Redux: A Man Says Yes without Knowing



Every week, the editors of The Paris Review lift the paywall on a selection of interviews, stories, poems, and more from the magazine’s archive. You can have these unlocked pieces delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday by signing up for the Redux newsletter.

Elizabeth Bishop. Photo: Alice Helen Methfessel. Courtesy of Frank Bidart.

This week at The Paris Review, we’re celebrating the release of Poets at Work, our latest anthology of interviews. Read on for work by three of the writers included in the book: Elizabeth Bishop’s Art of Poetry interview, Ishmael Reed’s poem “The Diabetic Dreams of Cake,” and Pablo Neruda’s poem “Emerging.” You can also read Paris Review poetry editor Vijay Seshadri’s introduction to the book on the Daily.

If you enjoy these free interviews, stories, and poems, why not subscribe to The Paris Review? You’ll also get four new issues of the quarterly delivered straight to your door. Or, subscribe to our new bundle and receive Poets at Work for 25% off.


Elizabeth Bishop, The Art of Poetry No. 27
Issue no. 80 (Summer 1981)

I can write prose on a typewriter. Not poetry. Nobody can read my writing so I write letters on it. And I’ve finally trained myself so I can write prose on it and then correct a great deal. But for poetry I use a pen. About halfway through sometimes I’ll type out a few lines to see how they look.


Floor of the New York Stock Exchange, 1963. Photo: Thomas J. O’Halloran. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


The Diabetic Dreams of Cake
By Ishmael Reed
Issue no. 218 (Fall 2016)

“Wall Street says that cake sales are low”
Or to put it bluntly
“Cake is fizz”
So why is a diabetic dreaming of cake
Asked to leave a temple
Because he didn’t know that rice cakes
Were sacrament?
(He managed to jam some into his pockets)
He dreamed that Mount Diablo was a Devil’s food cake
He began to munch it down until his path was
Interrupted by his Pancreas
The Pancreas had sticklike arms and legs
It was frowning
It put up a hand and beckoned him to halt
He pushed aside the Pancreas and finished his
Meal …


Photo: Dinesh Valke. CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.


By Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid
Issue no. 57 (Spring 1974)

A man says yes without knowing
how to decide even what the question is,
and is caught up, and then is carried along
and never again escapes from his own cocoon;
and that’s how we are, forever falling
into the deep well of other beings;
and one thread wraps itself around our necks,
another entwines a foot, and then it is impossible,
impossible to move except in the well —
nobody can rescue us from other people …


If you enjoyed the above, don’t forget to subscribe! In addition to four print issues per year, you’ll also receive complete digital access to our sixty-eight years’ worth of archives. Or, subscribe to our new bundle and receive Poets at Work for 25% off.