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This review is taken from PN Review 177, Volume 34 Number 1, September - October 2007.

TIGHTROPE WALKERS  LUCIANO ERBA, The Greener Meadow: Selected Poems, translated by Peter Robinson (Princeton University Press) £11.95
ANDREA ZANZOTTO, The Selected Poetry and Prose, edited and translated by Patrick Barron, additional translations by Ruth Feldman, Thomas J. Harrison, Brian Swann, John P. Welle and Elizabeth A. Wilkins (Chicago University Press) £22.50

In 'The Circus Hypothesis', Luciano Erba asks the whereabouts of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, musing, Prufrock-like, on the role of the attendant uncalled to centre stage: 'Extras, unmeaning interludes/ it's thanks to you perhaps/ that the tightrope walker doesn't fall'. The tightrope walker appears again in 'Circus', a free adaptation of Andrea Zanzotto's 'Sweetness. Dearness. Little Muffled Slaps.' in which Erba makes the experience of Zanzotto his own, reassuring the poet of the 'toy circus/ Tiniest circus' that a 'circus is a circus, even a little circus'. The poetry of these contemporaries insists on attesting to the existence of the most fragile entities: they may be 'unmeaning' but are proper to poetry by virtue of their being. Zanzotto suggests so, evincing amazement that '[i]mprobable existing from hour/ to hour aligns me and the hedges/ to the last quiver/ of the dear moon' ('Colloquy').

Like Zanzotto's, Erba's poetry is time- and detail-specific, yet eternal in regard to those human concerns which are poetic constants. The poems are expert at implying the personal in the impersonal, replete with references to the quotidian details normally elusive of memory: weather, fashion, places. 'In the Park at Versailles' sees concordance between a Virgilian citation in Latin seguing seamlessly into a desire for 'bread/ cheese and figs': these are how things come to us, and the poems are expert in their mimesis to the point of not being mimetic; of simply presenting, rather than representing, the things themselves, without artifice, for the reader to ...

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