Thursday, June 03, 2021

Paul Celan, handshakes, smiles, and poems in the pandemic

Before the pandemic, we shook hands as greetings or congratulations. Often, handshakes were accompanied by smiles. Now we've learned to do without hands and smiles, except when we wave to and smile at each other on Zoom. In retrospect, there was an element of trust in the handshake and in the open smile, which can only be safe in the absence of an infectious disease. In a 1960 letter to Hans Bender, Paul Celan wrote that he could not "see any basic difference between a handshake and a poem". In a world without handshakes and with smiles hidden by masks, the poem remains as a sign of trust in the other. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 June 2021)

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