In the introduction to one of Anna Swir’s poems in A Book of Luminous Things, Miosz notes that her work can be seen as an extension of a classic trope in poetry, the conversation between the body and the soul. This motif, seen in such poems as Andrew Marvell’s “A Dialogue Between the Soul and the Body,” is recast for a world that has seen such calamities as the emptying of the Warsaw ghetto and the annihilation of the city. Swir’s presentation of the motif is not a dialogue between equals that attempts to arrive at a satisfying metaphysical conclusion. Rather, her world is one in which nothing beyond the physical can be imagined, in which bodies are prey to malice or injury, sickness, and age. The remarkable aspect of the poems is that while they are almost entirely body-driven, they are not simply written from the perspective of the body, but from a separate vantage that can see, critique, and lament the shortcomings of a physical existence and celebrate the pure joys of bodily delight and ecstasy. It is this consciousness that comments on the life of the body, while realizing that nothing can be experienced or accomplished beyond it. In the introduction to Talking to My Body, Miosz posits that “her poetry is about not being identical with one’s body, about sharing its joys and pains and still rebelling against its laws.”
It is perhaps fitting that a poetry that centers on the body should be written in such an unadorned, naked style. All artifice, including figurative and self-consciously poetic language, has seemingly been stripped from the finished poems, which appear to be transparent accounts of mundane yet universal moments in human lives. The artistry of the poems lies in the immediacy of the accounts, as the reader responds to the perfectly chosen, evocative scenes produced with conversational language. The repetition of phrases and events through both poem and collection allows for a subtle building of emphasis and intensity, which is all the more remarkable when the reader considers how artless it appears.
Building the Barricade
Building the Barricade, a narrative of the Warsaw Uprising, gains its intensity from the directness of its presentation. The poems, which describe the futile effort of the city’s inhabitants to fight off the overwhelming manpower and firepower of the Nazi army, are presented from the perspective of the resistance, “the tavern-keeper, the jeweler’s mistress, the barber,/ all of us cowards” (“Building the Barricade”). While the poems are divided between those with a first-person speaker and those written from a more reportorial stance, all share the same immediacy, as those in the city are moved by the immense stress of the...
(The entire section is 1125 words.)