Try to Praise the Mutilated World


Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.


Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanagh


I remember Michael Laskey saying to me once that our main duty as poets was to praise. It was a comment that filled me with laughter as I think he had just spent the previous five minutes cursing rather volubly at the traffic. Nevertheless, I knew he was serious. He proceeded to reel off a list of poems (MacCaig’s Praise of a Boat and Praise of a Collie were the two that I had heard of) that I absolutely needed to read right away and what was I waiting for? I have returned in my mind to that instruction several times over the last three days. Each time I do, I feel myself pulling back, partly out of caution, partly out of a kind of self-righteous certainty that after Trump there can be no more poetry.

And yet, each time I begin to spiral round these self-fulfilling circuits of despair, I realise again the force of what Michael was saying. Not to praise, not to give thanks for creation, kindness, the ties of family and community, not to wonder at these things is to let evil triumph. I think back to my departed friend Steve Fairnie: what satirical japes he would have had at Trump’s expense. But I also see him urging his audiences not to fall prey to cynicism. It was a luxury we could not afford, he said. Much more preferable, he said, is that we put down our pints and began to make stuff that mattered and that people could connect with. A group. A painting. A dance troupe. Yes, even your poems, Anthony, he said. ‘They’re not exactly Acid House, but they are yours.’ Yes, even poems.


With thanks to Deborah Alma, the Emergency Poet