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A Swallow Press Book

An Invisible Rope
Portraits of Czesław Miłosz

Edited by Cynthia L. Haven

A Publishers Weekly Top Ten “Literary Essays” Title, Spring 2011

“(A)n exquisite collection of thirty-two memoirs…. I highly recommend it to fellow poets or scholars who are ‘new’ to (Miłosz) because it can deepen the appreciation for his work prior to reading more of it. This book is the ultimate ‘back story.’”

New Pages

“This collection is a must for everyone aspiring to know Milosz and his work. Summing Up: Highly recommended.


“(An Invisible Rope) will delight Miłosz readers with gossip and add anecdotal texture to his image as a great Polish poet in Californian exile, who made a triumphant return to Cracow in his old age…. The common themes include Miłosz’s roaring laughter and insatiable appetite, enduring desire for literary fame, and sense of loneliness.”

Times Literary Supplement

“There is something… in this book which is akin to eavesdropping on (a) social gathering of Czeslaw Milosz and his friends reminiscing over good food and drink…. An Invisible Rope is a very strong collection…. a captivating and human portrait of the poet and his life.”

Sarmatian Review

Czesław Miłosz (1911–2004) often seemed austere and forbidding to Americans, but those who got to know him found him warm, witty, and endlessly enriching. An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz presents a collection of remembrances from his colleagues, his students, and his fellow writers and poets in America and Poland.

Miłosz’s oeuvre is complex, rooted in twentieth-century eastern European history. A poet, translator, and prose writer, Miłosz was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1961 to 1998. In 1980 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The earliest in this collection of thirty-two memoirs begins in the 1930s, and the latest takes readers to within a few days of Miłosz’s death. This vital collection reveals the fascinating life story of the man Joseph Brodsky called “one of the greatest poets of our time, perhaps the greatest.”

Contributors include: Bogdana Carpenter, Clare Cavanagh, Anna Frajlich, Natalie Gerber, George Gömöri, Irena Grudzińska Gross, Hynryk Grynberg, Dan Halpern, Robert Hass, Seamus Heaney, Jane Hirshfield, Agnieszka Kosińska, John Foster Leich, Madeline G. Levine, Richard Lourie, Zygmunt Malinowski, Morton Marcus, Jadwiga Maurer, W. S. Merwin, Leonard Nathan, Robert Pinsky, Alexander Schenker, Peter Dale Scott, Marek Skwarnicki, Judith Tannenbaum, Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier, Lillian Vallee, Tomas Venclova, Helen Vendler, Reuel K. Wilson, Joanna Zach, and Adam Zagajewski

Cynthia L. Haven has contributed to the Times Literary Supplement, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Kenyon Review, the Georgia Review, and others. Recent books include Czesław Miłosz: Conversations and Peter Dale in Conversation with Cynthia Haven. She was recently a Milena Jesenská Journalism Fellow with Vienna’s Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen.   More info →

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Retail price: $29.95, S.
Release date: March 2011
304 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $59.95, S.
Release date: March 2011
304 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for An Invisible Rope

“The reader comes away feeling as if she knows this person as a man—no longer merely the picture of a legend. It compels the reader to revisit even his most well-known works, from The Captive Mind to Road-Side Dog, to be read anew, refreshed by the contextualization of a life lived.”

The Cosmopolitan Review

“In a way, An Invisible Rope—and the entire year-long celebration of the poet’s life—is a means for both the people who knew Miłosz and for those who simply admire him, to thank him for writing his books, which contributed much to the canon of Polish and worldwide literature.”

Words without Borders

“Milosz was a literary giant, a continent in himself. As Gombrowicz noted, with one stroke of the pen, Milosz shifted the moral center of European literature one thousand miles east…. As An Invisible Rope shows us, despite his fervent efforts to transform the devenir of experience into être, he never stopped becoming.”

World Literature Today

“The reminiscences gathered here include a host of luminaries in their own right: Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky, Adam Zagajewski, Helen Vendler, W.S. Merwin, and Robert Hass among them. Each of these pieces is, of course, eloquent and insightful. But another beauty of this collection is that there are other contributions—by individuals with less exalted resumes, such as those who worked for Milosz as personal assistants. The impressions that build up can at times be contradictory, but this only heightens the mystery of this complex man.”


“The thirty-two contributors to Cynthia L. Haven’s anthology invite us to learn something about the man behind this enduring writing…. Reading this anthology may occasionally allow us a glimpse of Milosz stripped of the legend in which his life and accomplishments had encased him….”

The Threepenny Review

“Milosz, more than any other writer, made me feel what's it's like to miss home, to be separated from home, and An Invisible Rope highlights that pain in his life. I'd never been emotionally connected to the plight of political exile, but Milosz makes you feel his angst. It's beautiful that the boomerang of his life -- home, away, and finally welcomed back home to Poland after the fall of Communism -- reflects the mythic arc of The Odyssey, and reinforces the symbolic weight of Home.”

Book Fox blog

“This book presents an impressive picture of a great poet.”

Polish American Journal

An Invisible Rope leaves the reader with a portrait of a man—a thinker and a humanist—who, through his writing and poetry, asks people to live more purposefully in the world and believes that people can.…Ms. Haven’s compilation of sketches paints a strong portrait of Czeslaw Milosz and his life. Truly, the reader is left better knowing the poet who penned, ‘Endurance comes only from enduring/With a flick of the wrist I fashioned an invisible rope/And climbed it and it held me.’”

New York Journal of Books

“These vivid portraits and memoirs, these intimacies rescued from oblivion, tie us more closely to one of the great poets and spiritual presences of the 20th century. An Invisible Rope is an indispensable compendium.”

Edward Hirsch, author of The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems

“This collection is an invitation to explore not only Miłosz’s work, but the history and thought he sought to illuminate…. To read these essays is to step into his several worlds and to reflect on the contradictions and poverties of this age…. (Haven’s) project is to preserve memories of this icon, and perhaps his values as well.”

ForeWord Reviews

“In the wake of his death in 2004, the poetry of Czesław Miłosz seems more permanent than ever. Yet the creator of that poetry—the human being who spent much of his life wrestling with loneliness, obscurity, and a punishing form of linguistic exile—has already begun to recede into literary history. We should be grateful, then, for the reminiscences that Cynthia Haven has collected in An Invisible Rope. The reader is offered glimpses of Miłosz in his salad days and in his post-Nobel splendor, in Wilno and Berkeley, Washington and Krakow. The result is a vivid, kaleidoscopic portrait of the man whom Adam Zagajewski calls ‘an ecstatic poet and ecstatic person.’”

James Marcus, author of Amazonia and Deputy Editor, Harper’s Magazine

”The image emerging from this invaluable collection is the authentic Czesław Miłosz, the poet who rejected theodicy but kept faith. To know him was to enter a force field in which the past century’s struggle with evil could be palpably felt; it meant also to be swept up by the intensity with which he, a witness to his century’s horrors, lived and worked. Those who have been touched by his poetry will be moved by these recollections, all of them animated by his love of life and vibrating with his voice.”

Gregory Freidlin, author of A Coat of Many Colors: Osip Mandelstam and His Mythologies of Self-Presentation

“(I)t is wonderful to have these remembrances of this complicated man by those who knew him best including the translators he worked with most often.”

Porter Square Books Blog

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