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Celebrating World Poetry Day: Five International Poets You Don’t Want to Miss

In honor of World Poetry Day, we are revisiting some of our most beloved poetry volumes in the Yale Margellos series. From ancient traditions of kabbalah to contemporary voices from Ukraine, Greece, and Syria, poetry’s capacity to reimagine the limits of language is as old as humankind itself. From violent oppression to love, hope, and selfhood, these collections explore a range of today’s most poignant and pressing themes. 

What We Live For, What We Die For is a collection by Serhiy Zhadan, a world-renowned author who hails from eastern Ukraine and has deep roots in the unique cultural landscape of post-Soviet devastation. These robust and accessible narrative poems feature gutsy portraits of life in war-torn and poverty-ravaged streets, where children tally the number of local deaths and where romance lives like a remote memory. In the tradition of Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski, and William S. Burroughs, Zhadan crafts a new poetics of loss, a daily crusade of testimonial, a final witness of abandoned lives. Yet despite the grimness of these portraits, Zhadan’s poems are familiar and enchanting, lit by the magic of everyday detail, leaving readers with a sense of hope, knowing that the will of a people “will never let it be / like it was before.”

Selected Poems is the first bilingual volume by leading Irish twentieth-century poet Seán Ó Ríordáin. The volume reflects Ó Ríordáin’s seven main concerns: poetry and its place in the artist’s life; the plural self; the relationship between the individual and society; gender relations; the nature of animals; Ireland, the Irish language and culture; and mortality. His work has stood the test of time, and he continues to engage today’s Irish readers and writers. Also included for the first time in English is Ó Ríordáin’s essay What Is Poetry?, an extraordinary touchstone of critical insight for poets and literary commentators alike.

The Poetry of Kabbalah, translated by MacArthur–winning poet Peter Cole, presents for the first time in English a substantial body of poetry emerging directly from the sublime and often startling world of Jewish mysticism. Taking up Gershom Scholem’s call to plumb the “tremendous poetic potential” concealed in the kabbalistic tradition, Peter Cole provides dazzling renderings of work composed on three continents over a period of some fifteen hundred years.

The Brazen Plagiarist is a collection of poems by the late Kiki Dimoula, who passed away just a few months ago. Her poetry—the most praised and prized in contemporary Greek literature—is a paradox, both mysteriously intricate and widely popular. Her magic lens defamiliarizes all that is familiar, compressing distances between far-flung realms, conflating concrete and abstract, literal and metaphorical, physical and metaphysical. Exacting and oracular at once, Dimoula superimposes absurdity on rationality, caustic irony on dark melancholy. This first English translation of a wide selection of poems from across Dimoula’s oeuvre brings together some of her most beguiling, arresting, and moving work. 

Adonis: Selected Poems represents the first major career-spanning collection of the poetry of Adonis, who was born in Syria in 1930 and is widely acknowledged as the most important poet working in Arabic today. Experimental in form and prophetic in tone, Adonis’s poetry sings exultantly of both the sweet promise oferos and the lingering problems of the self. Steeped in the anguish of exile and the uncertainty of existence, this collection demonstrates the poet’s profound affection for Arabic and European lyrical traditions even as his poems work to destabilize those very aesthetic and moral sensibilities. This collection positions the work of Adonis within the pantheon of the great poets of exile, including César Vallejo, Joseph Brodsky, and Paul Celan, providing for English readers the most complete vision yet of the work of the man whom the cultural critic Edward Said called “today’s most daring and provocative Arab poet.”

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