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This review is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.

POLES APART WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA, Poems New and Collected: 19571997 translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh (Faber) £14.99
JAN KOCHANOWSKI, Laments translated by Seamus Heaney and Stanislaw Baranczak (Faber) £7.99

There is little in common between Wislawa Szymborska's Poems New and Collected: 1957-1997 and Jan Kochanowski's Laments other than one of the translators and the publisher. Szymborska is a recent Nobel Laureate and Kochanowski a rare example of a member of the Polish Renaissance writing in the vernacular. Both are important poets who, though publishing four centuries apart, have contributed to the shaping of Polish and central European poetry. These may seem like fragile reasons to warrant a joint review; however, the influence on the English editions of one of the translators, Stanislaw Baranczak, provides sufficient justification.

In her 1996 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Wislawa Szymborska remarks

Poets, if they're genuine, must also [as did Marie Sklodowska-Curie according to Szymborska] keep repeating, 'I don't know'. Each poem marks an effort to answer this statement, but as soon as the final period hits the page, the poet begins to hesitate, starts to realise that this particular answer was pure makeshift, absolutely inadequate. So poets keep on trying, and sooner or later the consecutive results of their self-dissatisfaction are clipped together with a giant paperclip by literary historians and called their 'oeuvres'.

Poems New and Collected: 1957-1997 is Szymborska's oeuvre - at least, that is all we are apparently going to get in English for the time being. Her translators, Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, inform us in their prefatory note that '...eight poems unfortunately had to be omitted...because of specific unsurmountable [sic] problems ...


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