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This review is taken from PN Review 170, Volume 32 Number 6, July - August 2006.

FAR FROM HOME ADAM CZERNIAWSKI, The Invention of Poetry: Selected Poems, translated by Iain Higgins (Salt Publishing) £ 9.99

The Invention of Poetry gathers half a century's worth of Adam Czerniawski's poetry; the earliest poem here is dated 1953, the latest, an elegiac tribute to W.G. Sebald, was completed in 2002. The key to understanding Czerniawski's poetry lies, above all, in his peculiar biography. Born in 1934 in Warsaw, he arrived in Great Britain at the age of thirteen and has made it his residence ever since. Czerniawski's language of choice, however, remains Polish. In addition to having published several books of poetry, in places such as London and Paris, he has been a tireless promoter of Polish literature as an editor, essayist, anthologist, and especially translator (most recently of the nineteenth-century poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid). Czerniawski's decision to write poems in Polish reveals his deep commitment to ancestral and national heritage. An inner exile, he writes about the intersection of history and memory with passionate conviction and lucid intelligence.

The poems in this selection are not arranged chronologically, but grouped into six thematic sections, which to the best of my ability I was able to identify as: Time and Myth; Varieties of Experience; Poetry and Ancestry; Golden Age, Intellectual Traveller (mostly prose meditations), and Miscellaneous. To read Czerniawski's poems means to enter a verbal universe in which profundity and irony, judgement and rapture, continuously intermingle. Many of them betray a fascination with final things. While cosmic apocalypse is too difficult to imagine, individual extinction is all too easy to entertain: 'people speak of me ...


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