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

LIVING LANGUAGE DAVID CONSTANTINE, Collected Poems (Bloodaxe) £12.00
DAVID CONSTANTINE, A Living Language, Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures Bloodaxe) £7.95

The publication of David Constantine's Collected Poems at the same time as his lectures on poetry provides an excellent opportunity to consider his work afresh. The lectures are not merely a commentary, but a poetic creed. They set out the poet's quiet belief in poetry's ability to make us more 'wakeful, alert and various' in our humanity - and the poems themselves do exactly that.

The first of the lectures examines the role of translation in a poet's career. It opens by considering the craft of translation. But it is in fact the more abstract principle of translation with which this lecture is concerned - the opening out of oneself to another identity, annulling oneself, and yet still asserting one's own identity in the encounter. Keats, the example used, 'was peculiarly gifted in the two movements of that vital dialectic'.

Of all the contemporary poets Constantine comes closest to this ideal poetic dialectic. A translator himself, his poems have the strangeness and peculiarity of diction and image which results from an encounter with an 'Other', whether it is another language and culture, or simply something beyond the limits of our increasingly reduced world. The poems are often concerned with such meetings - 'Caspar Hauser', Constantine's long poem on the found child and his prolonged encounter with society, is memorable for the thousands of brand new, strange and shocking images of civilisation, each three-line stanza trumping the last, until the reader reels, as ...


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