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Zagajewski's collection titles Mysticism for Beginners (1998), Eternal Enemies (2008), and this book's call attention to a particular quality or theme in their respective contents. The epithet unseen hand commonly refers to the agency of free-market economics, according to capitalist theorists, and the way secret cabals, conspiracy mavens believe, shape human history. These poems subtly implicate a third possibility, God. Oh, they're no more religious than most of Zagajewski's other poems, which they resemble in settings (the poet's most cherished places), characters (the poet, his parents, friends, and literary peers contemporary and long past), and animating concerns (Poland's twentieth-century history, the poet's life, time, nature, art, literature, love). The only explicit mention of divinity concludes the wide-ranging (world-ranging) meditation. Cafe . The Soviet cosmonauts claimed they didn't find / God in outer space, but did they look. But these poems' many instancings of aging and time's inexorability suggest hope for, if not belief in, God, and in this recall the late work of Zagajewski's master, Czeslaw Milosz.--Olson, Ra. Copyright 2010 Booklist
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Known for his "plain-speaking" poetry, Zagajewski (Eternal Enemies) blends past and present, mundane and mysterious in all his work. His new collection has a conversational, unadorned style reminiscent of William Carlos Williams but often without the imagery. It also has a certain atonality, although this may be the fault of the translation. The best poems establish a contradiction that is resolved at the end by paradox. Take "Poets Photographed," which isn't about photos of poets as much as it's about the music of poetry that, according to Zagajewski, most people don't understand. Born in 1945 in Poland, Zagajewski grew up Roman Catholic in a country ruled by the Polish Communist Party and found his poetic voice as a believer writing amid an official atheistic milieu. He refers to his Catholicism in several of these poems, but it's a quiet Catholicism-often tinged with irony, as in "First Communion": "I'm a beginning Catholic,/ who struggles to tell good from evil." VERDICT Reminiscing about his youth in Eastern Europe and musing on his adulthood in the United States, Zagajewski is melancholy yet hopeful as his poems travel back and forth both in geography and in time. Most readers of contemporary poetry should enjoy.--Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., MD (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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In his new book, Zagajewski stakes out, as firmly as ever, the position of poetry in a world where language's metaphysical registers have been largely usurped by the forces of political oppression. Zagajewski's poems unfold in communal, mainly European, settings: his streets, rivers and valleys, squares, cafes, and cities are also the sites of much 20th and 21st-century history. Yet these poems oppose grand pronouncements and renounce philosophical engagement; we see Zagajewski's continual evolution toward elegy and memory, but the role of poetry is still both vital and deeply limited. A poet has "only language, only words, images/ only the world," he writes-or elsewhere, "There is no truth, wise men repeat./ Summer evenings: festivals of swifts,/ peonies erupting in the suburbs." The poet who was once the voice of the revolutionary Polish "generation of '68" has become and is still the poet who taught us to "praise the mutilated world." In the end, these new poems, pitched at a register slightly lower than that of praise, offer a sort of quiet surprise-occasionally even delight-born out of wise and hard-earned skepticism: "Imagine a dark city./ That understands nothing. Silence reigns./ And in the quiet bats like Ionian philosophers/ make sudden, radical decisions in mid-flights,/ filling us with admiration." (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.