Love at First Sight
“breathes a highly charged life into the work of an incredible poet and the whole of the work is elevated . . .”
“They’re both convinced / that a sudden passion joined them. / Such certainty is beautiful, / but uncertainty is more beautiful still.” So opens Love at First Sight, a new, graphic book rendering of Nobel Prize in Literature-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, “Love at First Sight.”
As Szymborska often does with her work, she chooses opening lines to provide an innocuous introduction, but as the poem progresses it drills down to mine the deep passageways that the poet always manages to bring to the surface of her work. It is this juxtaposition of the simply accepted and the sublime that make this new book both powerful and approachable. As the poet continues, the story of the poem gently unwinds:
“Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways—
perhaps they’ve passed by each other a million times?”
Now the poem begins to step beyond the obvious when it asks: What about the environment? What does it contribute to this unfolding relationship? The poem teases with its delivered potential, it pulls at a reader’s psyche, making introspection a required drink to continue reading, to absorb the nutrients it presents plain as yellow cake on a plate that, once tasted, has a subtly hidden layer of frosting that otherwise would have been missed. And the work done within page after fully illustrated page of Beatrice Gasca Queirazza’s delectable, almost flat faced drawings—pieces that capture you with their eyes, that bore the story deep into a reader’s own gaze—is a remarkable marriage.
As the poem slowly continues to wind out its threads, it catches a reader’s natural sense of curiosity in a style that is at once plainly stated yet filled with layer upon layer to unwrap. Queirazza’s masterful drawings dance with Szymborska’s lyrical design, further enabling her poem in a kind of synergy that reaches well beyond the written word—though the Polish poet’s work has received a lifetime of accolades and hardly requires embellishment. Yet through this marriage, the poem is elevated in ways that feel appropriate, daring, and new. Transposing the work that Szymborska has presented in Polish to English readers is accomplished by the acute pen of long-time Szymborska translator Clare Cavanaugh, and poet and translator Stanislaw Baranczak, who teamed to dial-in the poet’s words with a devastating stillness of effect in this book from Seven Stories Press. The narrator is both direct and matter of fact throughout the poem, as it continues:
“I want to ask them
if they don’t remember—
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?—"
Many may consider that language alone finds difficulty in communicating the depth of imagination and vision, the layers of hope and contemplation that form the basis of an engaged life.
Conversely, the work that an artist’s brush can perform to bring all of its potential effect can be powerful, but without associated language, that work may fall short in its intended effect. But in Love at First Sight, the poet and her muse and the artist and her muse and the translators and their muses have done more than clarify. This book breathes a highly charged life into the work of an incredible poet and the whole of the work is elevated by the combination of these artist-creators.
In some ways, a reader will come away from the work wondering why it has taken so long to breathe new perspective into a poet who already brings flames to the fire within her language. If every reader could have a chance to delve into this collaborative work, to see what it brings to the arena of poetry, then the transformational qualities that poets infuse within their work would travel far beyond the black and white of mundane and expected print. Taken all together, the package that is this book and poem is compelling and its elements will spring open a door for a new slate of readers to find their way into the fabulous work of Wislawa Szymborska.