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Review: New Order: Hungarian Poets of the Post 1989 Generation, ed. George Szirtes

The subtitle of this book is 'Hungarian Poets of the Post-1989 Generation.' This reminds us that a few years ago, in historical terms, Europe was a divided continent. But the younger generation of the former Eastern Europe would only know about this through history and parental hearsay. This was brought home to me starkly when I was asked to put a footnote in a book primarily aimed at Romanian University students to explain what the 'Iron Curtain' was.

In fact, a number of the twelve poets featured here are old enough to have witnessed some of the momentous events shaping the twentieth century, at least in their formative years. One of these is Krisztina Toth. In her East European Triptych she tells us that

The loudspeaker calls out our names
and we jump up. Our names are
misspelled and mispronounced,
but we smile graciously

and has Alina Moldova... life expectancy 56 years saying

When I speak English, no one understands me,
when I speak French, no one understands me,
it is only the language of fear
that I speak without an accent.

Most of the poems emphasise the post-1989 years. In a short review like this I can't do justice to the wide range of poetry. However, there are two poets I must mention. One is Orsolya Karafiath, whose sense of modern lyricism (and other things) in Portrait of a Lady is very fine:

The blue. Academy, rhapsody, moods.
The green. The ripened sap-green of the field. You know the blood, it's yours,
deep in her musing
Van Dyke brown eyes concealed.

And I'm not even going to quote from Anna T. Szabo's longer poem Winter Diary because I wouldn't know when to stop, but read it if you get the chance for the almost tangible use of words.

As well as providing biographies of the poets, the translators get a respectable mention in this substantial volume. These include well-known poets like George Szirtes and Owen Sheers. Sheers is credited with translating only one poem as far as I could see but, as well as being the translator of a fair proportion of the poems, Szirtes also provides a very readable introduction putting the volume in context.