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Barbara Hoffert on Tadeusz Rozewicz's "New Poems"

Over at Critical Mass, they’ve been highlighting all of the NBCC Award finalists in preparation for the ceremony on March 6th. This is one of my favorite CM features, in part because they have such great, knowledgeable critics offering up short takes on all thirty finalists.

Such as Barbara Hoffert’s piece on Tadeusz Rozewicz’s New Poems, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston and published by one of our favorite presses, Archipelago Books.

How can a poet whose formative experiences include service in Poland’s Underground during World War II and many decades spent under Communist rule write poetry that sounds so utterly contemporary? That’s the thought that races through one’s mind while reading Tadeusz Różewicz’s “New Poems,” a collection combining the three volumes the professor’s knife, gray zone, and exit, all ably translated by Bill Johnston. And races is surely the operative word here, for Różewicz’s spare, distilled lines simply pour down the page like water over a mountain’s edge, and once caught in the flow the reader is not likely to stop. It’s that seductive.

On a sidenote, it’s interesting to me that the NBCC poetry catalog is dominated by independent presses: two Graywolf books, two Flood Editions books, and this one from Archipelago. Of the other 25 finalists, there’s a book from Verso, one from Oxford, and one from Yale, but that’s it. I’m not saying that these books don’t deserve to be finalists, I just hadn’t noticed this before, although it’s not all that surprising that the best poetry is coming from presses such as these.



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