“Famous smoker and erstwhile poet…”


Wislawa Szymborska 1923-2012

 When I showed up to open the bookstore this morning, my boss told me that Wislawa Szymborska died yesterday and I promptly burst into tears.

There’s no contemporary poet whose poems have meant more to me than Szymborksa’s. I spent years trying to track her down after reading her poem, “Lot’s Wife,” in high school. I remembered the poem, but not her name. In college I found her again and I’ve been in love ever since. Her book, Here, was my first staff recommendation. She’s probably the poet I’ve posted most on this blog. I’m really sad she won’t write any more poems, but dying at home and in your sleep at 88 seems a pretty good way to go.

The Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, posted an obituary for Szymborska. I love her Nobel Lecture from 1996. NPR referred to her as a “heavy smoker.”  I think she’s in no small part responsible for my desire to go spend months in eastern Europe.

God, she's cool.

No single poem of Szymborska’s does justice to her career as a poet, but I’ve been planning to post this one, “Some People Like Poetry,” for a few weeks now. It seems particularly fitting, because I’ve had multiple people tell me that I won them over to poetry when I had them read Szymborska. If you haven’t been won over yet, there’s still time. Start with this:

Some People Like Poetry

Some people—
that is not everybody
Not even the majority but the minority.
Not counting the schools where one must,
and the poets themselves,
there will be perhaps two in a thousand.

but we also like chicken noodle soup,
we like compliments and the color blue,
we like our old scarves,
we like to have our own way,
we like to pet dogs.

but what is poetry.
More than one flimsy answer
has been given to that question.
And I don’t know, and don’t know, and I
cling to it as to a life line.

Wislawa Szymborska



5 thoughts on ““Famous smoker and erstwhile poet…”

  1. I’m not sure how my Google search for her poem “The People on the Bridge” led me to your blog but I’m happy that it did. I look forward to perusing your blog and following subsequent posts.

    I only discovered Szymborska’s poetry several years ago and her poems have quickly become affable companions through both sunny days and several health crises. I can think of only one other person I didn’t know-in-real-life whose passing brought tears to my eyes – that being Molly Ivins.

    I too have used her poems to win friends over to poetry, insisting that the form need not be abstruse and feel like work to read. My go-to poems tend to be “A Contribution to Statistics,” “Pi,” “Cat in an Empty Apartment,” and “Some People.”

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