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This review is taken from PN Review 183, Volume 35 Number 1, September - October 2008.

CROSSING BORDERS The Page and the Fire: Poems by Russian Poets on Russian Poets, selected, translated and introduced by Peter Oram (Arc) £9.99
Six Basque Poets, edited by Mari Jose Olaziregi (Arc) £10.99

Peter Oram's brief but pertinent introduction to The Page and the Fire suggests that, in the turbulence following the Russian revolution, an acute awareness grew among the practitioners of the solitary art of poetry. As a result of this, a body of poetry arose in which poets wrote not just isolated poems but whole cycles of poems to other poets. As Oram also suggests, such an anthology would be a fairly tedious read were it not for the very high quality of the poetry itself. Oram has taken the decision to follow the rhyme schemes of most of these poems, but without being slavish. He also provides useful notes on both the poets and many of the poems.

What's absolutely certain is that these poems are evidence of an intensity of fellow-feeling that it is very difficult to imagine contemporary 'western' poets evincing to any degree. Central to this book is Mayakovsky's magnificent elegy for Yesenin. We tend to think that the stepped line originated with W.C. Williams but Mayakovsky uses it to suggest a jagged, brooding quality to the relationship with Yesenin, that mirrors the life of the dedicatee. Elsewhere, there is Yevtushenko's lovely elegy on Akhmatova in which Akhmatova's coffin, which lies 'beyond life and death... beyond everything... beyond all time' is compared to the coffin lying next to hers. This latter 'like a folk tune / next to a bible' contains the body of a peasant woman whose serenity in death ...

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