From Publishers Weekly
Venclova, who teaches at Yale University, is most widely recognized in the U.S. as a scholar and a critic, but in Eastern Europe he is known best as a poet of fierce moral tenacity. Born in Lithuania in 1937, Venclova's worldview was significantly shaped by the failure of the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union. As a contemporary of the postwar Polish poets, including Milosz, Venclova's work is similarly informed by political distrust and history, and colored by the cold winter Baltic landscape. "And, in the blackish pane, the seaside's glow/ Becomes the bleak Antarctic in our minds," he states in the title poem, which investigates the Polish Uprising of 1970 as it poses questions of philosophical truth, reality, memory and the habit of existing. These are themes carried throughout his works, which also reveal the roles he gives to memory and the poet's craft in confronting a historic and linguistic crisis: "Only memory, as the days pass/ Widens itself like a compass" and "The highest power, or the void/ Sends the angel down: rhythm and language." Cultivating a rhetorical, almost unfashionably classicist style, Venclova demands a firm grasp of landmarks in a territory where many Western readers might lose their bearing. Fortunately, he proves a faithful guide, providing a handful of key notes as markers. A lengthy dialogue with Milosz about their home lands and an introduction by Joseph Brodsky offer further context.
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From Library Journal
As Joseph Brodsky notes in his penetrating introduction to this volume, Venclova's poetry begins "at the far limit of joylessness." Yet a voice of great courage and strength emerges from the cold and gray, producing an uncanny reading experience. As if by the sheer weight of concision and form, the lines give the impression of constant collapse, as if the words had burned and all that remained on the page were their ashes. Venclova has been well served by his translator in this regard, and one imagines much of this coming through from the Lithuanian: "The billows thrash,/ Wiping away the living scene. The windows/ Glisten in squares of blackness. In a dream./ The heated air sifts through the glass slowly./ Far in the distance, past the towers, screams/ a motor, rolling/ The hours onto me. At times one can see/ In the dark." Although Venclova has written criticism extensively, often for the New York Review of Books and the New Republic, he is little known in this country as a poet. One hopes this volume will remedy this situation.?Steven R. Ellis, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., Univ. Park
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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