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New European Poets.

New European Poets. Wayne Miller & Kevin Prufer, eds. St. Paul, Minnesota. Graywolf. 2008. xxx + 401 pages. $18. ISBN 978-1-55597-492-3

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Although American readers are familiar with the names of major early- and mid-twentieth-century European poets--Montale, Akhmatova, Celan, Transtromer--the names of contemporary poets born and active in the latter part of the century and into the current century are considerably less well known. It was the task of Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer to address and update this gap in knowledge by enlisting the help of twenty-four regional editors who selected and translated the verse of 270 poets whose work was first published after 1970. The result is a major anthology that represents all countries in Europe and includes the work of many new poets who are published here for the first time in English.

The language styles of these poems comprise a striking range of contrasts. Poets who use more traditional, metaphoric language like Italy's Valerio Magrelli, Sweden's Hakan Sandell, and Ireland's Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill are presented alongside those who use a more literal, colloquial language, like Romania's Simona Popescu or Ukrainian poet Yuri Andrukhovych (see WLT, September 2005, 24-32). The length of individual poems tends toward longer rather than shorter, and poetic influences are eclectic, ranging from surrealism and dadaism to Russian acmeism and American confessionalism.

What is equally striking is the breadth of historical engagement in many of the poems. The Finnish poet Martin Enckell offers a haunting hymn to the romantic, tragic history of the city of St. Petersburg ("in this city of the mothers, and the sphinxes, / life writes its shadow script, as in fever,"), and the Norwegian poet Oystein Wingaard Wolf presents a potent poem-memoir of a Jewish soap-maker who "became a small pile of soap and ashes / that the Nazis wanted to wash Europe with."

Notable too is the frequency with which a playfully ironic or irreverent tone dominates the selections. Polish poet Ewa Sonnenberg wryly addresses the poem as if it were a person ("My funny little poem I'll warm you in my hands / we'll tell life we're sorry for writing not living"). The German poet Ulla Hahn delivers a witty send-up in sonnet form of both the lover and the act of love-making: "Rub rings of sunshine into belly's shell / so that the warmth remains. / Then keep my eyelids open, my lips as well."

In their introduction, the editors explain that one of their reasons for bringing together the poems in this anthology was that the cultural and historical evolution of Europe during the past few decades resulted in the writing of "radically different" poetry, creating the need for an update. They also express concern that current American readers of poetry and American poets themselves may have become less interested in European poetry in recent years. If that is true, it is all the more reason for us to be grateful that we have been given access to an assemblage of contemporary European verse that is uniformly vibrant and well translated.

Rita Signorelli-Pappas

Princeton, New Jersey
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Author:Signorelli-Pappas, Rita
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2009
Words:505
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