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This review is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

FROM THE OTHER POLE Modern French Poetry, selected and translated by Martin Sorrell (Forest Books) £9.95

'The French tradition and the English tradition in this epoch stand at opposite poles to each other,' wrote Octavio Paz, and if one considers the current availability of French poetry in this country, he may not seem far wrong. For despite having produced such veritable giants as Reverdy, Jacob and Michaux, the diverse and engaging nature of much recent French poetry still remains relatively unknown to British audiences: its present influence, though fairly pervasive in the US since the '50s, may be found only in the minority over here, and certainly not amongst the more dominant tradition. Consequently this may explain the conspicuous absence of any comprehensive anthology from our British shelves, compared to the US, with Paul Auster's gargantuan 20th Century French Poetry, published by Random House, or the variety of individual selections from such imprints as New Directions: in Britain, one must usually look to the smaller presses, Atlas in particular, or the excellent Série d'écriture from Spectacular Diseases, for any similar satisfaction.

Thus the appearance of Martin Sorrell's Modern French Poetry can be seen as a welcome contribution for all those interested in contemporary French writing. What one immediately notices about Sorrell's selection is its range and diversity: amongst the more well-known names, Supervielle, Desnos, Prévert and Jaccottet - each generously represented - one also finds the work of several lesser-known poets, many of which are either difficult or impossible to obtain in translation. Of these, perhaps the most readily available to British audiences ...


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