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PN Review 276
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This article is taken from PN Review 272, Volume 49 Number 6, July - August 2023.

Constructing Pavlović Chris Miller
What premium do you add to the poets you read in translation? Poetry is the hardest taskmaster. A nodding acquaintance with a language may still be a dark glass or a partial view when it comes to reading poetry. For most of us, Osip Mandelstam is not one of those poets whose lines bud in memory at the prompting of event, accessible through their mnemonic perfection, but a dream of a poet, glimpsed through words in which the dream is not fulfilled. For those without Russian, he is the creation as much of our imagination as of what we hear and retain of his words. I want to talk about a poet I have spent half a lifetime hypothesizing and constructing; if I tell you that he is among the essential poets of the twentieth century, my proofs are necessarily lacking. Yet his language is no more untranslatable than that of Zbigniew Herbert or Vasko Popa, whose influence on our own poetry is incontrovertible. He shares with Popa and many others the distinction of writing in a language that no longer exists (and may never have done) and from a country that no longer exists but undoubtedly did. That language was Serbo-Croat, ‘which many experts consider as the two separate languages of Serbian and Croatian’.

The poet is Miodrag Pavlović. I first encountered him in the translation published by Angel Books (UK) and New Rivers Press (USA) in 1985: The Slavs Beneath Parnassus, Selected Poems, translated by Bernard Johnson. The book was a revelation. Sometimes one reads a poet with the sense that they have been designed for oneself, that their work ...

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