Acclaimed Polish Poet
“Not so long ago we had two incredible voices—Neruda and Milosz. Now we have Adam Zagajewski, who also speaks passionately from both the historical and the personal perspective, in poems reduced to a clean, lyrical clarity. In one poet’s opinion (mine), he is now our greatest and truest representative, the most pertinent, impressive, meaningful poet of our time.” —Mary Oliver
“Seldom has the muse...spoken to anyone with such clarity and urgency as in Zagajewski's case.” —Joseph Brodsky
“Zagajewski is now one of the most familiar and highly regarded names in poetry both in Europe and in this country.” —New York Review of Books
Adam Zagajewski was born in Lvov in 1945, a largely Polish city that became a part of the Soviet Ukraine shortly after his birth. His ethnic Polish family, which had lived for centuries in Lvov, was then forcibly repatriated to Poland. A major figure of the Polish New Wave literary movement of the early 1970s and of the anti-Communist Solidarity movement of the 1980s, Zagajewski is today one of the most well-known and highly regarded contemporary Polish poets in Europe and the United States. His luminous, searching poems are imbued by a deep engagement with history, art, and life. He enjoys a wide international readership, and his poetry survives translation with unusual power.
Zagajewski's most recent books in English are Unseen Hand (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2011); Eternal Enemies (FSG, 2008); and Without End: New and Selected Poems (2002), which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Zagajewski's other collections of poetry include Mysticism for Beginners (1999), Canvas (1991), and Tremor: Selected Poems (1985). He is also the author of a book of essays and literary sketches, Two Cities: On Exile, History and the Imagination (1995), and of Solidarity, Solitude: Essays.
In his memoir, Another Beauty (2000), Zagajewski writes about growing up in a country "as dreary as the barracks" and documents the artistic and political ferment that occurred in Poland during his youth. The reviewer for Booklist called it an "elegant scrapbook" and said, "Full of pithy and compelling observations on art and society, of luminous descriptions of Krakow and Paris...this is a book to be read once through and returned to often, wherever one happens to open it or in search of a particular passage or statement."
When, after September 11, The New Yorker published his poem, "Try to Praise the Mutilated World," on its back page—a rare departure from the cartoons and parodies that usually occupy that space—it resonated with many readers. In an interview in Poets & Writers Magazine, Zagajewski said, “Don’t we use the word poetry in two ways? One: as a part of literature. Two: as a tiny part of the world, both human and pre-human, the part of beauty. So poetry as literature, as language, discovers within the world a layer that has existed unobserved in reality, and by doing so changes something in our life, expands somewhat the space of what we are. So yes, it has the power to restore the mutilated world, even if no statistics ever show it.”
He now spends part of the year in Krakow, the city he lived in during the 1960s and '70s; and he teaches in Chicago.
About UNSEEN HAND (Poetry, 2011, translated by Clare Cavanagh)
One of the most gifted poets of our time, Adam Zagajewski is a contemporary classic. Few writers in poetry or prose have attained the lucid intelligence and limpid economy of style that are the trademarks of his work. His wry humor, gentle skepticism, and perpetual sense of history’s dark possibilities have earned him a devoted international following. This collection, gracefully translated by Clare Cavanagh, finds the poet returning to the themes that have defined his career—moving meditations on place, language, and history. Unseen Hand is a luminous meeting of art and everyday life.
About ETERNAL ENEMIES (Poetry, 2008, translated by Clare Cavanagh)
One of the most gifted and readable poets of his time, Adam Zagajewski is proving to be a contemporary classic. Few writers in either poetry or prose can be said to have attained the lucid intelligence and limpid economy of style that have become a matter of course with Zagajewski. It is these qualities, combined with his wry humor, gentle skepticism, and perpetual sense of history’s dark possibilities, that have earned him a devoted international following. This collection, gracefully translated by Clare Cavanagh, finds the poet reflecting on place, language, and history. Especially moving here are his tributes to writers, friends known in person or in books—people such as Milosz and Sebald, Brodsky and Blake—which intermingle naturally with portraits of family members and loved ones.