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This review is taken from PN Review 130, Volume 26 Number 2, November - December 1999.

NORM SIBUM, The November Propertius (Carcanet) £7.95

The classical world continues to have a fascination for contemporary poets despite the virtual extinction of classical languages in school curricula in the English-speaking world. Most recently this has been evident in an anthology of translations from Ovid and the late Ted Hughes' versions of Metamorphoses. Possibly this represents a combination of vestiges of Renaissance ideals, a desire for an artistic order which is not located in the recent past, a vague notion to represent continuity over millennia in poetry and an impulse to return to what might be the first full expression of the art in Western culture. In English language poetry this nostalgia for the classics is matched only by versions of Dante which appear every twenty years or so, mainly, it seems, to provide critics with the opportunity to say that terza rima is not possible in English.

Two poets who are among the most persistent in referring to both classical and biblical sources are Judith Kazantzis and Norm Sibum. Both are ironists and both have written work characterised by great inventiveness with occasional wilfulness in line and coherence. However, as with Derek Walcott, the good poems more than make up for these lapses. It is particularly pleasing to read Kazantzis' The Odysseus Poems where everything she tries seems to work. A variety of forms and tones of voice are deployed and her lines organise the reader's listening rather than quarrel with the ear.

The overall organisation of the book, a sequence ...

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