Between Water & Song: New Poets for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Norman Minnick (White Pine Press) $17
Includes: Ruth Forman, Ilya Kaminsky, Malena Mörling, Kevin Goodan, Jay Leeming, Terrance Hayes, Luljeta Lleshanaku, Sherwin Bitsui, Maria Melendez, Valzhyna Mort, Eugene Gloria, Brian Turner, Joshua Poteat, Maurice Manning, & Chris Abani
From the Introduction: A graduate student in a creative writing program said recently that we shouldn’t read anyone before the previous generation of poets because their poems don’t include cell phones and iPods and thus have nothing to say to the modern poet. Many poets are looking only to the poets of their own generation or teachers in their respective MFA programs, rather than, say, Li Po, Sappho, Mistral, or Machado…. I am reminded of what Denise Levertov says in her essay “Great Possessions,”
Much of what is currently acclaimed, in poetry as well as in prose, does not go beyond the most devitaalized ordinary speech. Like the bleached dead wheat of which so much American bread is made (supposedly “enriched” by returning the the worthless flour a small fraction of the life that was once in it) such poems bloat us but do not nourish.
What’s ignored is a deeper connection with the inner, or spiritual, life. Too many poets stay on the dry surface…
Notable: Without conceding wholeheartedly to Minnick’s analysis, I understand his selection criteria for this diverse group of younger but recognized poets. It’s a satisfyingly international group, with new work I’m excited to see from Mort, Kaminsky, Lleshanaku, and Bitsui.
Red: Contemporary Black British Poetry, ed. Kwame Dawes (Peepal Tree Press) £9.99
Includes: John Agard, Patience Agabi, Fred D’Aguiar, Maya Chowdry, Bernardine Evaristo, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jackie Kay, Roi Kwabena, John Lyons, Jack Mapanje, Raman Mundair, Daljit Nagra, Grace Nichols, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Lemn Sissay, Dorothea Smartt, Wangũi wa Goro, Gemma Weekes, & many more
Notable: All poems were inspired by Editor Dawes single word prompt: “red.” Later assembled in chapters and with frequent epigraphs—including Bob Marley’s “If a egg, natty inna di red”—, the poetry achieves an enjoyable dialogue between its contributors’ pages, made especially interesting by their respective experiences of Black British-ness. Its categorization of Black British poets seems to this American as nuanced as the UK use of contemporary racial affixes, its editor generous in definition to include Anglo-Punjabi poet Daljit Nagra.
From the Preface: Why “Red”? When Kadija Sesay asked me to edit the anthology I knew that I did not want to edit a conventional anthology based on a general call for poems by Black British poets. I felt there had to be some distinctive qualiyt to the anthology that would allow us to create an interesting and though-provoking series of images and that would also allow us to make a book that is attractive and unusual.… More than that, I felt that Black British poetry has now arrived at a place where the pressure to justify itself through works that somehow seek to explain, by theme and focus, what Black Britishness is as an ethnicity can now be resisted….
Saudade: An Anthology of Fado Poetry, ed. Mimi Khalvati, w. Vasco Graça Moura (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation) £8.50
Includes Translators: Moniza Alvi, Michael Schmidt, Judith Barrington, Don Paterson, Grey Gowrie, Elaine Feinstein, Philip Jenkins, Ruth Fainlight, Pascale Petit, Fady Joudah, Alfred Corn, Sarah Maguire, Eric Ormsby, Fiona Sampson, George Szirtes, Marilyn Hacker, Carol Rumens, & David Constantine
From the Introduction: Of course, translation involves not only rendering a text, but also negotiating between two cultures. Arguments about the respective merits of foreignisation and domestication are endemic and call into question our ethical and aesthetic values. Poetry itself is estranging and translation, when it defamiliarises by allowing the ‘foreign’ to have a palpable presence in the text, further makes it new. But does this sacrifice intelligibility, readability? Poetry often asks for the subjugation of ego and translation for the ceding of one voice to another. But can this result in a true poem without the necessary connection to the writer’s self and experience? Our translators have faced not only the dilemmas that come with any translation, but those of poems desiged to be sung, and morever emblematic of national identity.
Notable: Would a contemporary poetry press publish this anthology of Fado poetry? Probably not. Khalvati has identified the reasons above, in the excerpt from her introduction, and the songs themselves, though perfectly representative of the “Portuguese blues,” are any poetry translator’s nightmare. As Michael Schmidt writes in his note, “I have translated complex poetry – by José López Velarde, by Octavio Paz and Pasternak and Hofmannsthal; I have translated, obliquely, from the Nahuatl (Aztec). No translation has been as challenging as this.” Though rendered into English in vastly different ways, some more resembling versions or tributes than real translations, the resulting poems are all fine, if few stand out as great. More valuable than the English-language poems are the translators’ notes, in which an A-list group of British and American translators explain their diverse approaches to translating the untranslatable.