After a long time of reading mainly history and biography (and murder mysteries - always a guilty pleasure creeping in), it has been refreshing to honor National Poetry Month by reading some recent releases. Poetry inspires the most personal and idiosyncratic reactions of all the literary forms, so I have without apology chosen three favorites.
By Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanagh
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / 116 pages / $24
The weight of history lies heavily on Poland, and for contemporary Polish poets the shadow of the great Czeslaw Milosz must cast its own weight.
Adam Zagajewski has survived some of that history, recalling: ... when I was born the pockmarked / Georgian still lived and reigned, / with his grim henchmen and theories. Those were years of memory and grief, / of sober talk and silence; there was little joy - although a few birds didn't know this, / a few children and trees. / To wit, the apple tree on our street blithely opened its white blooms / each April and burst / into ecstatic laughter.
Hope flowers also in "Epithalamium," which looks forward from a wedding day to proclaim: It begins from one day only, from joy / and pledges, from the holy day of meeting, / which is like moist grain; / then come the years of trial and labor, / sometimes despair, fierce revelation, / happiness and finally a great tree / with rich greenery grows over us, / casting its vast shadow. Cares vanish in it.
And there is his moving tribute to an ancient Greek poet, Erinna of Telos, dead at 19: We speculate that she wanted to express / some vast truth about life, ruthless / on the surface, sweet within,/ about August nights, when the sea / breathes and shines and sings like a starling, / and about love, ineffable and precious. / We don't know if she cried when she met the darkness. / She left only a few hexameters / and an epigram about a cricket.
Zagajewski is leaving us a good deal more.
John E. McIntyre is The Sun's assistant managing editor for the copy desk and the writer of a blog on language, You Don't Say, at baltimoresun.com.