How to Start Writing (and When to Stop): Advice for Writers (Paperback)
On Our Shelves Now
At once kind and hilarious, this compilation of the Nobel Prize-winning poet’s advice to writers is illustrated with her own marvelous collages
In this witty “how-to” guide, Wislawa Szymborska has nothing but sympathy for the labors of would-be writers generally: “I myself started out with rotten poetry and stories,” she confesses in this collection of pieces culled from the advice she gave—anonymously—for many years in the well-known Polish journal Literary Life.
She returns time and again to the mundane business of writing poetry properly, that is to say, painstakingly and sparingly. “I sigh to be a poet,” Miss A. P. from Bialogard exclaims. “I groan to be an editor,” Szymborska responds.
Szymborska stubbornly insists on poetry’s “prosaic side”: “Let’s take the wings off and try writing on foot, shall we?” This delightful compilation, translated by the peerless Clare Cavanagh, will delight readers and writers alike.
Perhaps you could learn to love in prose.
About the Author
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wislawa Szymborska, “is unquestionably one of the great living European poets. She's accessible and deeply human and a joy—though it is a dark kind of joy—to read. She is a poet to live with" (Robert Hass).
Winner of the NBCC in criticism, Clare Cavanagh is the Frances Hooper Professor of Arts and Humanities at Northwestern University. Her translations include Wislawa Szymborska’s Map: Collected and Last Poems, with Stanislaw Baranczak, and Adam Zagajewski’s Slight Exaggeration.
No reader, not even poetry-phobes, should miss the bright revelations of Nobel laureate Szymborska.
Szymborska’s poetry had the gift of creating both the happiness of wisdom felt and the ecstatic happiness of the particulars of life fully imagined. From the experience of armies and dogmas and death that shaped her early life, she found a new commitment to the belief that the poetic impulse, however small its objects, is always saner than the polemical imperative, however passionate its certitudes.
— Adam Gopnik - The New Yorker
Wit, wisdom and warmth are equally important ingredients in the mixture of qualities that makes her so unusual and every poem of hers so unforgettable. We love her poetry because we instinctively feel that its author genuinely (though by no means uncritically) loves us.
— Stanislaw Baranczak - New York Times
More than any poet I can think of, Szymborska not only wants to create a poetic state in her readers, but also to tell them things they didn’t know before or never got around to thinking about.
— Charles Simic
Szymborska’s skepticism, her merry, mischievous irreverence and her thirst for the surprise of fresh perception make her the enemy of all tyrannical certainties. Hers is the best of the Western mind — free, restless, questioning, in every way the opposite.
— Richard Lourie - New York Times Book Review
Glorious distillations of a capacious mind and heart.
A delightful collection of literary ephemera.
— Publishers Weekly
Her responses may seem harsh, but her criticisms are veiled insights, and her insights unveil depths.
— Minor Literatures
— Paula Erizanu - Calvert Journal
Szymborska’s assessments are refreshing to anyone who has gone through a writer’s “education” at American colleges and universities.
— Josh Christensen - First Things
Rarely do we get the details of what happened to these women in the Donbas; Belorusets smartly conveys the invisibility of their trauma by making it likewise invisible to readers....In these spellbinding stories, Belorusets is more interested in effect than cause. What’s the use of finding out how we got here when we know we’ll be back again?
— Jennifer Wilson - The New York Times
Published in Ukraine in 2018, these surreal short stories by a noted photographer probe the experiences of women from the Donbas region, many of whom fled the separatist conflict that erupted in 2014 and now live as refugees in Kyiv. The stories, ethnographic in perspective but Gogolian in register, gravitate toward inexplicable disappearances, repressed memories, and phantasmagoria. Belorusets writes of “the deep penetration of traumatic historical events into the fantasies . . . of everyday life” and richly evokes the fatalistic humor of her marginalized characters, one of whom observes, “If you had the luck to be born here, you take things as they come."
— The New Yorker
These are tales, mostly about women, in which the stressful reality of living under the weight of an ongoing conflict mingles with magic.
— Gal Beckerman - The Atlantic