Zell Visiting Writers Series: Adam Zagajewski
Today at 5 p.m.
Rackham Amphitheater

“I thought about you and about the emptiness / that can promise one thing only: plenitude— / and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland / bursts from a surfeit of happiness.”

In Polish writer Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Balance,” he delves into the opportunity hidden in nothingness.

Each year, the Creative Writing Masters program’s students vote on the final writer appearing as part of the Zell Visiting Writer’s Series, and this year’s student-elected choice, Adam Zagajewski, has much to offer poets and non-poets alike. He will read his work today at 5 p.m. in the Rackham Amphitheater. The event is free and open to the public and provides a chance to experience the beauty encapsulated in his poetry.

Zagajewski’s work challenges the listener to transform the “emptiness” described in his poem into the promised “plentitude.”

“Everyone can benefit from attending a poetry reading because the imagination is an utterly necessary component of every form of discovery, whether it be an aesthetic discovery or a scientific discovery or an advancement of a business model,” said Sean Norton, the assistant director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing, said.

As the facilitator of the event, Norton understands the importance that creative writing has in the everyday world and urges non-poets to take part in the experience as well.

“The philosopher John Dewey — who began his illustrious career at the University in the 1890s — described being a citizen of the art world as an act of creativity in itself,” Norton said. “We make the poem complete by listening to it. At a reading, the audience creates the poem alongside the poet, and then the non-poet audience members take that creativity with them and can apply it to all their studies.”

While every field of study can profit from poetry, this mode of expression also prods at a deeper understanding of humanity.

“Don’t we use the word poetry in two ways? One: as a part of literature. Two: as a tiny part of the world, both human and pre-human, the part of beauty,” Zagajewski said in an interview in Poets & Writers Magazine. “So poetry as literature, as language, discovers within the world a layer that has existed unobserved in reality, and by doing so changes something in our life, expands somewhat the space of what we are. So yes, it has the power to restore the mutilated world, even if no statistics ever show it.”

“Try to Praise the Mutilated World” resonated with many readers during the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “You should praise the mutilated world. / Remember the moments when we were together / in a white room and the curtain fluttered.” In these lines, he reminds people to contemplate the good in the world but also honor the bad.

During tragic events and rough stretches of time, poetry creates a medium that surpasses the objectivity of language: It reaches out and connects to the soul.

“At this time when the world is so chaotic, it is simply good for the mind and heart to sit and find solace in great writing,” Norton said. “It is enriching in the same way a musical concert or film can be.”

Art, and specifically poetry, is a process of exploration and development that cannot be reached through scientific research methods. It has the power to turn nothingness into endless happiness and tragedy into understanding.

“All great societies need art in this way; history has proved this to be true. And we are no different,” Norton said. “We need, now more than ever, to make our society a creative place instead of a destructive place. We learn how to do that by doing something as simple as attending a poetry reading.”

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