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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


Adam Zagajewski

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To purchase Canvas

Title: Canvas
Author: Adam Zagajewski
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1991
Length: 81 pages
Original in: Polish
Availability: Canvas - US
Canvas - UK
Canvas - Canada
  • Translated by Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, and C.K. Williams

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Our Assessment:

B+ : strong collection of poems

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Republic A 25/1/1993 Robert Pinsky
Parnassus . 1993 Bill Marx
World Lit. Today . Fall/1992 Joachim T. Baer

  From the Reviews:
  • "Zagajewski's shrewd, clear, passionate poems have a distinctive way of touching the relation of historical reality to the lives of individuals, and to art." - Robert Pinsky, The New Republic

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Polish poet Adam Zagajewski writes powerful, approachable verse. This collection, published by a poet in exile just as his homeland was winning back its freedom, still derives much of its energy from the tension between East and West -- a tension that was not just political but also cultural and historic.
       Beginning with a rough Lullaby -- "No sleep, not tonight" it insists -- the collection offers a wide variety of poems. From identifying with other "literary rats" (R. Says) to the whole complexity connected with Russia Comes into Poland, Zagajewski touches on the political, the personal, and, above all, else the poetic.
       The horrors of the age and the intellectual forces behind them are often a subject. A Talk with Friedrich Nietzsche asks:

What are words, I want to ask you, what
is clarity and why do words keep burning
a century later, though the earth
weighs so much ?
       Electric Elegy mourns a radio, a box that indiscriminately broadcast the words of dictators, classical music, and Radio Free Europe.
Sleep peacefully, German radio,
dream Schumann and don't waken
when the next dictator-rooster crows.
       There are poems about specific people: Morandi, Anton Bruckner, Simone Weil Watches the Rhône Valley, and (Mircea) Eliade. Seventeen tells of Schubert -- and art and death.
       Other poems are more general. A History of Solitude, or Fruit, which speaks of the unattainable, of life only revealing its features "in memory, in nonexistence."
       Zagajewski is often at his lyrical best in his small but grand poems, as in Stones:
It's raining, the docile city
is swaddled in longing and fog.
       The title piece closes the collection, supposing all the possible uses of a piece of canvas -- a painting here, but a piece of canvas that could have been many other things. Standing before it he thinks of "the arts of painting and living", and though it is a dark piece (and, indeed, "a dark picture") redemptive art offers some hope.

       A strong collection, an interesting variety. Worthwhile.

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Canvas: Adam Zagajewski: Other books by Adam Zagajewski under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish poet Adam Zagajewski was born in 1945.

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