- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (March 31 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374531609
- ISBN-13: 978-0374531607
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 21.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 181 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,063,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Eternal Enemies: Poems Paperback – Mar 31 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Celebrated on two continents, Polish poet Zagajewski (A Defense of Ardor) looks back with some self-consciousness, in these new poems, at the lyricism of his compatriot Czeslaw Milosz, at the prewar Poland he portrayed, and at a Miloszian mixture of pathos, faith and doubt. Set in Krakow, Italy, Houston and New York, these frequently brief and always inviting works present, at their most general, the world's materiality at dawn—/ and the soul's frailty. More specific elegies remember Milosz, Joseph Brodsky, Alexander Wat, W.G. Sebald, or look back on the poet's own childhood, which evaporated/ like a puddle gleaming with a rainbow of gasoline. Cavanagh's supple translations let the verse sing in American English without making this Polish poet sound too American: as much as he embraces his new home (he is now teaching at the University of Chicago), he remembers, too, that the Holocaust Museum in Washington holds my childhood, my wagons, my rust. Perhaps narrow in their sweet, sad moods, Zagajewski's poems remain wide in their sympathies. One especially ambitious work imagines the people of the ancient Near East coming alive again, startling archeologists: Look, a flame stirs from the ashes./ Yes, I recognize the face. (Apr.)
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About the Author
Adam Zagajewski was born in Lvov in 1945. His previous books include Tremor; Canvas; Mysticism for Beginners; Without End; Solidarity, Solitude; Two Cities; Another Beauty; and A Defense of Ardor―all published by FSG. He lives in Paris and Houston.
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It's a difficult tightrope act to get all of this in a collection of poems, let alone in one poem.
Nobody does it better than Adam Zagajewski. His new collection is loaded with the powerful, memorable poems every true lover of poetry craves.
In "Genealogy," for example, he evokes his Polish schoolmaster ancestors and calls them to life when he does his own teaching: "they turn their gaze at me/ revising my mutterings/ correcting my mistakes."
Poems like "Kermelicka Street," and "Traveling by Train Along the Hudson" provide a powerful sense of place and then turn the reader outward from that specificity.
Truth in advertising: since I neither read nor speak Polish my appreciation of Zagajewski's idiom must be tentative. But I am free to guess. My guess is that Zagajewski has even greater impact on the Polish speaker than on those of us who must read only Clare Cavanagh's translation.
Those who appreciate poetry must surely admit there's special power in that language and the culture it represents. Perhaps this accounts for that most remarkable event of our time, Poland's rebirth. How else to explain the profusion of modern poets: Zbigniew Herbert, Aleksander Wat, and Nobel Laureates Czeslaw Milosz (see my review of posthumously published Second Space: New Poems), Wislawa Szimborska (see Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska)? And as long as you are browsing, take a look at my review of Zagajewski's Without End: New and Selected Poems.
Zagajewski, known for his ironic, self-deprecatory voice, in his humble way becomes the universal man who goes on searching ("Poetry Searches for Radiance"):
In the streets and avenues of my city
quiet darkness is hard at work.
Poetry searches for radiance.
Zagajewski's earlier work was marked by angry protest, but in Eternal Enemies (translated by Clare Cavanagh, FSG Paperbacks, April 7, 2009, $14) the anger has mellowed to an acceptance of the weighty past that continues to push against the present. For Zagajewski, the past is an electrical current that informs his sensations as he walks the streets of Europe's once-great cities still reeling from the tremors.
Eternal Enemies covers a lot of ground: the importance of music; musings on Marx, Brodsky, and Milocz; meditative train trips and strolls through a multitude of cities. Yet it is Zagajewsky's sense of being born too late, of being excluded from the formation of history that stands out most in his writings. This sense of alienation can best be seen in his poem, "In a Little Apartment:"
"I ask my father, `what do you do all day?'
...in a low block in the Soviet Style
that says all towns should look like barracks,
and cramped rooms will defeat conspiracies...
he relives daily the mild September of '39, its whistling bombs,
and the Jesuit Garden in Lvov, gleaming
with the green glow of maples and ash trees and small birds,
kayaks on the Dniester, the scent of wicker and wet sand,
that hot day when you met a girl who studied law,
the trip by freight car to the west, the final border,
two hundred roses from the students
grateful for your help in '68,
and other episodes I'll never know,
the kiss of a girl who didn't become my mother,
the fear and sweet gooseberries of childhood, images drawn
from that calm abyss before I was.
Your memory works in the quiet apartment--in silence,
Systematically, you struggle to retrieve for an instant
Your painful century."
By the time Zagajewski returns to Lvov after his family's exile, the very buildings weigh on the individual, silencing and smothering protest, echoes of the barracks used to house Poland's many prisoners of war.
A nostalgia for a past he himself did not experience is evinced by the juxtaposition of the "whistling bombs" to the gleaming green glow of Maples and the sound of sparrows, of life going on in spite of war.
The sense of being apart from history is repeated again and again: "other episodes I'll never know," "the kiss of a girl who didn't become my mother," "The calm abyss before I was," and the final, distancing, disowning gesture: "Your painful century."
It is in this last, accusing phrase, that some of the old anger comes to the surface. The generation of '68 around the globe felt an insurmountable distance between themselves and the lives of their parents, and this poem is partly a manifestation of this inaccessibility. Yet the very act of recording his father's memories--which we can assume would otherwise have continued to be replayed in the "quiet apartment," "in silence"-- is a testament to the role of the poet, and the Polish poet in particular. Zagajewski actively inherits the mantle of Milocz, the weight of his country's history on his shoulders.