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This review is taken from PN Review 165, Volume 32 Number 1, September - October 2005.

FACING THE NIGHTMARE ADAM ZAGAJEWSKI, Selected Poems, translated by Clare Cavanagh, Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry and C.K. William (Faber) £12.99
ADAM ZAGAJEWSKI, A Defense of Ardor, translated by Clare Cavanagh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) $24.00

Adam Zagajewski's Selected Poems reveal his uncommon gift of introspection, acute metaphysical seriousness, and intense longing for transcendental clarity. Beneath their muted, meditative façade, these poems are exuberant and joyous. Zagajewski is an expert poet of ordinary experience for whom elation is always furtive yet cherished, revelation proximate even though ultimately ungraspable.

Born in Lvov in 1945 and educated at Kraków's venerable Jagiellonian University, Zagajewski quickly rose to prominence as a member of the 'Generation of '68' - a group of poets committed to laying bare the manipulative rhetoric of Poland's communist régime. This selection features several examples of his acerbic and penetrating early verse. But Zagajewski's most distinctive work comes from the 1980s, especially the period after he emigrated to Paris in 1982. The move to Western Europe produced a kind of artistic transformation, as he now joined the ranks of other Polish émigré writers - Gombrowicz, Miłosz, Herbert, Herling-Grudziński - each speaking from the perspective of 'an internal refugee' (to use a phrase from 'The Self'). Zagajewski's mid-career poems are no longer programmatic, but preoccupied with solitary splendours of inner experience. They portray him as a contemplative pilgrim in cities and countries of Western Europe, as well as the United States (every spring he teaches creative writing at the University of Houston). They reveal an astonishingly rich imaginative life and a generous appreciation of literature, painting, music, and philosophy, with references to Vermeer, Kierkegaard, Beethoven, Schopenhauer, Schubert, Nietzsche, Bruckner, Seurat, Van Gogh, ...


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