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This review is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

HUBBUB AND INDIGNATION Piotr Sommer, Things to translate and other poems translated by various hands, (Bloodaxe) £5.95
György Petri, Night Song of the Personal Shadow: Selected Poems translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri (Bloodaxe) £5.95

Like the new friends who offer a revised version of reciprocity in his poem 'Candle', Piotr Sommer writes as if he 'wanted to say nothing / more than necessary'. Yet up until the recent prose poems in English which provide him with the title for this selection, Sommer has had to work with more translators than are usually considered necessary, or even desirable. Three of those with whom he has collaborated - John Ashbery, Douglas Dunn and D.J. Enright - have significant reputations in their own right, and one of them at least is a disconcertingly large 'name' to encounter in the role of middle-man for a hitherto unfamiliar Polish poet. In the event the bulk of translation duties falls on Enright, who as such one primarily associates with the Romanian poet Marin Sorescu, a figure not dissimilar to Sommer. But even before Sommer spent time in America - the three years in New England and the mid-West provide materials for the 'Things to translate' sequence - he was known in Warsaw from his own translations of contemporary British, Irish and American poetry, and so has been a much more active participator in these versions than is common, which is no doubt why they read as the product of one pen.

Of his three distinguished assistants Sommer least resembles Douglas Dunn (though there is a touching poem on a woman who 'dies between / two gestures', which Dunn renders well), and only intermittently does Sommer emulate Ashbery's ...


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