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This review is taken from PN Review 90, Volume 19 Number 4, March - April 1993.

WHO'S IN, WHO'S OUT The Faber Book of Modern European Poetry, edited by A. Alvarez (Faber) £17.50

Anthologies are so often the cause of discontent that their compilers must sometimes feel only estate agents get a worse press, with real transactions so much more troublesome than virtual ones. Yet here is an anthology primed to provoke offence, and a compiler who would surely only be disappointed if it proved to be something of a damp squib. In his preface, Alvarez is at once earnest and casual, catholic and hidebound. Modern Spanish poetry, he observes, 'mostly seems lame and inflated in English'; he does not scruple to itemize particular poets, but then Spain is, unsurprisingly, not represented here. Nor, in any meaningful sense, is France: one Ponge selection (taken from George MacBeth's Collected Poems) and eleven brief Jaccottet poems leave modern French poetry also looking an also-ran. Alvarez dismisses the matter in half a sentence: 'contemporary French poetry … seems to have very little audience outside France'. This could of course readily be adjusted to yield the unpalatable, if less questionable, truth that contemporary poetry from just about anywhere seems to have very little audience outside the ambit of those who happen, for whatever reason, to be interested in it. True, the anthologist may find his job rendered even more difficult than usual by those contemporary French poets who - as the new Bloodaxe initiative is intended to remind us - write books of poems rather than disparate and sporadic items. But that there are more great individual poems to be found amongst them there can be ...


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