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This review is taken from PN Review 217, Volume 40 Number 5, May - June 2014.

In her Elegant Sights wisława szymborska, Here (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) US$14.95

The beauty of this collection is that it works as a fine introduction to Szymborska’s poetry, as well as providing further insight into a poet who reflected endlessly on her craft and who to the very end kept the world in her elegant sights.

There’s much here that will be familiar. Szymborska’s style was virtuosic, her approach fragmented, meticulous, cool. Yet it was the way that poetry spoke through her that was unique. Much has been made of her modesty verging on diffidence, yet she had a true understanding of the duty of poetry that can sometimes involve enormous self-sacrifice with surprising results. It was this sense of difference between what a person is and what a person does that she developed over fifty years to quite startling effect.

Here comprises twenty-seven poems in the short and long form (‘An Interview with Atropos’ is just over two pages long, ‘Vermeer’ a remarkable six lines). The subject matter of these poems ranges from Ella Fitzgerald to microbes, traffic accidents to the apocalypse. In the title poem, Szymborska establishes a central concern of the collection (‘There may be comparable places elsewhere, / but no one thinks they’re beautiful’). The mood of these lines is quite downbeat, indifferent almost. Then a few lines later we read ‘Life on Earth is quite a bargain. / Dreams, for one don’t charge admission. / Illusions are costly only when lost. / The body has its own instalment plan’. These lines suggest that something quite different is going on: they have drive, wit and above ...

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