Josep Carner - a masterpiece of modern Catalan poetry. In the widest sense a poem about the limits of rationality, it is a triumph of language


Josep Carner, Nabí, Trans. by J.L. Gili, Carcanet Press, 2004.


Josep Carner's Nabí is a masterpiece of modern Catalan poetry. Based on the biblical story of Jonah, it is essentially a Christian poem, though it is scathing about the effects of religious perversion. In the widest sense a poem about the limits of rationality, it is a triumph of language - of a language which Carner helped to establish as a vehicle for serious poetry. This bilingual edition is introduced by the noted Catalan expert Arthur Terry.


First writing during the unrest and activism of early 20th-century Catalonia, Josep Carner (1884-1970) was later pressed into government service but continued to write poetry, becoming a model for younger Catalan poets. His book-length poem Nabi (Hebrew for "prophet"), published in Buenos Aires in 1941, now appears in an English/Spanish edition, translated by J.L. Gili (1907-1998). Based on the biblical story of Jonah, this deeply religious poem explores the complexities of faith, dogma, uncertainty and forgiveness through the experience of a prophet who, "recalcitrant,/ and still confused," talks back to God: "Neither Your threats frighten nor Your comfort revives,/ and You appear less resolute,/ like one that wanting to sell a rug/ brings down the price." Carner imagines Jonah's dialogue with Jehovah throughout his travails, and his internal transition: "in the belly of a fish, I have faith.// ...I felt sheltered like an unborn child." An introduction by Arthur Terry provides a fascinating background for this rich work. - Publishers Weekly


A prolific poet, playwright, novelist, and children's author, Hikmet (1902-63) is the twentieth-century Turkish writer best known in the West. Indeed, his Western reputation is big enough to inspire a second major English translation of his work in honor of the centenary of his birth. McKane and colleagues render many of the same poems that Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk translated for Poems of Nazim Hikmet (1994), which has just been reissued, revised and expanded, to complement their complete translation of Hikmet's verse novel, Human Landscapes from My Country. It is hard to prefer either set of translators' work; both contain smooth and rhythmic versions of Hikmet's pioneering Turkish free verse, and each includes poems and passages the other lacks. Hikmet is best and, fortunately, most generously represented by his translators when he is singing the beauties of Turkey, the Turks, his wives (he was married four times), and his friends. That he so often writes from prison and exile gives added poignance to his work. Every reader of world literature should know his work. - Ray Olson

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