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99 Poems in Translation

Designed as a companion volume to the enormously successful 100 Poems by 100 Poets and arranged alphabetically, this collection spans centuries and continents. The poets range from Anna Akhmatova to Yuan Chen, from Charles Baudelaire to Virgil, each of them translated into memorable English by such poetic luminaries as Ben Johnson, Elizabeth Bishop, and Robert Graves. Full of surprising juxtapositions and possessed of a gargantuan range of voices and styles, 99 Poems in Translation is a unique convergence of some of the world's most beautiful poetry.
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This anthology, which is being promoted as a companion to Pinter's prior anthology, 100 Poems by 100 Poets (Grove/Atlantic, 1987), aims to present a selection of favorite poems from other languages. But while Pinter's credentials as a writer of plays and movie scripts are irreproachable, his skill as an arbiter of poetry in translation is less impressive. Although there is a chronological list of poets, an index of translators (98 of them, mostly English), and first lines, this anthology offers no rationale for the choice of poems or translators. (Poems are printed in alphabetical order by the poet's last name.) The editors reveal a decidedly European (and male) bias: 19 French poets are represented, but none from Africa or India; few from Asia, Eastern Europe, or the Middle East; and hardly any women. Rilke is represented not by his immortal "The Panther" but by a minor poem, and Yehuda Amichai, Joseph Brodsky, Tomas Transtromer, and Paul Valéry are excluded altogether. Interesting but too casual an effort to be of use to a library.-Frank Allen, West Virginia State Coll., Institute

Anthologies are seemingly making a comeback. This one is designed to represent some of the finest poetry--living poets excluded--in translation and, ostensibly, to provide a far-reaching overview of the tradition of translation. But given the fact that none of the poems is accompanied by its original text, and that the collection is peppered with quirky, if wonderful, choices, it is perhaps best not read too studiously. Paging through the poems (each rarely running for more than a page) becomes a delightful chance to catch, say, a riotous piece by Antiphanes entitled ``Piddle-paddling race of critics, rhizome-fanciers,'' and then, on the next page, a beautiful translation by W. S. Merwin of Guillaume Apollinaire's ``Le Pont Mirabeau.'' One notices the enormous energy of the Latin American poets Pablo Neruda and Cesar Vallejo, as opposed to the more subtle refinements of the French poets Paul Eluard and Henri Michaux. The cacaphony of voices, the range of styles, cultures, and time periods, and, above all, the humor with which these selections were made, makes this an immensely enjoyable anthology. (Oct.)

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