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Continued is a selection of poems by Piotr Sommer, spanning his career to date. A kind of poetic utterance, these "talk poems" are devoid of any singsong quality yet faithfully preserve all the melodies and rhythms of colloquial speech. Events and objects of ordinary, everyday life are related and described by the speaker in a deliberately deadpan manner. Yet a closer look at the language he uses, with all its ironic inflections and subtle "intermeanings," reveals that the poem's "message" should be identified more with the way it is spoken than with what it says. The poems in this volume were translated into English with the help of other notable poets, writers, and translators, including John Ashbery, D.J. Enright, and Douglas Dunn.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819567680
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 04/01/2005
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.34(d)

About the Author

PIOTR SOMMER is a poet and translator of English, Irish, and American poetry. He is the author of eight books of poetry, including one in English, Things to Translate (1991), and two books of essays. Sommer lives outside Warsaw and works for a magazine of international writing. AUGUST KLEINZAHLER is a widely-published poet whose most recent book is The Strange Hours Travelers Keep (2003).

Read an Excerpt


Shepherd's Song

Morning on Earth

Morning on earth, light snow, and just when it was so warm, practically spring.
But the thermometer in the kitchen window says seven degrees,
and pretty sunny.
  Here's the electric company guy I like,
and no sign of the gas guy I can't stand.
And all of a sudden two Misters M. —
one I've fallen for, the other a bit of a hotshot —
coming back, both nine years old,
just passing the jasmine bush,
a huge bouquet of sticks.
  Behind the door the dog's excited, nothing's at odds with anything.


Autumn on small plots ringing the houses —
except for the few jasmines still clothed and sparrows hopping from one lilac bush

to another — does it really make for such a naked moral? such a come-down? a message of leaves behind the rusted fence protecting us so nicely

from the eyes of the passer-by and of the neighbor who long long ago worked in the passport office,
and from the headlights chasing leaves

like the wind, only faster faster and maybe it's because of this momentum you quicken your pace


We ride the ridge, by track and tunnel,
then after a while descend, but first there are brooks and bridgelets, because

how can they call them bridges,
yesterday Smithy, before that Hebden,
and now Sowerby and purple foxgloves on the embankment. And still

I haven't figured out who I'm saying this to, or even who would care that through the leaves

you can see Halifax and someone's life, June being so transparent,
though yesterday it rained and clouds came out.

Municipal Services

On the second anniversary, oddly, there wasn't time,
just snow, which amounts to the same thing.
I was moving in water up to my mouth,
though the streets were cleared faster than the snow could fall.

I was waving my arms about, I was gathering air,
I went back to my rented home but I couldn't concentrate on sleeping.
I got the order confused, and the new one seemed to me more beautiful.

If you have any plans of coming back,
at most I'll miss my stop, I'll overshoot a continent, I'll open my mouth and won't reply to the question I have no answer for.


Nothing will be the same as it was,
even enjoying the same things won't be the same. Our sorrows will differ one from the other and we will differ one from the other in our worries.

And nothing will be the same as it was,
nothing at all. Simple thoughts will sound different, newer, since they'll be more simply, more newly spoken. The heart will know how to open up and love won't be love anymore. Everything will change.

Nothing will be the same as it was and that too will be new somehow, since after all,
before, things could be similar: morning,
the rest of the day, evening and night, but not now.

i.m. Milton Hindus

And later just to look into their papers,
half-read in their lifetime, letters —
if there were a place to keep them and they hadn't been chewed up by mice in the attic

or soiled by the marten which no one ever saw but everyone suspected of subletting — or even to enter them by hand into hard memory

since that might be the way to treat them to a new time, another round —
not that we have more of it now,
but, older for a moment, we can almost see them

the way they wanted to be seen,
"With a New Preface by the Author," in which with us in mind, who else,
they still managed to correct this or that.

Short Version

I couldn't be with you when you died.
Sorry, I was toiling day and night on the title of a poem I didn't have time to show you.
You really would have liked it.

Even if the poem itself wasn't the strongest, I was counting on the title to prop it up from above,
to set it right even, and to sanction it

as sometimes happens, I don't know if the nurse ever had time to give you the news

because when I called it was already late, though finally she took the whole message.


Whoever lives on will tell us how it was; whoever survives the rest will tell it more precisely.

Shepherd's Song

Read these few sentences as if I were some stranger, some other language, which I may still be
(though I speak with your words, make use of your words);
which I was, speaking your language,
standing behind you and listening wordlessly,
singing in your tongue my tune.
Read as if you were to listen,
not to understand.

Sometimes, Yes

After reading certain young authors I too would like to be an author and turn out works.
Right now I'm thinking of J.G. —
his happy rhymes, cinematic sentences and the heroes in his poems, the real ones and those made up. Because of course poems have their heroes as well,
some not even all that likeable. Of the real ones for instance, I recall Ezra Pound, whose name appears in one of the titles,
or that Mid-November Snow which, before it melted, the author thinks had blanketed all the evil.
Of the unreal ones Kirillov, a suicide and yet a builder, or that professor, what's his name,
a scholar of seventy now.

And I, what would I write poems about?
I'd have to think,
because in fact I'm fed up with them.
I ask my wife but she just repeats
"What about?" as if she weren't there.
And a moment later adds: "But if I tell you what about, you'll say we both wrote it, all right?"
I must — she says — remind her about it in the future, since a person may sometimes really get hold of an idea,
but most of the time it flies off.

Lyric Factor and Other Poems


Where are we? In ironies that no one will grasp, short-lived and unmarked, in trivial points which reduce metaphysics to absurd detail, in Tuesday that falls on day two of May, in mnemonics of days.
You can give an example or take it on faith, cat's paw at the throat.

And one also likes certain words and those — pardon me — syntaxes that pretend that something links them together. Between these intermeanings the whole man is contained, squeezing in where he sees a little space.


Friends from long ago, loved unchangingly,
with whom you could talk, talk until exhausted —
well, they must have forgotten some mutual concern,
or potentially mutual.
And new ones? New ones keep quiet,
as if they wanted to say nothing more than necessary.


I forget about the other world.
I wake up with my mouth closed,
I wash the fruit with my mouth closed,
smiling, I bring the fruit into the room.
I don't know why I remember cod-liver oil,
whole years of misery, the cellar bolt on the floor,
the self-sufficient voice of the grandmother.
Still, this is not the other world.
And again I sit at the table with my mouth closed and you bring me delicious bursting plums and I repeat after someone I also forget:
there is no other world.

Station Lights

Station lights connect with those above,
the days of the week connect,
the wind with the breath —
there's nothing that doesn't.

The broken heating plant in Zeran and my child, and the woman I picked out years ago because of her white knee-socks with blue stripes.

Interesting how the world connects tomorrow and the day after that.
If that's not it,
maybe you'll tell me what is.

Landscape with Branch

We're bound to one another by unknown threads, a stitch of corpuscles that sew up the globe.
One day the globe drops from us,
shrinks and dries like a blackthorn plum —

something was really ours,
but we no longer belong to things.


The afternoon sun round the corner of the town,
and every inch of skin and every thought is clearly exposed,
and nothing can be hidden as everything comes to the surface:
unanswered letters,
short memory.


When we first met, we were really so young.
I saw nothing wrong in writing poems about myself.
Didn't I know that I too would be ashamed of something?
Didn't I know who you were?

Shame and laughter lock my mouth in turn.
I'm ashamed to think of it; I'm amused to be ashamed.

Believe me

You're not going to find a better place for these cosmetics, even if eventually we wind up with some sort of bathroom cabinet and you stop knocking them over with your towel —
there'll still be a thousand reasons to complain and a thousand pieces of glass on the floor and a thousand new worries,
and we'll still have to get up early.

Home and Night

A day of sleeping and writing letters, of plasticine and games.
In place of dots the dominoes have animals,
Crude shapes of animals on shoddy plastic.
A world without abstraction.
It cost sixty-eight zlotys.
Everything's dearer and more primitive.
Could life by day be less complicated?
Yes. But the dominoes are blue,
blue plastic with gold animals,
and life is black and white.


She's covering her eyes, but doesn't she even hear what I'm thinking and why? That no one knows. Even this thought-and-written sentence has two true endings, like a wire,
a length of wire, a transcontinental transnational cable,
witness to daily betrayals and lies by politicians and priests, like a broken string.
And who is it now who covers her eyes and hears nothing,
confusing light with the music of certain spheres?

Days of the Week

Tomorrow is Thursday.
If the world meets its obligations,
the following day will be Friday.
If it doesn't, it could even be Sunday,
and no one will ever guess where our life got mislaid.

Travel Permit, Round Trip

A small calf on a cart, on cobblestones, happily whisking his tail, a Polish stork, lost in thought, a peasant woman wearing, as you'd expect, a kerchief on her head. A basket in her hand. The landscape rolls along at the same, steady pace, without stopping, and then illogically veils itself with hills.

I switch seats with a child who would rather watch the world unroll.

The tape is winding up somewhere on the other side and the reel must already be bulging. It contains so much, all that and this too, the perpetual policemen, by trade and calling, stalking furiously, and these light-hearted village names: Pszczølki, Szymankowo.

My face may be still, but in my heart I'm bursting with laughter. We're allowed to travel by train again. This delicate pressure on my arm is only your sleep.

Leaves and Comes Back

There's yet another life, lived in brief, also unacknowledged. A woman with a dog, a black poodle, outside the window of Telimena on Krakowskie Przedmiescie, passes by and vanishes, as if she had no meaning. Life half-imagined, half-observed.

Vanishes, while from the opposite direction another elderly woman appears, with a plastic bag, she must be going shopping. But in the shop next door there's still no bread, and still no papers at the kiosk. Yet everything's right today: the morning, the imagination, the waitress bringing coffee, sight.

A little hedge in the square facing Dziekanka suddenly takes on a different color. Green, but more intense, and even the steel-gray uniform of a militiaman — who, there's no knowing why, makes for the Mickiewicz monument — is more familiar, though not quite mine. Perhaps he wants to take a closer look.

I don't know whether the world this autumn truly has more dignity or whether it just seems so. Besides, now memory wants to mix in: the gas in '68, the old dog Frendek licking up his own blood, other months, other seasons.

I guess you can really put your life in order, can live with less. But the heart, the heart doesn't give up easily, and goes on knocking, and the eye, in its usual way, alters backgrounds and planes. The tongue builds sentences, the body trembles slightly.


Again I've seen a genuine lemon.
Ania brought it back for me from France.
She thought: return, or else stay on?
And what good reason holds her here —
a few faces, and words, and this anxiety?
The lemon was yellow and looked genuine.
No need to display it in the window so it could come to itself, like our pale tomatoes,
or as we come to ourselves,
ripening and yellowing for years.
No, it was fully itself already when she brought it, not so much yellow as gold, and slightly gnarled.
So I accepted it gratefully.

I'd like to put on the thick skin of the world,
I'd like to be tart but on the whole tasty —
a child swallows me unwillingly,
and I'm good for his cold.

According to Brecht

I suspect certain poets have recently stopped submitting their poems to journals.
They must be thinking: we'll wait until all this calms down and they (journals and other poets) get over this infantile disease of civic-mindedness or whatever you call it.
As they will.
Readers will get fed up with it,
editors will get bored too, and finally they'll turn to us.
And we'll open our drawers and take out our Timeless Values which, precisely because they're timeless,
can now wait calmly.

A Certain Tree in Powazki Cemetery

All memory we owe to objects which adopt us for life and tame us with touch, smell and rustle. That's why it's so hard for them to part with us: they guide us till the end, through the world,
till the end they use us, surprised by our coolness and the ingratitude of that famous spinner Mnemosyne.


I was going to sleep not remembering a thing,
just scrunching up on the side of the bed,
knowing I should leave room.

I began the year washing dishes.
The water was warm, it was nobody's,
I didn't have to hurry.
Before my eyes

stood all the verbs,
to be, to write, to love,
all tangled up for years.
I didn't have to remember anything

although the mouth monotonously repeated the word memory, memory, memory as if beyond it

nothing meant anything.
And without willing it,
already on the edge of sleep,
I saw your face again

as it was a few hours back,
last year,
tired, but still beautiful,
dark blue like a swallow,

almost raven black,
and the face of a seven-year-old boy,
composed and delicate,
just about to smile;

your black hair brightened against the child's light mop,
the mouth kept whispering memory, memory.
Drops of sleep ran down the pane of the eye.

Don't Sleep, Take Notes

At four in the morning the milkwoman was knocking in plain clothes, threatening she wouldn't leave us anything,
at most remove the empties,
if I didn't produce the receipt.

It was somewhere in my jacket,
but in any case I knew what the outcome would be:
she'd take away yesterday's curds,
she'd take the cheese and eggs,
she'd take our flat away,
she'd take away the child.

If I don't produce the receipt,
if I don't find the receipt,
the milkwoman will cut our throats.

Third State

Out of nowhere I remembered dawn and it was almost like in childhood —
the soul tore itself from the body,
it saw right through it from above,

unattached now for good to its evacuated comical form which can't even get off the ground.
It saw the body, but didn't know

how clumsy it really was,
wingless for eternity.
I myself must have been off to the side because I saw them both

through the morning half-light, strangely clear,
as if it wasn't winter,
or fog, or buildings getting in the way.
And I was between them both

like a third, an odd shoe,
I'm not quite sure where,
off to the side, but near,
hidden now in a nook of the soul

floating lightly through space, now in its corporal shell, looking up with sincere regret. Then in the air a mantel of snow was flapped

threadbare, riddled with holes,
and people's faces down below were also white.
I rippled down, conjoined, and soaked into the city.

Liberation, in Language

These heart-stirring errors of craft —
uncertainty how a nation should respond to violence,
made up for by an urgent sense of mission
(words big as beans that are hard to swallow)
and that almost obsessive lack of detail —

yes, one can speak this way from the stage: this language is not beautiful but all abruptly draw out their hands and clap, and so, perforce,
it must be correct.

Landscape with Wind

Metal oxides, black lung
(take shallow breaths)
the dust of the world pierced by headlights

eye-to-eye housing estates
(take no notice)
and at daybreak four chipboards' worth of sleep

full of stinging fog and men in masks squares and streets
(don't cry, don't get upset)


Hearing the lift coming up,
voices on the stairs, a brief argument,
the old dog is drawn away from her blanket and the contemplation of another world,
and reluctantly strolls over to the door to express her opinion. She favors the worldly life, but without conviction.


Excerpted from "Continued"
by .
Copyright © 2005 Piotr Sommer.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword - August Kleinzahler
From Shepherd's Song / Piosenka pasterska (1999)
Morning on Earth
Municipal Services
Continued i.m. Milton Hindus
Short Version
Shepherd' Song
From elsewhere
Sometimes, Yes
From Lyric Factor and Other Poems / Czynnik liryczny i inne wiersze (1988)
Station Lights
Landscape with Branch
Believe me
Home and Night
Days of the Week
Travel Permit, Round Trip
Leaves and Comes Back
According to Brecht
A Certain Tree in Powazki Cemetery
Don't Sleep, Take Notes
Third State
Liberation, in Language
Landscape with the Wind
Ah, Continuity
Lighter, Darker
Apoliticial Poem
Ode to the Carnival
Don't Worry, It Won't Get Lost
Receding Planets of the Rowan Tree
Out of Town
Prospects in Prose
A Small Treatise on Non-Contradiction
A Maple Leaf
From elsewhere
Little Graves
From A Subsequent Word

What People are Saying About This

John Ashbery

“Piotr Sommer is the great poet of ‘everyday loneliness, contrary to your self, perhaps.’ Like Frank O’Hara, whom he has translated into Polish, he is on the lookout for what he calls “improper names”—the very ones that allow us to construe the unkempt and taciturn world that surrounds us.”

From the Publisher

"Piotr Sommer is the great poet of 'everyday loneliness, contrary to your self, perhaps.' Like Frank O'Hara, whom he has translated into Polish, he is on the lookout for what he calls improper names—the very ones that allow us to construe the unkempt and taciturn world that surrounds us."—John Ashbery

"It might come as a shock to you, but the real father of Polish poetry written in the last 20 years is Piotr Sommer. Look at his clarity, his gentle light as immediately after rain, his landscapes and touches, his fascinating human scale—and find out why."—Tomaz Salamun, author of Feast

Tomaz Salamun

“It might come as a shock to you, but the real father of Polish poetry written in the last 20 years is Piotr Sommer. Look at his clarity, his gentle light as immediately after rain, his landscapes and touches, his fascinating human scale—and find out why.”

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