Symposium

A Discussion about (Mostly) Books as They Relate to a Theme of Contemporary Interest

by Matthew Zapruder

PALPABLE AND MUTE

I’m not sure why I was asked to write about Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence, although I guess being a poet makes me some kind of expert on silence. It has always seemed to me that there is something primitive about the poet’s relationship to silence. We enter into it cautiously, with a kind of ceremony; we keep it around us, with equal measures of love, awe, and terror. As for all writers, silence can be our enemy, staring at us via the blankness of the page or screen. Unlike other writers, though, when we write as poets, silence stays close to our poems, protecting them in the leap between the title and the first line, at the ends of the lines we break too soon, leaving whatever absence we instinctively deem correct in its measure. Prose writers would fill that space, but not us.

The History of Silence, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza García, begins with these two sentences: “This is the story of how a book that should have been called The History of Silence never came to be written. Although common, failure is not easy to explain.” The narrator sounds more than a bit like a poet here. Because of its close relationship to silence, negation is one of the great engines of poetry. Keats, who came up with the concept of negative capability—the closest thing to a statement of purpose most poets can agree upon—addresses his Grecian urn this way at the beginning of his ode:

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,

Sylvan historian, who canst thus express A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Matthew Zapruder is the author most recently of Sun Bear (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). Why Poetry, a book of prose, is forthcoming from Ecco Press in 2016. An associate professor in the St. Mary’s College of California MFA program and English department, he is also an editor at large at Wave Books. He lives in Oakland, California.

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