On the Line: With Mary Allen

Welcome to our new regular column, in which a poet features a specific poet or poem that made an important impression or change of direction for his or her work. In our second post, KSPS Membership Chair Mary Allen discusses “Photograph from September 11” by Wislawa Szymborska and “Why I Mother You the Way I Do” by Kathleen Driskell.


“Photograph from September 11” by Wislawa Szymborska is often published on the anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers.

Szymborska uses five simple stanzas to describe a moment captured by photograph as individuals fall from one of the buildings. The details are intimate and poignant: hair comes loose, keys fall from pockets, each person still has a face. But the emotional power of the poem is found in the last stanza, in what is left unsaid:

I can do only two things for them –

Describe this flight

And not add a last line.

This poem of tribute evokes the horrors of that day in a way not matched by memory or accounts in other media. It affects me deeply each time I read it.

Kathleen Driskell employs the same technique in “Why I Mother You the Way I Do.” In this poem a mother remembers a tragedy she witnessed as a student: two classmates, sisters, killed at the end of the school day as they dash through the traffic of cars and buses. The matter-of-fact tone used in recounting the scene and reactions of on-lookers is sad, but the full appreciation of the tragedy is brought in the final scene at a grocery where the mother of the dead girls is shopping:

  The sheriff was walking up behind

her. As she reached for a gallon of milk, he moved

to touch her arm.

Driskell’s choice to say no more allows the reader to feel emotion well beyond what words might evoke. 

These poems by Szymborska and Driskell show why leaving something silent, unsaid, is sometimes the best way to convey emotion through a poem. More important to me, each time I read them, these poems make me appreciate that the power of poetry can be greater than that of other forms of expression.
 

–Mary Allen


We publish short articles in which a poet features a specific poet or poem that made an important impression or change of direction for his or her work. Contact Matt Birkenhauer for any ideas you may have for this, or to send him a draft of an article.


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