cover image Map: Collected and Last Poems

Map: Collected and Last Poems

Wislawa Szymborska, trans. from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $32 (464p) ISBN 978-0-544-12602-2

Szymborska (1923–2012), winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, has her vast and impressive poetic repertoire on full display in this posthumously published volume. Ordered chronologically, the book reveals her development over seven decades, including a gradual departure from end rhyme and the sharpening of her wit. As multitudinous as Whitman, she conveyed deep feeling through vivid, surreal imagery and could revive clichéd language by reconnecting it to the body in startling ways: “Listen,/ how your heart pounds inside me.” To say that Szymborska wore many hats as a poet is an understatement: odes, critiques, and persona poems are just a few of the forms her writing took. Yet, despite their diversity, the constants of her poems were nuance and observational humor: “Four billion people on this earth,/ but my imagination is still the same.” Also apparent is Szymborska’s rare ability to present an epiphany in a single line, and her bravery in writing toward death: “But time is short. I write.” Ever the student, she obsessively explored the histories and processes of writing, never far from penning another Ars Poetica. “Everything here is small, near, accessible,” Szymborska writes in the title poem—a maxim about the way the reader feels within her lines. (May)