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This review is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

BALKAN GRAVITIES Ivan Davidkov, Fires of the Sunflower, translated by Ewald Osers (Forest Books) £6.95 pb;
Yannis Ritsos, Exile and Return, translated by Edmund Keeley (Anvil) £5.95 pb

The poems of Ivan Davidkov serve in the first instance as a salutary reminder that, in spite of its isolation, Bulgaria cannot simply be dismissed as a case that, Mauberley-like, presents 'no adjunct to the Muse's diadem'. Forest Books are to be congratulated on their policy of dispersing at least some of the mist which characteristically obstructs attempts to see the Balkans as anything other than a 'problem' politically, and culturally 'a kind of rag-heap for the refuse of two civilizations' (as Arthur Symons describes Sofia in Cities). But even with a Poets of Bulgaria anthology available from the same source, plus selections from Levchev and Geo Milev (also in versions by Ewald Osers), it would be absurd to suppose a defining context could emerge out of what must necessarily - even with glasnost and perestroika on the horizon - remain for the most part unknown territory. Forest, having committed themselves to Bulgaria, for reasons best known to themselves offer almost nothing at the ancillary level that might help in this respect, substituting a quite pre-posterous map identifying the state boundaries and three pinpointed cities which seem more like windowless monads than constituent parts of a live entity. Their general policy of reproducing rudimentary illustrations is a comparably reflex gesture, although here the fact that Davidkov is also an accomplished painter at least permits them to fudge matters more ambitiously, with nine canvases struggling to emerge from an enveloping grey murk. It was a somewhat double-edged compliment that the ...


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