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This review is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

Cover of (ed.), Surrealist Poetry: An Anthology
Jeremy Over‘as serious as oysters’

Willard Bohn (ed.), Surrealist Poetry: An Anthology (Bloomsbury) £22.45
Willard Bohn, a scholar of early avant-garde literature, has now edited and translated two substantial international anthologies of poetry rooted in that era. The first, Dada Market (1993), brought together forty two poets, writing in seven different languages. The second, Surrealist Poetry, is narrower in scope (to allow for a larger selection of work from each contributor) focusing on twenty-three poets writing this time in French, Spanish and Catalan. It’s the first anthology to give equal weight to surrealist poetry written in Spanish and, as Mary Ann Caws blurbs on its back, the book is a ‘venture full of courage’. It’s also, apart from its selected bibliography, a happily unscholarly piece of work; it was ‘conceived as a joyful experience’ Bohn writes disarmingly in the introduction.

Unfortunately it also bears signs of being rushed, with regular typos and a curious decision by Bohn to recycle chunks of his earlier introduction to Dada Market. The anthology uses parallel text and readers are invited to have a go at deciphering the originals themselves to compare with Bohn’s versions. Although I can’t comment on his versions of the Spanish poems I’m aware of at least one reviewer (Andy Stafford in Translation and Literature) who holds Bohn’s translations in high regard, especially of Rafael Alberti and Vicente Aleixandre. Unfortunately some of the translations from the French seem to wobble occasionally, e.g. in Benjamin Péret’s poem ‘Attendre’, ‘vêtus de gares fermées dont je cherche la clé de signal ouvert’ is translated as ‘dressed in decommissioned train stations for whose overt signal key ...

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