Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Milosz speaks

I meant to note some time ago the publication of Czeslaw Milosz: Conversations by the University Press of Mississippi. The book includes a short email interview I conducted with the poet in 2000, when he was living in Krakow and in precarious health. But there are also lengthier conversations with such world-class interlocutors as Adam Michnik and Joseph Brodsky. The latter exchange has never before appeared in English, and has a shaggy, audio-verite charm all its own. Here, for example, Brodsky asks Milosz to list the most valuable writers of the twentieth century:
CM: There are two parts in your question. The first maybe is easier to answer than the second. The first, what kind of literature, what kind of works? I have been developing more and more towards the idea that the measure of literature is the amount of reality caught by words. And after all those abuses, horrible abuses, of the word "realism," it is a daring thing to say such a...

JB: Yes.

CM: But I have been thinking a lot about how relatively little of the reality of our century has been captured by words, and for me it's, hmm, I would measure the literary works by that real presence of objective reality, in poems and novels.

JB: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

CM: So. So this is the first part of the question. The second--what authors?--is much more difficult. I an unable to answer that question because, you know, our readings are often very important for our own subjective reasons--

JB: Yes, but that's the whole point, ya?

CM: Ya. And it's very difficult to have an assessment of twentieth-century literature. Sometimes, you know, it's more or less the way we read. I don't know what your experience is, but very often my best readings were in the bookstore (laughter). Sometimes one page, ya?
Cynthia Haven edited both this book and an earlier collection of conversations with Joseph Brodsky. For a taste of her own criticism, try this essay on Jane Hirshfield, which just appeared on the Poetry Foundation website.


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