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This review is taken from PN Review 157, Volume 30 Number 5, May - June 2004.

ON NOT WRITING THE EAST EUROPEAN POEM Altered State: The New Polish Poetry, bilingual, edited and mostly translated by Rod Mengham, Tadeusz Pióro and Piotr Syzmor (Arc) £10.95
EWA LIPSKA, Pet Shops and Other Poems, bilingual, translated by Barbara Bogoczek and Tony Howard (Arc) £8.95
SÁNDOR KÁNYÁDI, Dancing Embers, translated by Paul Sohar (Twisted Spoon Press) £8.95
HANS MAGNUS ENZENSBERGER, Lighter than Air. Moral Poems, translated by David Constantine (Bloodaxe) £8.95
KAPKA KASSABOVA, Someone Else's Life (Bloodaxe) £7.95

Let us begin with a heroic past: a nation existing in language alone. Its national ethos is sacrifice, and it stands on a border with barbarity. This turns out to be borderline deprivation; just getting by under Soviet Communism is struggle enough, without taking on the depraved and universal state. Heroism costs you your job; your daughter can't go to university. It seems unfair: in the past, obviously, you could die to the last man, and often did, and if it never helped much, the principle at least was clear. But now you have your kids to think of, and even the scout troop is politics. Aha! Let us remove this bushel of oppression, and substitute the dazzling neon of re-nascent capitalism. Fifty years inveighing against the Capitalist, and now you must worship the entrepreneur (who sees no duty to keep you alive). What does this do to your poetry?

When the suspicion of disloyalty meant torture and prison, the attitudes monumentalised in Zbigniew Herbert's `Drawer' were inevitable. And throughout the Communist bloc, there arose `the Eastern European poem'. This was a meditation on something outside the poet, an object or mythico-historical narrative; from it, there emerged a grim and paradoxical vindication of higher values. Herbert's `From Mythology', in which the barbarians `too' place a high value on irony, salting their food with it, is archetypal. Crushed under the barbarian heel, irony is as savoury as ever. The objectivity was essential; in the post-War UK, the `twenty ...


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