Selected by distinguished previous and current editors, this ample anthology celebrates 50 years of the excellent Modern Poetry in Translation. The magazine was originally conceived by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort as a “rough” broadsheet, but its “roughness” was finely designed, like a branch of the alternative publishing of the 1960s that also gave us important small presses and underground publications. The core of the magazine’s early interests lay in poetry written behind the iron curtain or under Nazism, work that, it seemed to Hughes and others, possessed an urgency and universality missing from the west. Among those the magazine has brought to attention are Miroslav Holub, Vasko Popa, János Pilinszky, Paul Celan, Maria Tsvetaeva, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Tadeusz Różewicz and Zbigniew Herbert. That’s quite a roll call.
Hughes’s conviction is evident in various comments recorded here. It is also true that the work he encountered suited him, feeding the epic and mythological dimension of his own writing. A sense of drama, revelation and the exceptional was necessary for Hughes, whose default position became hyperbole. He liked to deal in absolutes. Introducing his Faber selection of Keith Douglas’s poems in 1964, he noted Douglas’s disinterest in “the fruity deciduous tree of life” and commended his close attention to the clarifying powers of probable violent death. Hughes clearly admired Douglas’s highly disciplined poetry, but was himself drawn to write loud, repetitive books such as Crow. This may be what happens when you are too easily drawn to emulate work produced under constraints that you yourself will not experience, displacing political and military facts with violent metaphysical fantasy.