Thursday, March 13, 2008

Paul Celan on writing poetry

Singapore Jade sent me this quote from Celan with whom I have not the slightest acquaintance, but now feel I should. The quotation hits all the right bells in me: loss, secure, orient, being en route, across but not above time, dialogue, heart, approachable reality. And how charming and romantic to receive a prize from the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen.

from Celan, Paul. "Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen." Collected Prose. Trans. Rosemarie Waldrop. Manchester: Carcenet Press, 1986. 33-35.

"Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, 'enriched' by it all.

In this language I tried, during those years, and the years after, to write poems: in order to speak, to orient myself, to find out where I was, where I was going, to chart my reality.

It meant movement, you see, something happening, being en route, an attempt to find a direction. Whenever I ask about the sense of it, I remind myself that this implies the question as to which sense is clockwise.

For the poem does not stand outside time. True, it claims the infinite and tries to reach across time - but across, not above.

A poem, being an instance of language, hence essentially dialogue, may be a letter in a bottle thrown out to sea with the - surely not always strong - hope that it may somehow wash up somewhere, perhaps on the shoreline of the heart. In this way, too, poems are en route: they are headed toward.

Toward what? Toward something open, inhabitable, an approachable you, perhaps, an approachable reality."


Shropshirelad said...

I think what's most important for me here is how that dialogue takes place: "across time." We reach backward and forward, when we write, and we try to pull everything together into ourselves, for just an instant, in the present.

I really like that word "across." It suggests a relation between reader and writer, past and present, you and I, or I and Thou, far more more profound and intimate than may seem appropriate for such a humble, positively generic looking six letter word...


Although, now that I think about it a little harder, I guess all the really intimate words are pretty short in English.

Most them are verbs, of course. All the fun ones anyway.

Jee Leong Koh said...

I like what you said about "across." "About" is another great little English preposition, I think. Verbs are fun, but I m partial towards much-maligned adjectives.

Shropshirelad said...

Adjectives are much-maligned, and unfairly, too.

But they must be deployed carefully, like little soldiers, to be most effective.

I try to look at the question from the adjective's point of view: I fall asleep one night cradled in the loving arms of my dictionary.

Only to wake the next morning, fighting not only for meaning, but for my very existence in a poem...