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This review is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

THE FRENCH COLLECTION Twentieth Century French Poems, edited by Stephen Romer (Faber) £10.99

Doubtlessly, when Stephen Romer accepted the commission to edit this anthology, he realised he had set himself a rather daunting task. He has chosen approximately 200 poems written by over fifty French writers (mostly men it must be admitted) in the past century. He has provided a laconic rationale for his choice of poems, and it is a idiosyncratic one. His intention is to offer the reader not only the most poetic of French verse but also what he has judged to be the most vigorous translations into English that are available. To accomplish this aim, he draws on the French translations by English-speaking poets as widely diverse as Paul Muldoon, T.S. Eliot, John Ashbery, David Gascoyne, Louis MacNiece, and even Lawrence Ferlinghetti. As a result of this predilection for translators, a discernable Anglo-American shadow pervades the book; Romer's selections seldom offer the unusual or extreme. He announces in his introduction that he happened on a few surprises while editing the book, but I never discovered what these surprises were unless it was the inclusion of Romer's own translation of Valérie Rouzeau's haunting 'Where my father' or deceptively complex 'I put on my walking shoes.'

The introduction claims the collection to be 'nothing more than a series of notes for the curious.' In twenty-five pages, Romer can only hope 'to signal major landmarks... and suggest one route... through them.' There is very little to object to in the introduction (except that the order of the table of ...


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