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David Harsent, Fire Songs – review

Fire Songs by David Harsent, Faber and Faber, 80 pp., £12.99 (hardback), £9.99 (ebook).

For all its darkness, Fire Songs is a fluent, stylish, brilliantly exhilarating read. Line by line, stanza by stanza, section by section, the evocativeness of the writing and the beauty of its sounds and cadences are simply astonishing, whether for the sharpness and surprise of its visual impact, the abruptness with which it plunges us into crowded, sensuously alive, rapidly developing scenarios, or the rapid flickers and huge elusive shadows of suggestion that the images and the movement of the lines seem to cast. Harsent can seem … Continue Reading

David Harsent, In Secret: Versions of Yannis Ritsos, 80 pp, £9.99 paperback, Enitharmon Press.

Ritsos is one of the great twentieth century poets and has been quite widely translated. Harsent doesn’t try to compete with the scholars of Modern Greek on the level of close translation. His outstanding achievement is to make the poems live and breathe in an English so natural and so finely honed that one seems to be reading poetry in the language of its original composition.

Many pieces reflect horrifying and depressing aspects of twentieth century Greek history and of Ritsos’s own experience, but their tone is never really gloomy.

This is partly a matter of style. They don’t press feelings on … Continue Reading