Twenty-eight people from Brazil, Canada, GA, MA, ME, MI, NH, NY, NJ, PA, and OR gathered on Zoom to close read the poem “Life While-You-Wait” by Wislawa Szymborska.
When the group was asked which words or lines first stood out to them, the responses included:
- The title “Life While-You-Wait” is repeated in the first line.
- The dashes make those three words an expression that urges the reader to quickly run them together in a sound that happens in less time then it takes to sound “Wait.”
- On tombstones there is a dash between two dates representing birth and death. That’s why some people use the expression: “Live in the dash.”
- There is no control, no way to make time go forward or backward or repeat.
- The word “raincoat” provides texture.
- It sounds as if life comes “nonstop”– like rapids in a river.
- The play/performance is “just happening” on a stage rotated by an unseen force.
- These words from theatre call to mind Shakespeare and “All the world’s a stage.”
- Other intertextual associations included: Waiting for Godot and The Truman Show
Questions were raised such as:
- Is this a sudden realization by the speaker of the poem?
- What is the age and gender of the speaker?
- Does the speaker of the poem have stage fright? Some of us identified with speaker and others thought that the speaker lacks confidence or might believe there is only one “right way.”
- Several people reported anxiety as they encountered the poem, though were not able to say, exactly, what in the poem elicited that feeling.
- Others warmed to the idea of improvisation, free-style dancing, the chance to choose to live life as a “joyous crapshoot” with hiccups and a frog in the throat, perhaps awkward and uncomfortable, or to let life go by.
- One person dropped into the chat the notion that an unscripted play can have not only dread but also excitement.
- Another asked, “After all, what are we waiting for? It’s a bit of a philosophical conundrum.”
The prompt: Write about not having a rehearsal.
We had three readers.
One imagined the “wait” to be over. Aware of her final heartbeats and breaths, the narrator is awake to the impossibility of rehearsing the moment of death. Another represented a contemporary play in which rehearsal has been cancelled due to Covid-19 or lack of transportation, and the one act, one person show includes the line, “Yes, but…” And the last reader began with a written realization of being “a drop in the universe” wondering if she had wasted time looking for a compass, looking to the sky for answers before remembering to turn inward and find guidance. With that realization it is possible to look forward to: Showtime!
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Life While-You-Wait by Wisława Szymborska Life While-You-Wait. Performance without rehearsal. Body without alterations. Head without premeditation. I know nothing of the role I play. I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it. I have to guess on the spot just what this play’s all about. Ill-prepared for the privilege of living, I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands. I improvise, although I loathe improvisation. I trip at every step over my own ignorance. I can’t conceal my hayseed manners. My instincts are for happy histrionics. Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliates me more. Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel. Words and impulses you can’t take back, stars you’ll never get counted, your character like a raincoat you button on the run — the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness. If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance, or repeat a single Thursday that has passed! But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen. Is it fair, I ask (my voice a little hoarse, since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage). You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no. I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is. The props are surprisingly precise. The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer. The farthest galaxies have been turned on. Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere. And whatever I do will become forever what I’ve done.