Unseen Hand

Farrar. Jul. 2011. 112p. tr. from Polish by Clare Cavanagh. ISBN 9780374280895. $23. POETRY
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.
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