REVIEW OF: Into the Heart of European Poetry by John Taylor. Transaction Publishers 2008. 405 pages. No price listed. First Published in Book/Mark 2008-09
Review by Martin Abramson
With permission of Book/Mark a small press review.
In this weighty volume, Mr. Taylor has endeavored to encapsulate the works of a host of contemporary poets hailing from at least seventeen European nations. Taylor’s scholarship in this regard is astonishing if not monumental. He has written what amounts to dozens of biographico-critical essays treating the chosen writers. The poets are arranged in sections by country. To name a few: Josep Pla (Spain), Eugenio Montale (Italy), Georgios Vizyenos (Greece), Peter Handke (Germany), Czeslaw Milosz (Poland), Joseph Brodsky (Russia), Jacques Reda (France). These are names we might be likely to recognize from reading about those countries. But Mr. Taylor covers many other unfamiliar names from those countries as well as from smaller nations such as Serbia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina---poets whose names we probably haven’t heard and couldn’t pronounce if we had (e.g. “Elias Papadimitrakopoulos”).
These essays are not mere “appreciations” of a few books or poems. They are densely referenced studies that place the subjects and their works in the context of literary precursors and contemporaries as well as in their historical settings. Taylor reads the major languages and knows enough philology to savor the idioms of less mainstream tongues. He comments on available translations and cross-references poets and authors from different nations and traditions. He injects personal responses to the works and describes their influence upon his own life and cultural growth. Form, style, philosophy and critical acceptance or lack of it in his subjects are covered in detail. The essays are certainly as thorough as can be expected in the few pages each is allotted. But there’s more.
Taylor’s commentaries follow his travels around Europe in search of the authors and their works. We accompany him on expeditions (often fruitless) to apartment houses, parks and bridges in Ljubljana . We search bookstores and libraries for poets who have tantalized him in lines briefly quoted by others. We exalt with him over the discovery of new, dazzling artifacts of a poet murdered by the regime or lost to exile.
In my humble opinion, Mr. Taylor’s opus is a masterwork of its kind. It displays the sort of authority that only vast knowledge and extensive scholarship can achieve. As a reference or resource for understanding modern poetry or selecting a poet for comprehensive study, it’s ideal. As a way of scanning a huge cross-section of European culture via the critical acumen and interpretive sensitivities of a true humanist, it is a precious discovery.