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This review is taken from PN Review 136, Volume 27 Number 2, November - December 2000.

THE CONTRARIAN CURATOR CHRISTOPHER MIDDLETON, Faint Harps and Silver Voices: Selected Translations (Carcanet) £18.95

Christopher Middleton describes Faint Harps and Silver Voices, his wonderfully eclectic volume of translations drawn from the wide range of medieval, neo-classical, romantic, modernist, and contemporary poetries that have engaged him over a distinguished forty-year career, as 'something like a museum, but a museum that is informal, not monumental'. Having taken this most worldly of tours across his multiple literary inscapes, one wants to add - paradoxically, and in the best sense of the term - 'provincial', which is to say, very much bound to the spirit of less-than-central place. For the seven sections of Middleton's gathering do function much like rooms in a small, out of the way museum - a site where the muse has been properly commemorated, and where nothing is being represented other than the presences that happen to have passed through the habitation of the curator's soul. The visitor comes to such a museum not for an overview of anything, but for the intimacy of a microcosm, in this case one constructed by an engaged practitioner who has honed his skills as a translator of desire, in the words of medieval Muslim mystical love poet Ibn 'Arabi, someone capable of renovating the imaginative present of the visitors who wander through his collection.

Middleton's museum is provincial also in that the exhibit hasn't been buffed up or packaged for the tourist; the work here is presented with minimal labelling and little in the way of background or catalogue information. The advantage of this ...


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