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Sadness Burns Our Shadows

By Zefi Daraki

Translated by Thomas Nairn and D Zervanou

Dionysia press, ISBN 9781903171439

Sent by Helen Addy

Zefi Daraki’s powerfully visual collection evokes feelings of sorrow and isolation. The images are startlingly original and often exotic, creating a beautifully fractured world emphasised by the absence of punctuation. The title-less poems have the effect of a stream of consciousness, where the reader is immersed in the poet’s dream-like world of pain and surrender. Love is characterised as a redeeming but illusive presence; its “dark joy” resonant in every poem. I was struck by the conviction in her word choices, which entrusted the reader to bear witness to her images being “tangled firmly in ancient sorrows.” Stark and challenging.

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Visit To A Senile Old Man

By Kostas Mavroudis

Translated by Thom Nairn & D. Zervanou

Dionysia Press, 2007 - 8, £6.50, 978-1-903171-22-6

Sent by Ken Head

First thoughts? Thematically very appropriate to use as epigraph two lines from "Voice" by Zbigniew Herbert, but disrespectful to misquote them so carelessly: there's a world of difference between "hiss" (sic) and "hum", "huge" (sic) and "immense". Thereafter, a prose monologue in seventeen short sections, a son's meditation on time, mutability and the prospect of his father's death, "the frozen breath of the transcendental" rooted firmly in the everyday of "dentures refracted in a glass of water", the pain of a fractured thigh, the many kindnesses which, as with a sick child, help make each day's slow passage more bearable.

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Until ...

By Byron Leodaris

Translated by Thom Nairn & D. Zervanou

Dionysia Press, 2009, £9.50, 978-1-903171-33-2

Sent by Ken Head

Twenty untitled poems divided between "Outside", a group of twelve and "Beyond", the remaining eight. Leodaris's narrator, "an old poet persecuted for his verses", who perceives himself as "branded", undertakes a relentlessly anguished, self-lacerating examination of the roots of his alienation, his sense of the futility of life and of the world. Unsurprisingly, given his view that "poems happen" and that "the words I utter cut my tongue", he desires "to be done with the trickery of writing and reading". "If only", he exclaims at one point, "I could confront my extreme limits / and be totally crushed here". Quite.

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The Possible Is Monstrous

By Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Translated by Daniele Pantano

Black Lawrence Press, 2010

Sent by Ailsa Holland

Remember how we loved Der Besuch der alten Dame? The poems didn’t hit me in quite the same way. A mixed bag. Too many abstracts? But I felt for The Minotaur. And liked the ambivalent patriotism of the Swiss Psalms. Was this just about writing or also about Switzerland?: ‘The addiction / to perfection / destroys most things. What remains / are splinters / that have been filed at needlessly.’ I would have translated some things differently: joy and curse of a bilingual edition. You’ll understand that I was bothered by typesetting widows – so I imagined them as a poem, which begins: ‘Speaking a better German than the Germans. / A soiled Swiss passport in their pockets.’ Very Dürrenmatt. :-)

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A History of Clouds: 99 Meditations

By Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Translated by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky

Seagull Books, 2010

Sent by Philip Cowell

This more than readable, more than highly enjoyable volume – tall and thin like a city building – is a book of conversations disguised as poems, and poems disguised as philosophy. The ninth part of the eponymous poem includes a moment of intense lightness of being that seems to sum up the philosophy of the whole book: all of a sudden the air is full of electric spirits, and we rush out of our houses, prancing in the reeling brightness of our dealings, while up there the artists of the sky, at last awake after long apathy, deliver their selfless performance. My favourite poem – An Earth-Coloured Ditty – is a comment by the poet on the surprising dearth of poems about potatoes: “could it be that it’s too hot for poets, the potato?” This book makes me want find as many potato poems as possible, regardless, and – as with the best poetry – it makes me want to write my own.

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Frivolous Women and Other Sinners / Frívolas y Pecadoras

By Alicia Borinsky

Translated by Cola Franzen and Alicia Borinsky

Swan Isle Press, ISBN 978 0 9748881 4 9

Sent by Shazea Quraishi

Dear S,
Enjoying my time between these pages populated with femme fatales, tricksters, and the little witch across the street. Here, words skip across the paper conjuring fabulous stories, half-told, as in Miracles of Nature where “She’s given birth to a kangaroo / curly eyelashes / sticky little body / she admires his courage licks and licks…”
The spare, plain language lends itself to a translation which is a mirror image, usually identical but occasionally foxed.
I am staying with the China Venus. I like her even though ‘whoever touches her vanishes / she reappears in the dreams of old masturbators / she disturbs the clerks and salesmen / evokes nostalgia in old women’.
x shazea

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I Am Not from Here

By María do Cebreiro

Translated by Helena Miguélez-Carballeira

Shearsman Books Paperback, 80pp, ISBN 9781848611115

Sent by Cath Drake

This Galician poet immerses the reader in a journey of self across entwined emotional and physical landscapes. So I couldn't help but think of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage I walked a couple of years ago to her hometown. Her subconscious strides across a rich landscape of human relationships, love, identity, belonging, freedom, sometimes turning the expected upside down in one sweep using bold declarations like: We are doomed to be free. In the title poem she says: I want no other origin /than this bridge / for as long as it holds us / and when if falls down / let us be noble and walk away... She grounds the reader in place, but also unearths us and our assumptions. Like the pilgrimage, for me anyway, raw emotion comes to the surface and the only option is live in the now and experience what we have as honestly as we can.

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Norbert Hummelt: Berlin Fresco — Selected Poems

By Norbert Hummelt

Translated by Catherine Hales

Shearsman Books ISBN 9781848610965

Sent by Alice Corble

These poems are an uncanny companion for me on long winter train commutes. As I read, sensory traces flicker and fade into apprehension like images appearing under red light. I blink and smell the memory-stains of a poet’s life: lost moments trickling down from source to page. Subtle bodies dance between death and life within these lines. I am taken to a twilight place; not sleeping, not waking, I dream of delirious fruits preserved in indelible ink and faded facades petrified in plaster. I emerge from the underground with Hummelt’s drifting language settling on my thoughts like fresh snowfall. Alice Corble

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