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This item is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

Letters from Lesley Quinn, Leon Grossman, Mary Wylie
Little England?

As the bright reality of a single Europe draws closer, PN Review declares (Editorial, PNR 107) that it will close is ears, or at least reduce its tolerance, to the poetry of Europe. Surely if there is a single currency which has been in use since Europe learned to speak in all its tongues, it has been poetry. Byron and Scott spoke to Russia and Germany and France; Cervantes spoke to Britain and Italy, Dante spoke to everybody. There are miracles of this common currency in the French translation of Joyce's most difficult works and in the English versions of Proust. We can read Seferis and Cavafy and the Greeks can read Eliot. Call for high standards, by all means, but don't throw in the towel! Unless the decision is a political one, and the N in PN Review is weighing heavier in the balance than it has done. What next, a paean of praise for Redwood? An official endorsement of Portillo?


Turning Back The Clock

For some time I have been gratified to see PN Review growing away from what seemed to me, as perhaps to others of your readers, a spirit of ungenerous reaction, opening its doors to a broader variety of new work than ever beforc, and bccoming the place to discovcr ncw pocts and large presences from home and abroad, whether 'abroad' means Australia, USA, Germany or Russia.

Your editorial in PNR 107, however, seemed a throw-back to the earlier spirit, ungenerous in disallowing translation an honoured place. Quite apart from the excellent translations you have published down the years - from the Classics, from European and other languages - your concern for appraisal of translations has also been noteworthy and consistent.

I for one would be sorry if the counsel of despair you articulate were to lead to the diminution of attention to translation. The art is of course approximate, there are always problems of equivalence and tone. But it is also the case that poetry written three centuries ago, or half a century ago, in English, presents the same problems in the very act of reading, and poetry from, for example, India and South Africa, poetry published in your own pages, forces the reader to adjust to difference, make allowances for dictional differences and tonal 'inaudibilites' because of the distinct rhythmic properties of different versions of English. There is more truth than you allow in Edward Kamau Brathwaite's argument that a tyranny can be exercised by a canonical literature and the rhythms it imposes.

I suggest that your editorial, taken a step further than you took it, would begin to impose such a tyranny. Translation of various kinds is possible from the classics, as the recent Faber Ovid anthology demonstrated. Translation from common European resources, poetries that flourished up to the Romantics, are hardly problematic. The great challenge of more recent poetry, given its diverse roots in popular culture and historical difference, is a challenge worth facing for poet-translators and readers. The Aztec poems were of more use than you allow, not only to you as translator but to readers who consult your introduction and provide in their reading, imaginatively, elements that were lost in translation.


The 'Real Poetry' Campaign

I'm not only pleased that Mr Gerald Denley (PNR 107) seems to agree with my attempted definition (PNR 106) of true poetry, but I also congratulate him on making sense of part of what my letter was about, despite the fact that unfortunately the real hub of it was ruined by your omission of the words 'a name for' after the words 'a small prize for'.

I was asking for a new name, a new noun, for eventual inclusion in the English language to denote the neither-poetry-nor-prose form of writing which from a trickle last century comes flooding out today and against which poetry as I've tried to define it doesn't make much headway. Non-facetious suggestions for a name are not easy to come by, admittedly ('free verse' now sounds as quaint as 'free love') but I think the effort should be made so as to differentiate in future between poetry that in the past has followed accepted norms with thrilling results, and the not-so-dolce stil nuovo of today. Any ideas?


This item is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

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