Perambulatory Christmas Books, part 8
By J. C.
Some weeks ago, the TLS published a letter from a reader in Florida who, having read here about the Keith Fawkes bookshop in Hampstead, known as the Flask, “was prompted to visit the establishment”. Not only did she find the book she was looking for – Gissing’s In the Year of Jubilee – but she had “a lovely discussion about literature with the kind gentleman in charge that day”.
We know that gentleman, willing and able to discuss a wide range of literary topics, and we looked forward to something of the kind last week. What a shock, then, to find the Flask’s interior invaded by bric-a-brac from the flea market that now buzzes about its door. . . .
A year or so ago, half the shop was given over to storage from the jumble sale; then a bit more; now only about 25 per cent of the floor space is allotted to books. Customers trickle in. “You’re the Tennyson man”, the kind gentleman says to one; another locates a desired chess book; yet another seeks Wuthering Heights. It’s here somewhere, under the old glass, china and fraying curtains. But how to get there? The novice Brontëan leaves disappointed.
It seemed somehow suitable that we should light on the works of a poet who himself was once in danger of being submerged: Andrei Voznesensky came to the attention of Western readers in the early 1960s, following a path cleared by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Although the pair were born in the same year, 1933, Voznesensky seemed younger. Yevtushenko was photographed with President Nixon, while his compatriot posed with Allen Ginsberg. Yet he was known as a formalist. In the preface to a volume translated by various hands, Antiworlds (OUP, 1967), W. H. Auden praised Voznesensky’s craftsmanship. “Here is a poet who knows that . . . a poem is a verbal artifact which must be as skilfully and solidly constructed as a table”.
In the Flask, we unearthed one of those lovely floppy Grove Press paperbacks from the 1960s, Selected Poems, translated by Anselm Hollo, with a cover by Roy Kuhlman. The contents overlap with those of Antiworlds, but at times you would scarcely know it. “Ballad of 1941”, the year Germany invaded the Soviet Union, opens in a version by Stanley Moss: “The piano has crawled underground. Hauled / In for firewood, sprawled / With frozen barrels, crates, and sticks, / The piano is waiting for the ax”.
Turning to Hollo, we find: “The piano has disappeared into the quarry, / It was dragged down to the firewood store: / Frozen vats and boxes of chaff. / Now it was waiting / for the breaker’s ax”. Moss structures the ballad in quatrains, with passable rhymes. Hollo dispenses with form, and chucks in an ending which might or might not derive from the original (if it does, it was missed by Moss). So much for craft. Still, we are pleased to have liberated Voznesensky from the siege of Flask Walk. For Selected Poems, the kind gentleman divested us of “all of £2”.