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This review is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

Cover of Poetry of the Holocaust: An Anthology
Tara BerginTell Our Story
Poetry of the Holocaust: An Anthology, edited and introduced by Jean Boase-Beier and Marian de Vooght (Arc Publications) £12.99

John Felstiner was speaking as a practitioner when he said that ‘translation is the art of loss’. For readers, translation is always the art of gain. Even the losses are gains; and sometimes, as in the case of Holocaust poetry, the losses can feel anachronistically integral to the whole process of transference.

This is not about the aesthetic appeal of rough literals or the conscious use of impoverished English in the final versions. Rather, it’s about the way that an increased awareness of the translator’s task can re-focus our attention on the words a poet uses to make a poem. When translation is placed in the foreground, we are encouraged to think further about what we are reading, and where it came from. As with Michael Schmidt’s recent study of ‘Gilgamesh’ (Princeton, 2019), when the re-telling becomes part of the life of the poem, its existence becomes ‘on-going’.

It’s partly this focus on translation that makes Arc’s new anthology, Poetry of the Holocaust, so interesting and unusual. With thirty-five translators working from nineteen languages, including Norwegian and Japanese, the collection places specific emphasis on giving a voice to those less frequently heard from in books of Holocaust poetry: the Roma, the Sinti, the gay, the disabled, the mentally ill. Some of these poems have never appeared in English before now, and the editors’ provision of brief biographies before every poem means we learn the fate of every poet before we read what they have written: imprisoned, hanged, beheaded, killed ...

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