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Towards the end of his life the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) wrote nearly four hundred poems in French – notably the two collections published as Les Fenêtres (The Windows) and Les Roses. The emergence of a French Rilke provides the starting point rather than the terminus for Jo Shapcott’s new collection, Tender Taxes, which re-imagines Rilke’s brief and fugitive lyrics as English poems. The occasion is Rilke, but these are more than versions: Shapcott’s poems address this, arguing with the originals, crossing and re-crossing the frontier between translation and origination. Rilke and Shapcott are brought together in the shared incognito of a foreign language, ‘speaking English through a French mouth’.
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