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Language for a New Century
March 27, 2008

There's a bracing, chilled, wintry wind a-going in these parts (Seattle) - from the south, no less. Yet the trees budding, the flowers blooming, and the growing light, say it's becoming another time. If it weren't these signs that April is nigh, it would be the veritable tide of poetry titles suddenly coming in. Everyone seems to be publishing poetry this way these days - the few New York houses that do, university presses, and the independent presses, some of whom only do poetry - almost all seem to key in on April, the month deemed poetry's own. Well and good, better than not, but it does tax the display situation.

One whole area of poetry titles arriving - some already well-arrived - and these not to be overlooked at all - are a number of noteworthy anthologies. A few that have caught our eye have already come along and started going into readers' hands. 

Showing up at the end of last autumn was Zhang Er and Chen Dongdong's bilingual anthology, Another Kind of Nation: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry, a generous selection of over twenty poets, all born since 1960, writing from China, Taiwan, and elsewhere, most never before published, at least in book form, in the US. This, from Talisman House, is almost under the radar in terms of publishing visibility. SPD stocks it - most definitely one to check out.

Dalkey Archive, not long after, released a bilingual edition of Evgeny Bunimovich's Contemporary Russian Poetry. It, too, offers different aesthetics and perspective from a place central in things today, offering the work of over 40 poets, from Russian Booker Prize winner Sergey Gandlevsky to many published over here for the first time.

A few others: The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, from Nikky Finney and the University of Georga Press, work that's come through by way of the Cave Canem workshop's good work; and Milkweed's Black Dog, Black Night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry, edited by Nguyen Do and Paul Hoover.

Up a few notches on the 'ambition' scale, and just-arrived, is Graywolf's big new anthology, New European Poets, edited by Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer. The work of many is included - again, as with most all of these books, many being writers not published here in book form before. Every country in Europe is covered - and, if I read correctly, most, if not all the languages (including many of the endangered ones) are present within. Carolyn Forche is among those with words of strong praise.

Carolyn Forche (whose own anthology, Against Forgetting, is one of the more memorable and essential of past decades) has even more words of praise for another, the one that has most caught our eye here, Norton's big new (yes, also just-arrived) anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond. No, it's not all the world - no Europe (which is covered in almost complementary form by the Graywolf book), no Africa (save for the northern, Mediterranean nations), and no Latin America are directly addressed - though part of this book's embrace is poets of the diasporas of the many nations it includes. Thus, many poets writing in English (or a home language) and living in the U.S. or Australia, or wherever are here. Younger poets Tina Chang, Nathalie Handel (the most established of the three, and the editor of another anthology of note, The Poetry of Arab Women), and Ravi Shankar took on the daunting task of assembling this remarkable collection. Norton has given it great support, it appears - a beautiful, sturdy, 700-page volume, well-indexed and annotated. A pleasure to this collection (which may frustrate some) is that it's arranged in themes, rather than by geography. This lets readers look at exile, at childhood, at conflict in a larger, more unified context. The editors have set it up nicely.

More on this one, and perhaps others, in time. (Let there be time for reading now.) Only to say that a few colleagues in other stores - in San Francisco, in Ann Arbor - in email exchanges, said they went to their own shelves to find this new Language for themselves, and came back, writing 'wow.' 

Posted by Rick Simonson on March 27, 2008 | Comments (0)

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