Their Witness

Donald Davie

  • The Poetry of Survival: Post-War Poets of Central and Eastern Europe edited by Daniel Weissbort
    Anvil, 384 pp, £19.95, January 1992, ISBN 0 85646 187 3

What we are given in The Poetry of Survival is, translated by numerous hands, poems by 28 poets: identified as Germans (7), Czechs (2), Yugoslavs (2), Slovene and Austrian and Romanian (1 each), Israelis (surprisingly 3) and Poles (9). This is supplemented by 9 appendices, each an interview with one of the poets represented; and this can be scored as Israeli (1), Czech (1), Yugoslav (1), Hungarian (2), Polish (4). What do we have here: a Polish take-over? Or else, rather more evidently, a map of Central and Eastern Europe that includes Germany and Israel, but not Greece, Bulgaria or Albania; not Russia, the Baltic States, Byelorussia or Ukraine. Events have outstripped the anthologist: otherwise Edvard Kocbek (1904-1981) wouldn’t appear as ‘Slovene’, whereas both Slavko Mihalic (Croat) and Vasko Popa (Serb) are ‘Yugoslav’. This is excusable. And the Greeks, it may be thought, have looked out for themselves; also, less certainly, the Russians. But what have the Bulgars done wrong? And haven’t the Israelis looked after their own interests as efficiently as the Greeks after theirs?

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