We Americans can be shockingly ignorant of what’s happening in countries next door, across the ocean, or half a hemisphere away. But as Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris want to show us, this isn’t just politically or culturally myopic — it also deprives us of many pleasures, the art of poetry among them. In this highly readable anthology, Kaminsky, one of his generation’s finest poets, and Harris, the editorial director of Words Without Borders, aim to expand literary citizenship — and succeed elegantly. Like most good anthologies, The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry is a well-placed smorgasboard, and sampling it can make a reader hungry for a full meal. Indeed, how have any of us been getting along without reading Anna Ahkmatova or Czeslaw Milosz or Mahmoud Darwish or Ko Un?
This book invites us to broaden our reading, to learn, to know more. But as Kaminsky’s thoughtful essay on translation also argues, this anthology is as much about discovering community as it is about discovering any one new poet. In a wonderful opening essay about translation and literary echo, it becomes clear that Kaminsky hopes to catalog not just poems or poets, but the currents and echoes between them — to find new meridians, trade routes, and dialog. We’re the better for listening. As Mahmoud Darwish (translated by Fady Joudah) says — as if addressing not only Palestinians, but writers and readers everywhere: “We have a country of words. So speak, speak that I may lean/ my path on a stone made of stone. We have a country of words./ Speak, speak that we may know an end to travel!”