Published by Bloodaxe Books and edited by Neil Astley.
Review by Urussa Malik.
Where to begin…this astonishing anthology is intensely devoid of clutter – which is astounding, but no less surprising, considering it took eight years for it to be published. A visual and linguistic river of poetry with the help of the editing skills of Neil Astley and film-making experience of Pamela Robertson-Pearce, the concept of poetry as an inter-sensory medium has been achieved. One of the resounding successes for me is the addition of the poetry in the native language alongside the English translations which, though a classic feature of poetry in translation, I am glad has not been overlooked. This adds to the global feel of poetry, which Astley himself admits that in the tiny figures of poetry published in the UK, overlooks the literary magnificence of poets beyond our island, thus making us devoid of the great poets whom we cannot understand purely because of a language barrier.
I was glad to know of some of these poets beyond the UK, such as Tomas Tranströmer, but came across more unknown names that are successes in their own countries. Indeed, the poetry of Ko Un who speaks of the cultural legacy of communism in ‘First Person Sorrowful’ evokes a nefarious ideology which overstates the importance of the collective as the ‘ ‘I’ had disappeared somewhere’. The South Korean poet is well known in Korea, but here in the UK the impact of cultural suppression is explored through the lens of a Korean who undoubtedly has seen an immense change in his own country, but relates it to the Russian cultural evolution and now brought to me in English. Truly, world poetry as the title of the anthology suggests. It seems that poets who do not always use English are overlooked for an assumption that they use ideas that are too culturally unfamiliar, but it is easily forgotten how well-connected our cultures can be – especially with regards to literary culture, which in its simplicity never talks of unfamiliar concepts except perhaps in an unfamiliar format. This is the resounding success of this book; in bringing about a cohesive familiarity to what is already known.
Choman Hardi is another poet who, with Kurdish heritage, explores the impact of suffering upon the Kurdish community. She rejects those who see her as a mere player in history, a piece of evidence for oppression in ‘The Angry Survivor’. The emphatic line ‘Take history with you and go’ is heart-breaking with its paradoxical exploration of time instilling a sense of the injustice that lingers forever.
Neil Astley also has a YouTube channel where recording of various poets are available, including all the ones I have mentioned and the countless I have not. There were 4 CDs in conjunction with the book of poetry, which further enliven the poetry beyond the realms of the reader – but when read by the poet are injected with life and emotion as their words are read with their intentions. Overall, the book is a magnificent introduction to poetry beyond the UK, but with the added comfort of it being in a familiar language. This book is a treasure, allowing me to find further jewels of poetry.