The cover of Christopher Reid’s Katerina Brac shows a creased passport-sized photograph of a young woman dressed in the stern fashion of thirty years ago. She is holding a cigarette and wearing unflattering dark glasses which give her an insect look, as if she were caught in an early stage of Kafkaian metamorphosis. She is a sum of received ideas and stage properties. The question to be asked about the contents of the book itself is how far it escapes being a more sophisticated version of the same thing, for Katerina Brac is an invention. Reid has written her poems for her. They are supposed to be translations from some (possibly Slavic) original, and that is precisely what they sound like – very good translations, with just the right heaviness in the right places, a heaviness hinting at a significance not quite conveyed.
They came in their millions –
an army composed entirely of stragglers
filling the sky,
the gust-driven trash of migration.
The last line is not entirely English in its density. The compressed feel of it suggests the loss of some syntactical device en route between two languages. Paradoxically, within the present poem (‘Pale Blue