Friday, June 10, 2011

Unseen Hand By Adam Zagajewski

Unseen Hand
By Adam Zagajewski
Copyright © 2009 by Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Clare Cavanagh
ISBN: 978-0-374-28089-5
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Hardbound, 105 pages, $23

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

I have always admired the Eastern European poets, particularly the Polish poets like Adam Zagajewski who is at home with historic, geographic, personal or nature poetry and in his new book he is the master of all these forms. To make this book complete, translator Clare Cavanagh has just the right touch to keep the poetry alive, accessible and a pleasure to read.

Back to Zagajewski whose poem “January 27” references the Holocaust by juxtaposing it with Mozart’s birthday ending thus:

the age of silver wigs and not he gray hair
we knew from Auschwitz,
the age of costumes, not of nakedness,
hope and despair.

Writing about his father and mother he cannot help but touch the reader’s heart and makes one wish they had been able to express their feelings about their parents with the same honesty as
Zagajewski is able to do.

Zagajewski’s poetry is akin to Charles Simic in his comparatively short poems in which can state what needs to be said with emotion, clarity and sincerity. He is also reminiscent of Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska’s very personal – human – approach to whatever he has chosen to write about.

Having read World Without End: New and Selected Poems and Eternal Enemies, his last two volumes of poetry, I have become an unabashed fan of Zagajewski and his poems provide an inspiration to the writing of some poets I know who seek the style of the Eastern Europeans because of his accessibility, while non-writers enjoy him as much.

What follows are several excerpts from some of the poems which show off his never-ending talent:

From “Luxembourg Gardens”: White boats race the river, pack with crowds/demanding greetings from the shore-bound;/their champagne mood liquidates the past.

From “3 Arkonska Street”: But I wasn’t really grown-up./I didn’t know who I was -/in the mirror I saw only eyes/that didn’t look at me.

From the “Last Stop”: I thought that at the last stop/ the meaning of it all would stand revealed,/but nothing happened, nothing,/the driver ate a roll with cheese/two old women talked quietly/ about prices and diseases.

From “Piano Lesson”: We don’t know who we are – maybe wanderers./Sometimes I think we don’t exist. Only others are./The acoustics are great in our neighbors’ apartment.

What makes Zagajewski one of our great contemporary poets is that even though I have compared him to two other great poets he is his own person. He has returned to past themes in fresh ways, imbued with a unique perspective and voice that explores the often strange and tender ways of people. He is passionate and haunting, elegant and direct. A poet for our time and the ages.


  1. Anonymous9:26 AM

    He is one of my favorite writers. I can't wait to read his new book.
    Great review Zvi.
    Gloria Mindock

  2. I love his poetry too. I'm anxious for the paperback edition of Unseen Hand.