History

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FOUNDING MODERN POETRY IN TRANSLATION

Modern Poetry in Translation was founded by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort in London in 1965 to get vital poetry out from behind the iron curtain. The magazine has been in print ever since, bringing new ways of writing and thinking into the English language, and changing how we see the world.

This poetry is more universal than ours.

Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort

 

 

COLD WAR EUROPE

By the early 1960s the Cold War was an established fact of European life: the brutal Soviet repression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 had shocked the West. The ugly concrete symbolism of the Berlin Wall, built in 1961, was a constant reminder of the tension between West and Eastern Europe.

 

 

 

 

One can easily understand the suddenness of the need to communicate, to exchange dreams and revelations and brainwaves, to find a shared humanity on the level of the heart. The translation of poetry became important, almost political business.

Ted Hughes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ted Hughes

 

 

 

THE EDITORS

Ted Hughes & Daniel Weissbort

In the early 1960s Ted Hughes began thinking about a poetry magazine which would publish only translations. Interest in poetry in translation was growing, and a number of poets were already engaged in serious and systematic translation work. The 'isolations of the 50s' were over, as Hughes later wrote, and the 'passionate international affair commenced'. By the time he came to discuss the magazine with his friend and fellow poet Daniel Weissbort, he had already amassed material and ideas.

It seemed easier to let the magazine take off than to keep it grounded. The sheer pressure of material forced the issue.

Ted Hughes

 

 

 

Hughes found an enthusiastic collaborator in his friend and fellow poet, Daniel Weissbort, and by early 1964 the two men were discussing production of the magazine, including the paper they would use: it would be 'a fairly scrappy-looking thing' on airmail paper to keep the costs down.

They invited Richard Hollis, who later designed John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, to collaborate on the magazine. Letters concerning advertising, advisory editors, print runs and costs flew back and forth.

They chose the functional title Modern Poetry in Translation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel Weissbort

POETS AT THE CENTRE OF CATACLYSM

In their editorial, Hughes and Weissbort described Eastern Europe as as 'the region at the centre of cataclysm'. The poets in the first issue, with the exception of Yehuda Amichai, were all living in Eastern Europe. To Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort, it seemed as if the urgency of the situation in the East produced poetry that was of a higher order - poetry that was psychologically subtle and yet spoke to millions.

'While we had material coming from many other areas of the world, it was that which came from Eastern Europe, which was somehow the most insistent. It is this region which has been at the centre of cataclysm.'

Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort

MODERN POETRY IN TRANSLATION No.1

The first issue of Modern Poetry in Translation was printed in broadsheet format, reminiscent of the broadside, ballad sheets that had been popular in the early nineteenth century, as well as conveying the sense that these poems were 'news'.  It was designed to be light enough to distribute as widely as possible. Functionality was the byword, but the butterfly-fragility of its pages also made this first issue a thing of great beauty.

This poetry is more universal than ours. It deals in issues, universally comprehensible. It does not fight shy of philosophy.

Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort

 

 

 

1965-2016

During the sixties and seventies the magazine extended its reach. However, it continued to publish a high number of Eastern European poets and the work the magazine did in promoting their poetry has had a significant and long-lasting effect on English-language poetry. The contributions of a few important translators made this possible. These include George Theiner, the translator of Holub, who fled Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion in 1968. Theiner’s letters to Daniel Weissbort at that time are full of news about poetry, but they also show the terrible impact of the Cold War on individual lives.

Theiner's correspondence with Daniel Weissbort

MPT is the Fifth International, anyone who wants to change the world and see it changed should join.
John Berger

The first editors of Modern Poetry in Translation hoped the work they published 'would stimulate poetry-making in this country'. They wanted to enrich English-language writing and offer persuasive and urgent work to readers and writers alike. Some poems became fully embedded in the British poetry psyche. Miroslav Holub's 'The fly', for example, was included in the New Penguin Book of English Verse, published in 2000.

Modern Poetry in Translation continues to affect English-language writing. From Iraq to Siberia, Ancient Greece to Alaska – we seek out the best vital international poetry and work with translators and poets to publish the finest English language translations.

To celebrate the contribution MPT has made to English-language poetry, we have commissioned leading poets in Eastern Europe and the UK to write in response to the groundbreaking work first published in Modern Poetry in Translation No. 1.