True Life: Poems

Farrar. Feb. 2023. 80p. tr. from Polish by Clare Cavanagh. ISBN 9780374601560. $26. POETRY
This final collection of new works from distinguished Polish poet Zagajewski (1945–2021) is a lyrical meditation on the mysteries of the ordinary and the paradoxes of perception. First published in Poland in 2019, it is available in English for the first time in a warm and clear translation by the gifted Slavic scholar and translator Cavanagh, which is a cause for celebration. With its allusion to an aging Tolstoy, the first poem acts as a kind of overture as it considers seeing things—a field, a riverbank, the world, life—as if for the first time. Tolstoy’s declared hero was always truth and his subject always life, and Zagajewski’s poems lead the reader down that same path, encouraging us to look at the world with open eyes. Though the poems are mostly brief lyrical vignettes about places and people, they reverberate with a kind of prophetic voice, as if crying out in the wilderness: open your eyes, look at the wonder, the beauty, the sorrow and the strangeness of life all around you.
VERDICT Readers who enjoy W.S. Merwin, Mary Oliver, and Jane Kenyon will feel quite at home with Zagajewski’s poems; like those writers, he is never obscure or tentative but always luminous and alive. Essential for academic libraries and a worthy purchase for contemporary poetry collections in public libraries.
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