skip to Main Content

What Poets Would You Recommend from Outside Your Own Country?

I’ve read some good poetry in the last year from British and Irish writers, but there’s a whole world out there. I have also read terrific poetry collections written by poets from the USA, India, Poland, Germany, Australia and France and doing so always seems to expand my vision of what poetry can do and be.

I’d like to invite readers of this blog, whichever part of the world you come from, to recommend poetry collections from outside your own countries (for the purposes of this exercise, Scotland can’t choose Wales, and England can’t choose Ireland etc – the idea is to look beyond Britain and Ireland as a whole). If you can offer reasons for your recommendations and link to a few poems, so much the better. They can be from any era, past or present, and must be available in English translation.

This Post Has 44 Comments

  1. I always look at Vasko Popa’s ‘Games’ sequence with a group of Intro to Poetry students – usually quite early when I am looking at metaphor. Here is a link to a couple – there are 13 in the sequence all together: http://pith.net/pith/original-poetry/parables/wedding-by-vasko-popa. I love his bare use of language and nursery-rhyme/folk song patterning. I could go on, I really could. Probably for ten thousand words or more – the length of my first PhD chapter!

    I also look at Charles Simic prose poems while teaching narrative – particularly his poem: “I was stolen by the gypsies…” which covers a lot of ground in very few words. Again I could go on…

  2. Although I discovered them decades apart it’s four Americans that I’d like to recommend: William Carlos Williams, Richard Brautigan and Charles Bukowski, first of all, all now sadly dead, but all plain-speaking men. Until I ran across Williams in the eighties purely by chance I had really only read British poets and the only one I had really connected with was Larkin. These others showed me that what I saw in Larkin was not a fluke that you really needed very little to write a poem and that once your stripped away all the iambic pentameters, the metaphors, the onomatopoeia, the rhyme and alliteration the poetry was still there, raw and pure. They taught me that poetry is not technique – not that technique can’t enhance it – but it shouldn’t depend on it. My most recent discovery is, however, still alive and very active as a poet although now 72: John Bennett. Not as many poems available online but there’s a nice article here which is where I first read about him.

  3. I’m currently reading (and loving) the selected poems of Jorge Carrera Andrade, an Ecuadorean poet. He was a career diplomat whose work took him to the USA, UK, and various parts of Europe, but although he was certainly influenced by his travels, and the poets he met in the course of them, his main subject matter was always his own country and especially the indigenous peoples from around Quito and the Andean plateaus.

  4. I would recommend Sylvia Fischerova’s last collection in translation published by Bloodaxe “The Swing in the Middle of Chaos” which apart from its excellence as original poetry and translation reminds of the cultural and historical hinterland from which all European poetry (including English-language poetry) emerges. It’s also enjoyable to read without a brow furrowed by excessive learning.
    Ida Vitale’s “Garden of Silica” gives us a great South American poet from Uruguay whose poetry preserves the notion of a poem as a work of art in its own right without using political, gender etc issues as a validation of the work. Her poems survive some translationese to expand an English sensibility’s notion of what a poem can be.
    Christopher Pilling’s translations of all of Catullus in “Springing from Catullus” from Flambard gives us a definitive Catullus for our times with some spell-binding translations of the great poems and hugely enjoyable versions of the poems Catullus himself admitted were written to make old men stiff. Pilling himself is one of the most monstrously underrated contemporary English poets.

  5. Well, English and American poets are foreign for me, but I suppose that you prefer to hear about writers from places other than the UK and USA, so…

    During a trip to Italy a couple of years ago I discovered the poetry of the Italian Cesare Pavese, whom I had previously known only as a novelist. Strong and haunting, his poetry deserves to be more widely translated into English. Eugenio Montale is another Italian poet worth reading. J. R. Wilcock was Argentine, but has a collection of love poems written in Italian and with a German title, “Italienisches Liederbuch” (!), definitely worth checking out.

    Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who wrote under the name of several alter egos or “heteronyms” as well as his own, was a marvelous craftsman, quirky and intelligent and troubled.

    Among Spanish-language poets, the must-reads for me are Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina), Miguel Hernández and Federico García Lorca (Spain). Going further back in time, Renaissance poet Francisco de Quevedo and medieval lyricist Jorge Manrique are wonderful, if you can find a translation that does justice to their complexity and wit.

  6. The person that really inspired me to write was Marilyn Hacker, I can’t even remember how/when/why I came across this American writer, her conversational tone reminds me of Frank O’Hara. Next, after meeting Don Paterson at the writing workshops at the Ledbury poetry festival, I died inside when he asked me what I read (I may as well have said ‘The Bunty’ and ‘The Sun’) I was so tongue-tied with awe, I went straight to the bookshop and picked out Yang Lian (Chinese) ‘Concentric Circles’ which still resonates with me today.

    Whilst writing my final essay for my degree I hit upon Jaan Kaplinksi (Estonian) (and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Irish so doesn’t count), completely different in style but complement/contrast each other on subject matter, ie.identity and language.

    From ‘Staying Alive’ by Bloodaxe, I loved ‘The Bear’ by Galway Kinnel (Canadian), it seeped in for quite a while, if you enjoy nature and poetry then you’ll enjoy his collections. Likewise an essay in Poetry Review led me to buy ‘The Sublime and the Beautiful’ by John Kinsella (Australian), his ‘wheatbelt’ poems are still colouring my life.

    Finally, I loved the book length poem by the Aussie Dorothy Porter, ‘The Monkey’s Mask.’ Agatha Christie, Marilyn Hacker ( and Katherine Mansfield) all in one publication. What more can a person ask?!

  7. I have become interested and profondly moved by the work of the exiled Iraqi poet Adnan Al Sayegh. His poems are full of real humanity and depict the inner world of the exile, the censored voice so well. I heard him read yesterday at Trinity in Cambridge along with his translator Stephen Watts and he was mesmeric. I believe he is reading at Stanza and I would recommend his reading to anyone. Arabic poetry has something which perhaps we in the west have forgotten in terms of the ‘bigger picture’, the inclusiveness of their address yet their lack of fear or embarrassment in looking at big universal themes such as freedom, death, god. Here is the link to some of his poems.
    http://www.adnanalsayegh.com/eng/index.asp?DO=DIKT

  8. Dead in 1971, so a historical figure now, but my unhesitating top recommendation would be the Greek poet George (or Yorgos) Seferis, a writer of gigantic talent whose involvement with the tragic history of Greece gave him a subject matter that challenged his gifts to the utmost. He’s been lucky in his translators – Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard’s translations are as immediately readable as if they were original English poems, and generally (in my view) remarkably true to both the meaning and the feeling of the Greek. No doubt it helps to know something of contemporary Greek history and ancient Greek literature, but like Eliot (who was a poet he admired and translated) Seferis can reach into the imaginations and emotions of readers who know little or nothing of the material he alludes to. I don’t know any writer who can be more simply beautiful or more violently moving – sometimes both at the same time.

  9. Always Pablo Neruda; Cavafy; Hungarians Miklos Radnoti, Agnes Nemes Nagy and Krisztina Toth; Georg Trakl; Tomas Transtromer…

  10. I’d very much support Cavafy and Transtromer (I mostly use the Fulton Bloodaxe translation for Transtromer). The Hungarians and Trakl are just names to me. Can you recommend particular translators, Pippa?

  11. The translation I’ve got is by Steven Ford Brown, Edmund. It’s called Century Of The Death Of The Rose. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty good, although I have very little Spanish.

    There’s a 1946 translation, too, by Muna Lee, with a good reputation, but I couldn’t find it anywhere at an affordable price.

  12. The Russians for depth of passion and sorrow, strong, vivid imagery : Anna Akhmatova, (and others are found in The Shalford Book of 20th c Russian Poetry , translated by Richard McKane); more recently, ‘Birdsong of the Seabed’ by Elena Shvarts translated by Sasha Dugdale (Bloodaxe, 2008) for her surrealistic vision.
    Sujata Bhatt – I don’t know if she fits your criteria as she writes in English and is published by Carcanet so presumably is well-known in the UK – but she was born in India,(her mother tongue is Gujarati) educated in USA and lives in Germany. I choose her for a different world view, elusive, subtle use of language and vivid imagery.
    Lorna Crozier – a Canadian – witty, elegant, with a sense of humour – a voice which is fresh air but whose subject matter bites.

  13. I think UK poetry could benefit greatly from reading contemporary American poetry–and by contemporary, I mean released within the past 10 years. UK contemporary poetry feels completely stagnant and outdated compared to what is coming out in the US.

    For starters, I’d recommend Sandra Beasley, Marie Howe, Dorianne Laux, A. Van Jordan, Major Jackson, Alison Stine, Terrance Hayes, and any of the Best New Poets anthologies published by UVA Press. I also think it’s worth taking a look at American literary journals to see what is being published there (far more groundbreaking and exciting than what is published in UK journals these days): Agni, Barrow Street, Lumina, Mid-American Review, The Collagist, Quarterly West, DIAGRAM, Artifice, PANK, Barrelhouse, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Black Warrior Review, Harvard Review, etc.

  14. Anything by Mahmoud Darwish, great-late Palestinian poet. The excellent collection translated by Fady Joudah (himself a winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize) is called ‘The Butterfly’s Burden’, from Bloodaxe. Also gorgeous is ‘Almond Blossoms and Beyond’, translated by Mohammed Shaheen from Interlink Books, Northampton, Massachsetts.

  15. I like the late French poet Jacques Prevert. Just search his name followed by “poetry in English” and a few good options will come up.

    My favourite American poet is Stephen Dobyns, though he is far from structurally masterful, and his latest collection, Winter’s Journey, not (yet) published in the UK, is particularly worth ordering on amazon. Bloodaxe’s New and Selected of his work, titled Velocities, is a great introduction, with some incredible poems included, even though he has published almost half a dozen collections since.

  16. Thanks for the link, Jennifer.

    I’d like to strongly recommend the Arc parallel text version of Valerie Rouzeau’s Pas revoir (Valerie Rouzeau, Cold Spring in Winter, translated by Susan Wicks). It’s a deeply moving elegy to the poet’s father, using language in a brilliantly innovative, fractured and multidimensional way to bring out simple, heartfelt intensities of feeling.

    As these entries have ranged further back in time I’m surprised that no one’s mentioned Baudelaire or Nerval (or Rimbaud, though he’s not one of my favourites). There are lots of Baudelaire translations – none in verse that I’d particularly recommend, though I’m sure there must be good ones, but if you have basic French the Francis Scarfe prose glosses are a useful crutch. I’m sure Anvil still publishes the complete verse in French with Scarfe’s translations at the foot. Derek Mahon has had a long engagement with Gerard de Nerval and has translated Les chimeres (grave accent on the first e) and there’s a good parallel text version by Peter Jay.

    Picking up on Laura’s references to Pavese and Montale, there’s a very useful Carcanet parallel text of Pavese’s humane, accessible poems with translations by Geoffrey Brock (Cesare Pavese, Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930 – 1950). Montale is a difficult but immensely rewarding poet – I’d recommend the Farrar, Straus and Giroux Collected Poems, a parallel text translated and copiously annotated by Jonathan Galassi.

  17. Some great recommendations here, so far – too many to read in one lifetime, I suspect, but I’ll definitely look into some of them – and thanks to all who’ve contributed. I’d say any of the poets discussed in Michael Hamburger’s ‘The Truth of Poetry’ – you can read the names at http://amzn.to/gZtINl – are worth taking a close look at.

    I like the Polish poets such as Wislawa Szymborska (already mentioned above), Adam Zagajewski, Czeslaw Milosz, and especially Zbigniew Herbert.

    The Estonian poet, Jaan Kaplinski, mentioned by Sue above, has just been published in a new Selected by Bloodaxe, and looks good.

    A new name to me is Peruvian poet, Eduardo Chirinos, whose Selected, ‘Reasons for Writing Poetry’ (despite the title, it’s a collection of poems, not reasons) has just been published in translation by Salt. I like the quarter I’ve read from it so far.

    I really enjoyed American collections from Terance Hayes (‘Lighthead’, my favourite book of 2010), Dean Young (‘Primitive Mentor’) and DA Powell (‘Cocktails’ and Chronic’). In answer to Lucy’s criticisms of UK poetry compared to American, I think there is plenty of interesting UK poetry around, but it’s not always given the publicity/visibility it deserves. I could mention a few names, but that would mean breaking my own rules for this comments thread! So better not..

  18. Contemporary Australian poets such as Peter Goldsworthy, Les Murray, Katherine Gallagher. I also admire Nina Cassian, J Siefert. Recently bought a new collection of poems (“Territories”) by Christina Lloyd (USA).

  19. Someone whose work I find incredibly fresh and inspiring is that of the American poet C.D. Wright – a selected works “Like Something Flying Backwards” was published in the UK by Bloodaxe in 2007. I would also recommend Tomas Transtromer and the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz.

  20. Great ideas and recommendations. The one I can’t agree too, though, is Szymborska. I don’t like her chattiness and what I perceive as excessive ‘political correctness’ and facile writing — i.e. not really trying to craft a good verse. Reminds me of Mario Benedetti, whose poetry I dislike for the same reasons.

  21. Thanks for the Major Jackson heads-up, Lucy. I ran through your list and just watched a reading he gave on March 2 2010 at the University of Massachusetts Boston Bookstore.

    Very impressive.

  22. I’m currently reading Roberto Bolaño’s The Romantic Dogs and heartily recommend it. Even though his approach to writing is very different, I think fans of Luke Kennard will find much to like in this collection. A proper review of this is coming up in Horizon Review so I don’t want to give any spoilers….

  23. I kove Tomas Transtromer (would recommend ‘The Deleted World’ trans by Robin Robertson), just about anything by Neruda (not so keen on the love poems though), Derek Walcott would also be a pretty obvious choice, and someone people may not so well – Antjie Krog (particularly ‘Body Bereft’) – a South African poet. A Carcanet anthology ‘The Song Atlas’ has poems from all over the world (often anonymous), which I like dipping into.
    Katrina

  24. Thanks for all the recommendations.

    If I could take 4 20th-century foreign language poets to a desert island they’d be Seferis, Akhmatova, Herbert and Celan. Paul Celan: a Romanian Jew who wrote mostly in German, survived the 2nd world war (his parents didn’t), and ended up in Paris married to a Frenchwoman; he drowned himself in the Seine in 1970, aged 50.

    His poems are full of agony, despair, lyricism, mystery; they are often highly imagistic, mostly short, and can be impenetrable – but they ask you to go on trying. They reflect the middle of the 20th century in a very dark way, and push language to the limit, surely as much as anyone has done. (sorry if that’s a cliche, but they do!)

    It would be great if anyone could recommend a good translation – I have got Michael Hamburger’s in the Penguin Selected parallel text, but (hope this is not sacrilege, given his eminence) I do think he had rather a tin ear sometimes… I’ve also got one collection translated by someone else but I’m away and can’t find it on the internet. To be fair, Celan is really hard to translate – the opposite of Seferis, who as Edmund Prestwich says is so accessible thanks to Keeley and Sherrard; is there any other poet who translates so well into English?

    The French poet Philippe Jaccottet has been translated by Derek Mahon, in a parallel text – contemplative, thought-provoking poems.

    The Finnish poet Edith Södergran (early 20th century, wrote in Swedish, died young of TB) has been translated by David McDuff, published by Bloodaxe. It’s out of print, and in English only. Very weird, visionary, imagistic poems, some quite spine-chilling; both modernist and romantic.

    I’d also recommend The Poetry of Survival: Post-war Poets of Central and Eastern Europe (Penguin International Poets) edited by Daniel Weissbort, available second-hand via Amazon etc. And Miroslav Holub, utterly magical and compelling, Czechoslovak scientist from Iron Curtain days; various translations on Amazon, but I don’t think there’s a parallel text.

    Then there’s Durs Grünbein, translated by Michael Hoffman for Faber – but alas it’s not in a parallel text. Could we have more of those, please?

    I’d love to get more recommendations of younger, contemporary foreign-langauge poets like DG. There must be people in the academic world who are reading them. The magazine Modern Poetry in Translation seems to be doing its best to bridge the divide between academia and the poetry world, but one magazine, however good, can’t do that on its own.

    As for North America.. where to start? Good to see Marie Howe and Kay Ryan mentioned; what about Jorie Graham (eg. her Selected, Dream of a Unified Field publ Carcanet, though it doesn’t include more recent stuff) – she does great things with form and thought. And Louise Gluck’s Wild Iris.

    Three I’ve enjoyed a lot recently are Philip Nikolayev, publ Salt, who writes some weird but very interesting stuff; Brenda Shaughnessy, very vivid, erotic and eclectic; and the Canadian Karen Solie who I’d never heard of until she had two poems in the last Magma (thanks!!) which sent me straight off to find her books. I’ve reviewed all 3 poets on my blog, which should be linked to at the top of this post.

  25. Another good poet from Argentina is Alejandra Pizarnik, who has achieved cult status in recent years. I think there’s a new translation into English, but I haven’t read it. Pizarnik was a tormented soul who went through several spells in mental institutions and committed suicide aged 36. Her poetry is full of surreal imagery, beautiful despite being often chilling.

  26. Fiona, I recommend John Felstiner’s translation of Celan, ‘Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan,’ New York, W.W. Norton 2001 — 426 pages.

    cheers,

    Norbert

  27. Has nobody mentioned Rilke yet? That strikes me as a strange omission.

    Very pleased to find another Prevert fan out there.

    The odd thing is I found it a shock to hear others classify US or Australian poets as ‘from another country’ – diagnostic of my own way of thinking and not their error!

    Interesting debate.

    Ian

  28. A lifetime’s recommendations here! It’s been a great thread.

    Following Ian McEwen’s point, I’d very much welcome comparative comments about the strengths of different Rilke translations. I don’t know him at all well. I’m most familiar with Stephen Mitchell’s translations and I’ve recently enjoyed but not really absorbed Crucefix’s Duino Elegies. I don’t have any German at all and would really like pointers.

  29. Norbert – many thanks for the Celan recommendation. I’ve got Felstiner’s biography / critical study of Celan which I like very much, but didn’t realise he’d done a Selected. At 416pp. it must have plenty of poems I haven’t read.

  30. One more recommendation, please. Adonis (pen name of Ali Ahmad Said Eshber), Syrian poet and essayist now living in Paris, of whom Marilyn Hacker wrote: “Adonis is recognized as one of the most important poets and theorists of literature in the Arab world…His influence can be compared with that of Pound of Eliot…”

    I am reading ‘Selected Poems’ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010) beautifully rendered by Khaled Mattawa, himself a noted poet in English and Arabic. I suggest beginning with the section called ‘The Book of Siege’ and then working into the imagistic poems.

    cheers,

    Norbert

  31. Accidentally just finished Glueck’s “Wild Iris” and it is indeed wonderful. I am always interested to see that American and British poetry do seem quite separated- very little contemporary US poetry on British shelves and vice versa. Some more US names : Robert Pinsky, Archie Ammons

    re. German poetry although I am not sure what is translated or how well

    contemporary : Ulrike Draesner “Kugelblitz”

    Ingeborg Bachman, Stefan George (great poetry despite questionable personality… – probably a whole discussion topic here), Gottfried Benn, Friedrich Holderlin; Heinrich Heine …

  32. I translate poetry, it’s my main activity: few can say that. From French, JEAN CASSOU (2 books etc published) who is my own discovery, from an English point of view; VICTOR HUGO (1 book etc) so grievously underrated here, and a great human being: Harry Guest’s anthology is best… Mostly unpublished, my ROBERT DESNOS, though Magma is one of very many magazines in which I’ve placed him: a huge book waiting in this computer: the most exciting French poet of the last century: died at Terezin aged 45. Most translators fight shy of his big rhymed poems. NERVAL, a book in waiting: yes, Derek Mahon’s ‘Chimeras’ are the best so far.
    From German: BERT BRECHT, great poet as well as great playwright. About half his 1500 poems are available in English. From Spanish: ALFONSO REYES (Mexico) whom his successor Octavio Paz called ‘a group of writers, a whole literature’: I published his ‘Homer in Cuernavaca’; not much poetry has appeared in English; another big book, one day. From Greek: ANGELOS SIKELIANOS, the last great traditional poet of Greece.

    By other translators: Radnoti – Francis Jones. Lalic – ditto. Laforge – Peter Dale. Villon – ditto. Verlaine – Martin Sorrell. Rimbaud – ditto. Prévert – Sarah Lawson. Horace – Colin Sydenham. Any Latin poet by James Michie. Rilke – Martyn Crucefix. Rilke – McNeill & McCarthy. Carême – Christopher Pilling whose fantastic Corbière is hard to find. Baudelaire – Walter Martin (Carcanet). Juan Ruiz the Archpriest – Elizabeth Drayson. Pessoa – Jonathan Griffin. Cavafy – any translator. Borges – a huge American volume which I’ve mislaid – if only our publishers worked on that scale!

  33. I would like to recommend some Australian and New Zealand poets. John Tranter has written some very original work as well as founding and editing Jacket Magazine. John Forbes, Nigel Roberts, Jayne Fenton Keane, Chris Mansell are all worth looking at too. Sara Moss has been doing some very ineteresting work with digital media and Deb Matthews-Zott has been producing beautiful multi-media poems and Maggie Emmett has done some great work.

    In New Zealand there are some very good poets. I am particularly impressed by the blending of NZ/Samoan and English traditions.

  34. Some small presses have had their Arts Council grant cut by 100%: Arc, Enitharmon, Salt, Flambard. Likewise the Poetry Book Society.

    Arc publishes more translated poetry books than all other British houses put together! They print bilingual facing texts.

    Enitharmon and Salt both offer translations, and so does Anvil (42% cut).

    This is disastrous! In Sasha Dugdale’s words, ‘If Arc falls, another door to the outside world closes.’

  35. I couldn’t agree more with Timothy Ades’ comment. We need more houses like Arc regularly publishing parallel texts, not fewer. This isn’t the place to name individuals but a number of the Arc Visible Poets publications have been a revelation to me and presumably to many other people.

Comments are closed.

Back To Top