible” object, we can understand the emotional veracity of such a statement while wondering what that means for the reality of bread if and when it does appear. does the bread become insubstantial as hunger takes on a solidity of its own? yes. no. yes? no? is a love poem somehow equal to sustenance? do we collapse those categories too? ought we to?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: