Hit play below to hear Carolyn Oliver read her poem “Reading Szymborska Under a Harvest Moon” and scroll down for the full text. “Reading Szymborska Under a Harvest Moon” was the winner of the 2019 Goldstein Poetry Prize, selected by Linda Gregerson.
Among a richly varied group of finalists, “Reading Szymborska under a Harvest Moon” stood out for its flexible mastery of syntax, imagery, and sonic sequencing. Nor was it the only superb poem submitted by this poet, whose work I am eager to know better in future months and years.
Reading Szymborska Under a Harvest Moon
Though I don’t know a word of Polish, or even how to pronounce the consonants bunched like root vegetables, or variables, I adore her poems offered this way: the spine’s shadowed curve a double tilde dividing original and English versions, like scrolling algebra equations the teacher checks, years ago, that September I spend hoping to grow unnoticed among the rows of desks, while behind me the window, open against the heat, flaunts its tantalizing view down into the courtyard, where amber afternoon conceals two who sow the quiet with their kisses, their murmurs, while at the chalkboard a girl more sedulous than I, less struck with fear and wonder in want’s new acreage, labors through a problem whose solution becomes somehow a crop of possibilities I won’t gather, because my attention’s owed to other pastures, tilling the sounds below for sense, just as now I pick out an i for and, czas for time, delighted at this minor unearthing until I remember a word can mean more than once, like turn, crane, fair, field, lie, sign, strike, quick, like magazine, a word you think you know, a place to hold what might explode.