Tomorrow, June 21, is the birthday of poet Adam Zagajewski.
Listen to him reading four poems:
The Washington Post Reviews
THE MAGICIAN’s BOOK: A SKEPTIC’S ADVENTURES IN NARNIA
As a small girl growing up in California, Laura Miller did not just long to visit Narnia. So bewitched was she by that imagined realm — laid out in seven novels back in the 1950s by an eccentric English don — she was pretty sure that not being able to visit it in person would kill her. Along with its various sequels and prequels, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe brought her the purest sort of bliss. It was the book, she writes in this meandering but beguiling appreciation, “that made a reader out of me.”
When Miller was in her early teens, she discovered “what is instantly obvious to any adult reader: that the Chronicles of Narnia are filled with Christian symbolism” and that the books that had been the cornerstone of her imaginative life were “really just the doctrines of the Church in disguise.”
Miller had been raised a Catholic (close enough, for literary purposes, to C.S. Lewis’s born-again Anglicanism), but she was left as cold as a Narnia winter by what she describes as the church’s “guilt-mongering and tedious rituals.” The sense of betrayal by Lewis was so great that for a long time she wanted nothing to do with his now “appallingly transfigured” fairy tale.
A lot of readers have felt that way about Narnia — and not just since Disney’s unsubtle blockbuster movie in 2005 left the whole series more or less hijacked by Christian fundamentalists. Lewis’s longtime friend J.R.R. Tolkien, the creator of Middle-earth and a self-described “devout Roman Catholic,” objected to what he considered the books’ heavy-handed Christian parallels, too.
Read the full review:
To open Adam Zagajewski’s new book Eternal Enemies is to find oneself in motion. “To travel without baggage, sleep in the train / on a hard wooden bench, / forget your native land,” begins “En Route.” A few pages later the narrator wonders whether it was “worth waiting in consulates / for some clerk’s fleeting good humor” and “worth taking the underground / beneath I can’t recall what city” (“Was It”). Other poems find him in cars, imagining the “great ships that wandered the ocean,” on a plane flying over the arctic, on more trains, and occasionally on foot.
Often the motion is not just from one city or country to another, but from one historical era to another. In “Notes from a Trip to Famous Excavations,” for instance, the narrator sees “campaign slogans on the walls / and know[s] that the elections ended long ago,” yet when a gate swings open, the past becomes present as “wine returns to the pitchers, / and love comes back to the homesteads / where it once dwelled.” The poems move, as well, from concrete particular to the abstract and transcendent—from an epiphany, as Zagajewski once wrote in an essay, to the kitchen and “the envelope holding the telephone bill.”
Some of poems’ loveliest effects are achieved by juxtaposing one time or dimension with another, as in “Star,” the opening poem. “I’m not the young poet who wrote / too many lines,” the narrator recalls:
and wandered in the maze
of narrow streets and illusions.
The sovereign of clocks and shadows
has touched my brow with his hand
Notice how the narrator links “narrow streets” with “illusions,” and “clocks” with “shadows.” Small gestures like these give this poem, like many in Eternal Enemies, a tone that is somehow both wistful and particular. So too do the precise, loving references to buildings and streets that will be unfamiliar to most American readers (such as “Long Street” and “Karmelicka Street” and “Staglieno”—the first two in Krakow, the third a graveyard in Genoa, Italy, if you’re wondering). Zagajewki’s places are always more than simply places. They are both mythical and real, a quality that will come through even for readers who are less traveled and don’t put down the book long enough to Google the names.
Read the full review:
With one holiday just past us and more on the way, it is a good bet that feelings of loneliness will register a sizable uptick in our emotional biorhythms. As we all know, a sense that one is isolated from the rest of humanity can descend at all sorts of times — not only on a bleak street at dawn, or in an out-of-town hotel room or during the kind of “solitary restaurant dinner” that F. Scott Fitzgerald saw as the epitome of “haunting loneliness.” The sense of loneliness can come upon us even at a raucous office party or a family dinner by a crackling fire or amid jostling crowds of bargain-hunting Christmas shoppers.
But why is this? In “Loneliness,” John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick try to explain. We all need to make three types of human connection, they say: with intimate or romantic partners, with close friends and with our “collectivity” — the community or nation as a whole. A failure on any one of these fronts is what produces loneliness.
But not only loneliness. For, as Mr. Cacioppo’s own research at the University of Chicago shows, feelings of loneliness and isolation are actually associated with a raft of social pathologies: everything from addiction, depression and uncontrollable anger to impaired cardiovascular functioning and damage to the brain’s “executive control” center. Studies even suggest that a rejection by humans “can increase the tendency to anthropomorphize one’s pet,” which sheds new light on the life of Leona Helmsley.
Messrs. Cacioppo and Patrick are thus arguing, among other things, that a concerted attack on loneliness would improve public health as well as individual happiness. The problem is that they take a scattershot view of what the attack should look like. They recommend everything from saying “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” to the grocer and taking therapy to prevent negative thoughts to finding human connection on the Internet. Which is all very well, except that a cautionary note is needed: Here, as elsewhere, a cure can sometimes be as costly as the disease.
Read the full review: