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This review is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

SOME SEMBLANCE OF ORDER miracle fair: Selected poems of Wislawa Szymborska, translated by Joanna Trzeciak (W.W. Norton)

'How can we speak of any semblance of order, when we can't rearrange the stars, to know which one shines for whom?' Wislawa Szymborska reflects in 'Psalm'.

It is routinely observed that Szymborska's poetry is difficult to write about because of its delicacy and its everyday ruggedness, and its simplicity and its complexity, and so on - and this is all true. It is easy to be heavy-handed when writing about her work, and the results are frequently bad. In her Nobel address, Szymborska said she was wary of commenting on her work because she herself was so bad at it. Perhaps that is why, in miracle fair, a new collection of Szymborska's work, translator Joanna Trzeciak opted for a thematic collection of selected poems rather than a verbally authoritative text.

Trzeciak's collected translations attempt to release the poems from some of their context, and to give their possibilities some room to breathe, by pulling together six thematic groups that 'suggest the breadth of Szymborska's poetry, but by no means exhaust it'. Liberty is a blessing for these poems; they thrive on independence, but the thematic approach may seem counterintuitive to this; handled poorly, themes can feel oppressive, or too clever by half. If miracle fair works, it is because Trzeciak's restraint allows the work to seemingly arrange itself, with just a little nudge here and there. For instance, instead of calling the second group of poems, 'Political Themes', Trzeciak gives it a heading from ...

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