The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
For 1,000 years the river Danube represented the border between Hapsburg Catholicism, Orthodox Russia and Ottoman Islam. During the cold war it was part of the front-line between East and West. Today it represents the vivid clash of the traditional and the modern.
Not surprisingly poets living on such a contested border have always been good at knowing when to mean what they don't say and when to say what they mean.
The Czech poet Vitezslav Nezval (1900-58) was, like Eluard, Aragon and Ritsos, both a communist and a surrealist. Although he wrote a long poem in praise of Stalin during the cold war, he nevertheless remained an inspirational figure for the generation of 1968.
Nezval's Prague With Fingers Of Rain (Bloodaxe Books, Â£8.95) is a hymn to Prague, modern and ancient, real and imagined, a city of side-streets, cafes, street-walkers, poets and students.
Beautifully translated by Edward Osers, it is full of joyous and rich observations of the physical world, as in Prague In Winter, where "the river flows as if someone were striking an anvil/Like a postal van with a mailbag burst open/The roofs like crows can't move a wingâ¦ The spires are haughty wearing their ballroom gloves."
For Nezval, Prague was "miraculous as a fountain playing over a cemetery/As a dragon-fly over a sleeping woman as eyes in a lake/As a fire in a goldsmith's shop as a peacock on a belvedere/As a rainbow over a window where someone is playing the piano."
Kristin Dimitrova is a contemporary Bulgarian minimalist, a feminist-fabulist whose work combines the fantastic and the prosaic. My Life In Squares (Smokestack Books, Â£7.95) is an introduction to the work of one of the most original writers to emerge in recent years from the "new Europe."
Dimitrova writes with a deceptively simple, playful, light touch, teasing the reader with faux-folk-wisdom and unexpected, bathetic endings ("The truth will make you free/To look for a new job").
Oblique, subtle and witty, her poems creep up on her subjects from behind, demonstrating that looking at something sideways is not the same as avoiding the issue - "The one-legged Gypsy/was begging behind the wind at a February corner,/but people steered clear of him as if he was already blessed/with more than he deserved;/after all,/he shivered with one leg only."
The Jewish-Hungarian poet Andras Mezei (1930-2008) was one of the most prominent writers in post-war Hungary. Christmas In Auschwitz (Smokestack Books, Â£7.95) brings together for the first time in English Mezei's poems about the events of his childhood, when half a million Hungarian Jews, Roma, homosexuals and political dissidents were transported to extermination camps and almost three-quarters of Hungary's Jewish population perished.
"If you and your family must be taken away,/at least do right by us, we are poor folk and to you it is now all the same -/we'll send the children over to collect,/may the Eternal Lord keep you/and we will save your valuables,/in case you return."
Translated by Thomas Orszag-Land, who also survived the Hungarian Holocaust, these are poems about the unavoidability of memory ("How many nights must pass before/I need not wake up anymore?") and about the necessity of remembering - "Like ink on the blotting paper, the number/tattooed in Auschwitz splinters and spreads/on the inside of my lower left arm/when I ride the tram in the summer/and, forgetting myself, I happen/to reach up in my short-sleeved shirt/to hang on to the strap./May I never lift my right arm/if I forget the mark on my left."