Planet 226

John Barnie reviews
Centres of Cataclysm:
Celebrating Fifty Years of Modern Poetry in Translation

Eds. Sasha Dugdale, David and Helen Constantine

Centres of Cataclysm Eds. Sasha Dugdale, David and Helen Constantine

Bloodaxe, £15.00

When Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort founded Modern Poetry in Translation in 1965 they saw it as an ‘airport for incoming translations’. The idea was to introduce English-language readers to the kinds of poetry being written elsewhere, especially in Eastern Europe where, they believed, the harsh conditions of Communist dictatorship gave poetry an urgency it lacked in the West. The magazine pioneered the work of poets such as Miroslav Holub, János Pilinszky and Vasko Popa who were subsequently taken up by Faber and Faber and other metropolitan publishing houses. Undoubtedly, these translated poets had an influence on the poetry reading public in Britain, as well as on the practice of a number of poets, not least Ted Hughes himself.

The current editor of MPT, Sasha Dugdale, suggests in her Preface that some of these poets have not worn well – at least in translation – while the overview of Eastern European poetry given was partial, favouring ‘a few European male voices, a new canon in place of the old’. In retrospect it might also be said that the fashion for poets writing under repressive regimes reflected, as much as anything, a kind of envy on the part of English-language poets who could say what they liked, but to an ever diminishing readership.

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