#9 – Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch

This book, Yehuda Amichai’s Selected Poetry, wins the award for “poetry book I take off the shelf and read most often and try to carry around with me at times.”

Yehuda Amichai is an Israeli poet. He died in 2000.

Please enjoy this poem (with audio): “A Letter of Recommendation.”

“Oh touch me, touch me, good woman!
That’s not a scar you feel under my shirt, that’s
a letter of recommendation, folded up tight,
from my father:
‘All the same, he’s a good boy, and full of love.'”

Why do I love his poems so much? I have no idea. I just do.*

Hat tip: I was first introduced to Amichai’s poems in my 20th Century Literature class in college, with the wondrous Marilyn Chandler McEntyre.


*This is a terrible answer in a creative writing class, but this is my blog, and I have no explanation — which frustrates me — but there you go.


#16 – View With a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska

When Wislawa Szymborska won the Nobel Prize for poetry, there was a bit of a kerfuffle about the fact that many of the prize committee did not read Polish. How can you truly know if the poetry is Nobel Prize-worthy if you can’t read the original?

I wonder about this, too. I don’t read Polish. But I find Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak’s translations wonderful.

Here’s a fine poem about Darwin, “Consolation.”

She’s also a long-time newspaper columnist. And her advice to would-be writers is as witty and blunt as her poems:

To Grazyna from Starachowice: “Let’s take the wings off and try writing on foot, shall we?”

To Mr. G. Kr. of Warsaw: “You need a new pen. The one you’re using makes a lot of mistakes. It must be foreign.”

To Pegasus [sic] from Niepolomice: “You ask in rhyme if life makes cents [sic]. My dictionary answers in the negative.”

View with a Grain of Sand is a fine introduction to her work.

#25 – St. Augustine’s Confessions

Now we venture into “classic” territory.

I first read Augustine’s Confessions as a college freshman. But I’ve found myself returning to it multiple times over the years. This year, it was after listening to an intriguing lecture on how Augustine understood memory in relationship to the public spaces of the cities in which he lived his life. I’ve gone back to it as an imperfect Christian. And mostly, I’ve gone back to it as a writer of personal essays, many times, because this is the original text of someone writing about his own life in order to seek a deeper understanding of it and the world around him. Otherwise, why bother writing about yourself?

If you are interested in any of the following topics, I recommend this book:

1. Time

2. Memory

3. Pears

4. Heresy

5. Autobiography

6. Not being nice to your concubine

7. God

8. Gardens in Milan

9. Gladiators

10. Regret

Are the "pears" a metaphor for "something else?" (I find this interpretation annoying.)

#30 – Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I begin the book countdown with a must-read: Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s account of growing up in Iran — and elsewhere — during the Islamic revolution.

Did this book give me a complete understanding of the intricacies of Iranian politics? No.

But one image from this book will always stay with me: little Marjane in her headscarf and homemade “Punk is not ded” jacket.

Punk Is Not Ded!
Maybe I had this jacket.