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About this poet

Poet, novelist, essayist Adam Zagajewski was born in Lwów in 1945. He spent his childhood in Silesia and then in Cracow, where he graduated from Jagiellonian University.

Zagajewski first became well known as one of the leading poets of the Generation of '68' or the Polish New Wave (Nowa fala); he is one of Poland's most famous contemporary poets. Among his collections are Anteny(Cracow: a5, 2005); Powrót (2003); Pragnienie (Cracow: a5, 1999); Ziemia ognista (1994); Jechac do Lwowa (1985); Sklepy miesne (1975); and Komunikat (1972). His books of poetry in English include Eternal Enemies: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008. Translated by Clare Cavanaugh); Without End: New and Selected Poems (2002, translated by Clare Cavanaugh); Mysticism for Beginners (1997, translated by Clare Cavanaugh); Tremor (1985, translated by Renata Gorczyñski); and Canvas (1991, translated by Renata Gorczyñski, B. Ivry, and C. K. Williams).

He is also the author of a memoir, Another Beauty (2000, translated by Clare Cavanagh) and the prose collections, Two Cities (1995, translated by Lillian Vallee) and Solitude and Solidarity (1990, translated by Lillian Vallee). His poems and essays have been translated into many languages. Among his honors and awards are a fellowship from the Berliner Kunstlerprogramm, the Kurt Tucholsky Prize, a Prix de la Liberté, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Since 1988, he has served as Visiting Associate Professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. In 2010, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is currently co-editor of Zeszyty literackie (Literary Review), which is published in Paris. Adam Zagajewski lives in Paris and Houston.

Self-Portrait

Adam Zagajewski, 1945
Between the computer, a pencil, and a typewriter
half my day passes. One day it will be half a century.
I live in strange cities and sometimes talk
with strangers about matters strange to me.
I listen to music a lot: Bach, Mahler, Chopin, Shostakovich.
I see three elements in music: weakness, power, and pain.
The fourth has no name.
I read poets, living and dead, who teach me
tenacity, faith, and pride. I try to understand
the great philosophers--but usually catch just
scraps of their precious thoughts.
I like to take long walks on Paris streets
and watch my fellow creatures, quickened by envy,
anger, desire; to trace a silver coin
passing from hand to hand as it slowly
loses its round shape (the emperor's profile is erased).
Beside me trees expressing nothing
but a green, indifferent perfection.
Black birds pace the fields,
waiting patiently like Spanish widows.
I'm no longer young, but someone else is always older.
I like deep sleep, when I cease to exist,
and fast bike rides on country roads when poplars and houses
dissolve like cumuli on sunny days.
Sometimes in museums the paintings speak to me
and irony suddenly vanishes.
I love gazing at my wife's face.
Every Sunday I call my father.
Every other week I meet with friends,
thus proving my fidelity.
My country freed itself from one evil. I wish
another liberation would follow. 
Could I help in this? I don't know.
I'm truly not a child of the ocean,
as Antonio Machado wrote about himself,
but a child of air, mint and cello
and not all the ways of the high world
cross paths with the life that--so far--
belongs to me.

From Mysticism for Beginners by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Claire Cavanaugh. Translation copyright © 1997 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Adam Zagajewski

Adam Zagajewski

Poet, novelist, essayist Adam Zagajewski was born in Lwów in 1945 and is a prominent member of Poland's contemporary poetry scene

by this poet

poem
I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from
poem
Always caught up in what they called 
the practical side of life 
(theory was for Plato), 
up to their elbows in furniture, in bedding, 
in cupboards and kitchen gardens,
they never neglected the lavender sachets 
that turned a linen closet to a meadow.

The practical side of life, 
like the Moon's unlighted