Collected Poems

Paul Auster

Reading this book on the subway was probably not the best approach, but I managed to struggle through it. Auster’s earlier poems have some overwrought tendencies, but in a way all of his poems fit together as a larger work, making this collected volume very useful. He’s attached to images of stones and whiteness and snow among other things, and many common images are threaded across his work. He has a tendency towards oxymoronic lines and a knack for good poetic punchlines, endings that could almost sit on their own:

We dream
that we do not dream. We wake
in the hours of sleep
and sleep through the silence
that stands over us. Summer
keeps its promise
by breaking it.

(excerpt of “Dictum: After Great Distances” from Wall Writing 1971–1975)

This is a book that I really should get a copy of to keep around, as reading it all at once is kind of too much to take on and I often succumbed to distractions. Then without fail, every time I opened the book I couldn’t remember for the life of me where I was and would end up rereading several poems before finding my place again. There’s something inherently disorienting and vaguely labyrinthian about Auster’s writing.

White Nights

No one here,
and the body says: whatever is said
is not to be said. But no one
is a body as well, and what the body says
is heard by no one
but you.

Snowfall and night. The repetition
of a murder
among the trees. The pen
moves across the earth: it no longer knows
what will happen, and the hand that holds it
has disappeared.

Nevertheless, it writes.
It writes: in the beginning,
among the trees, a body came walking
from the night. It writes:
the body’s whiteness
is the color of the earth. It is earth,
and the earth writes: everything
is the color of silence.

I am no longer here. I have never said
what you say
I have said. And yet, the body is a place
where nothing dies. And each night,
from the silence of the trees, you know
that my voice
comes walking toward you.

(also from Wall Writing)