On Reading Poems in the New Yorker

Rasma Haidri
2 min readJun 29, 2021

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I snapped this wooden sculpture along the roadside in North Norway, near the home of Knut Hamsun, so I think it’s supposed to be him on a happy day. Photo copyright 2021 Rasma Haidri

Or: where digitalized reading leads and misleads

Okay, so I’m reading a poem in the online New Yorker on my iPad, enjoying the frolic through language so much I glance at the poet’s short biography — a Polish man — so this is a translation,

but how his sentences cavort seamlessly from prison to a tree, it’s all about finding language, or inventing one, sentence by sentence — I want to find this poet, or should I look for his translator? I know first-hand how hard it is to translate. But Frost was wrong about the poem being lost between languages, the poem is not lost, it’s here, fully potent, in English —

and there is a portrait of the poet himself, at the top of the page, smiling and holding one of his books, OS… or something. It’s not one of the books the bio says is published in English. Too bad. I’ll never be able to read the book in his hand, the one he looked up from as the camera captured him: a smiling man, happy, happier than most poets allow themselves to appear on author photographs,

but neither do they usually wear such a plain white tee-shirt, an undershirt in fact. I admire this man’s brazen, mundane casualness. Behind him a rack of wine glasses tilt out of the frame. Is that a door frame? I see now the book in his hand is called PRO or something,

and then he’s gone, disappeared in a flash —

replaced by a pristine room, flower vases and a wall decoration of ferns sprouting from a Chinese man’s head, a black shower, bottles in a corner rack, an empty white staircase leading up and out of the frame — a word, what is Jotex?

and then he’s back, this time the text: Anders, sixty-nine, has no more urgent nightly urination.Thanks to PRO+.

Bristle gray head.

Missing a tooth.

I should have known it’s not the author’s portrait.

He looks happier than a poet.

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Rasma Haidri

Poet and memoirist writing from an island off the coast of Norway. More at www.rasma.org.