NEW AND COLLECTED POEMS 1931–2001

Czeslaw Milosz, Author, Czesaw Miosz, Author . HarperCollins/Ecco $45 (800p) ISBN 978-0-06-019667-7

"More clever than you, I learned my century, pretending I knew a method for forgetting pain." There are few superlatives left for Milosz's work, but this enormous volume, with its portentous valedictory feel, will have reviewers firing up their thesauri nationwide. Born in Lithuania 90 years ago, Milosz published his first volume in Poland at age 22 and, after leftist activity in the '30s (forced underground under Hitler), defected in 1951 while working for the Polish consulate in Paris. After emigrating to the U.S. in 1960 and settling in as a professor of Slavic languages and literature at Berkeley (whence his books continued to issue), Milosz won the Nobel Prize in 1980. More books of verse attempting to come to grips with the 20th century followed, and Milosz enjoys an enormous, and deserved, reputation here, well-served by Milosz and Robert Hass's many co-translations of the poems, which make up the bulk of the book. (Other translators include Robert Pinsky and Peter Dale Scott.) Worth the price of admission alone is a full collection's worth of new work, taken from the Polish volume To ("This" in English) published last year, and superior to 1998's very uneven Road-SideDog. The odd rhyming hexameter of "A Run" is typical here, taking us on dreams of flying, and back, in the last stanza, to the present: "I'm unkindly greeted by this awakened state./ During the day, on my cane, asthmatic, I creep./ But the night sees me off at the traveler's gate,/ And there, as at the outset, the world is new and sweet." Through the many horrors chronicled in this book, that renewal is a perpetual promise. (Oct. 1)

Forecast:Excellent reviews and distribution should lead to strong sales, and Milosz's nonagenarian status should lend a hook for magazines. The press kit, however, pitches the book as published to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the (formerly independent) Ecco Press, and offers Ecco helmsman Daniel Halpern for interviews in lieu of Milosz.

Reviewed on: 09/03/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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