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This review is taken from PN Review 163, Volume 31 Number 5, May - June 2005.

NORTH TO SOUTH A Fine Line: New Poetry from Eastern and Central Europe. Edited by Jean Boase-Beier, Alexandra Büchler and Fiona Sampson (Arc) £11.95

'This is wonderfully sovereign poetry,' says Neil Ascherson in the blurb, nicely defining the anthology's geopolitical parameters. Do you want to read two poets each from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia? Arranged not alphabetically but North-South? If you do, this is the (only) book for you. Once again, one can but congratulate Arc on its enterprise, which includes parallel texts for each language. Of course, the answer to the question above is a resounding 'It depends.' Ascherson goes on to say: 'These writers were mostly students or even at school when their Communist régimes perished', thus removing another of the heads (oppression) under which the reader might generate expectations. Tabula rasa, then? If there is a prevailing wind, it might be the New York school, no paradox when capitalism was a definition of freedom. And the new plenty or a promise thereof is a major thematic here. But as one might expect of so broad an anthology, no wind prevails as the Aesopian poetry of censorship once did.

Folk material is another common factor. Asko Künnap of Estonia has devised a folkloric poetry that fully reflects his worldly knowledge ('Miracles occurred, air tickets and a real Lexus!'); his refrain 'Down among the peaks of south Estonia' is agreeably straight-faced. His compatriot Kristiina Ehins writes an intensely feminine poetry of birth, love, textures and cellphones ('to give birth/ from primeval-rounded wombs/into the angular apartments of the stone ...


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