They Carry a Promise: Selected Poems

Overview

This bracing collection marks the first appearance in English of the Polish poet Janusz Szuber, hailed as the greatest discovery in Polish poetry of the late twentieth century when, in his late forties, he began publishing the work he’d been producing for almost thirty years. Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska has called him a “superb poet,” and Zbigniew Herbert said that “his poetry speaks to the hard part of the soul.”

Szuber is an intensely elegant writer whose poems are short...

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They Carry a Promise: Selected Poems

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Overview

This bracing collection marks the first appearance in English of the Polish poet Janusz Szuber, hailed as the greatest discovery in Polish poetry of the late twentieth century when, in his late forties, he began publishing the work he’d been producing for almost thirty years. Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska has called him a “superb poet,” and Zbigniew Herbert said that “his poetry speaks to the hard part of the soul.”

Szuber is an intensely elegant writer whose poems are short and accessible; his work is poised between the rigors of making poetry and life itself in all its messy glory, between the devastations of history and the quiet act of observing our place in it all. “Grammar is my / Adopted country,” Szuber explains in one poem, yearning at the same time toward the physical, the breathing world: “I’d prefer something less ambiguous: / The bony parachutes of leaves, / The flame of goosefoot, from a frosty page / A star bent over me.” Throughout, there is an intense quiet and modesty to Szuber’s verse, whether he is observing the heron in flight, the froth of blossoming apple trees, or the human images in an old photo album. “Who will carve her fragile profile / in ivory . . . Who in truthful verse will briefly tell / of eternity, impermanent as a broken fan?”

In lovely, astute translations by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough, the poems in They Carry a Promise are an exhilarating introduction to the work of a contemporary Polish master.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Careful, profound and much celebrated in Poland, Szuber seems the logical heir, in some ways, of Czeslaw Milosz. Throughout these gravely melodious short poems, Szuber remains reverent before all manner of fleeting worldly beauties, yet prone to introspection and self-accusation, and unable to get away for long from the disastrous 20th century. One sonnet begins humbly, with "a trip to the attic sprinkled with yellow dusty loams," but ends in fear: "Somewhere out there was history with a capital letter,/ Clouds, fathomless thunderbolts." Szuber can sound religious, but he treasures each moment on Earth: "Don't say you can't accept/ This here," he warns. "There will never be/ Anything else." And though he names places and individuals, frequently Szuber still yearns for a lyric universality, as in quatrains about an old photo album: "Who in truthful verse will briefly tell/ Of eternity, impermanent as a broken fan?" Born in 1947, Szuber represents not the new voice of postcommunist Poland, but the last flowering of the world-class lyric gifts-allegorical, pious, careful, self-estranged-that grew up in the shadow of the Iron Curtain, which deserve our attention. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307267535
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/19/2009
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Janusz Szuber was born in 1947 and has published eighteen collections of poetry in Poland. His work has been translated into numerous languages, and he has received a number of awards, including the Kazimiera Illakowiczówna Prize for Best Poetic Debut and the highest award from the Polish Foundation of Culture. He lives in the old city of Sanok.

Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough’s translations of Polish poetry have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, TriQuarterly, The Paris Review, and Image, among other publications. She divides her time between Kraków and Fresno, California.

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