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This item is taken from PN Review 113, Volume 23 Number 3, January - February 1997.

In PNR 97 (May-June 1994) Felicity Rosslyn, in an essay entitled 'Miraculously Normal', predicted that one Polish poet's star was at last in the ascendant: 'As the Polish literary world also adjusts to free market conditions and old reputations are revalued, one thing is becoming clear: the importance of Wislawa Szymborska… it seems obvious that she stands alongside [Zbigniew] Herbert as the second great poet of that generation.' Her reputation in English grew less rapidly than it might have done, in part because her work and place were curiously misdefined by Czeslaw Milosz in his 1965 anthology Postwar Polish Poetry, but also because -as is often the case - she has not been well served by her translators. With the Nobel Prize for Literature of 1996, a welcome decision by the Swedish Academy, she steps free of the pressures of the 'free market' which have driven many of her contemporaries out of print, and free too of the squabbles within a diverse and troubled national literature. It is to be hoped that she, like Milosz and Herbert, will find the translations she, and we as readers, deserve. At the time of the Nobel Prize, the one English-language edition of her work available in this country was doughty Forest Books's People on a Bridge, translated by Adam Czerniawski and first published to a muted reception in 1990. Now Faber are her publishers.

Poetry was less inaudible than usual at the 1996 Frankfurt Book Fair. A couple of weeks before Szymborska's award, last year's Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, with Mary Robinson and Helmut Kohl, opened this central event in the world publishing calendar; a number of Irish writers attended and performed. Ireland was Featured Nation. (Next year it's Portugal's turn: the novel will no doubt be in the ascendant.)

The leading Italian publishers foregrounded poetry. A portrait, heroic in proportions, of Eugenio Montale, the centenary of whose birth falls this year, gazed out of the Mondadori stand, which featured a bright spread of the paperback modern poetry classics (Italian and translated): they have become a welcome presence in Italian bookshops. In attendance across the aisle at the Einaudi stand was the eponymous and legendary literary publisher Giulio Einaudi, a benign enthusiast more vigorous and cheerful (under a wild thatch of white hair) than any publisher I've ever met. He has launched the kind of series every poetry editor dreams of but most have neither the gumption nor the resources to launch. The books in question, handsomely austere, are translations with a difference. They include Pound's Cathay poems, en face with the Rihaku originals, and with translations into the Italian (from the English) by Mary de Rachewiltz, Pound's daughter. There are Hölderlin's translations of the Greek, with the Greek originals and Italian translations from Hölderlin's German (David Constantine might produce such a volume in English). There is Joyce, translated by Beckett, Soupault and others into French, and then, from the French, into Italian. Light is cast on the original translation from both directions: that of the originals, and that of the Italian transformation.

Einaudi not only produced these remarkable books; he foregrounded them in his exhibit of new titles which include leading Italian (and translated) authors. Einaudi remains a literary pole star in Italian publishing, a position occupied by Residenz and by Hanser in the German-language firmament. Residenz has a remarkable list of English poets in translation and a brilliant managing editor in Dr Jung. Among the British lists Harvill, still fresh-faced after its liberation from HarperCollins, chose to exhibit in the European Hall rather than in the English and American Hall, and the list was uniquely at home there, not only because of the vigour of its international list but because of the distinctive design values which stand comparison with the best of the European imprints.

This year's Fair was a far cry from the one a dozen years ago when the agent of a French house refused to discuss rights inRené Char: 'We do not come to Frankfurt to discuss poetry.' Poetry is still Cinderella, but she is tolerated as more than a mere cultural bona fides. Sometimes, at least, she wears the crystal slippers and dances with Prince Fiction.

This item is taken from PN Review 113, Volume 23 Number 3, January - February 1997.

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