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This review is taken from PN Review 30, Volume 9 Number 4, March - April 1983.

COMPENDIOUS CRITIC John Pilling, 50 Modern European Poets (Pan) £2.95

The Pan Literature Guides sound as if they might do useful work and perhaps sell a lot of copies. They include Michael Schmidt on fifty British poets, Martin Seymour-Smith on fifty European novels, and various writers on fifty American novels, American poets, modern British plays, and so on. The magic number fifty is acceptable, if at all, because it represents as much as at first one wants to know, as much as an introduction ought to include. It is no use asking what about so-and-so? of this kind of book, because with modern British plays or European novels or British poets, fifty is enough to be getting on with. Readers of this journal will know more, or want to know more, about all of these subjects. But it is only in a journal like this that one can discuss the quite important implications of books like these. For example, which fifty?

Among European poets, if one extends the modern period back to Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and if one includes living writers, one must produce a sort of short list for an ideal Nobel Prize. I notice that of the Greek poets here Cavafy was a candidate, so was Ritsos, and Seferis got the prize; but Elytis, who also got it, is not included. For what Mr Pilling calls these 'minor languages', he has understandably been limited by available translations, but Elytis was available in French, and in America in English. Pressing this matter further, I might question ...


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