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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 121, Volume 24 Number 5, May - June 1998.

News & Notes
The French poet and novelist ALAIN BOSQUET died in March. He was 79. President of he Académie Européenne de Poésie, his original and distinguished work is rooted in a huge diversity of antecedents. His parents were Ukrainian refugees and Bosquet was raised in Belgium. He worked with the American army during the War, associated with André Breton not in Paris but in New York. His witty and vivid poetry is brought together in the 1977 collection Le Livre du doute et de la grâce and in later books. In PN Review 3 (1977) we published a selection of his Notes translated by Samuel Beckett and Edward Lucie-Smith, with a headnote by Lawrence Durrell. Through Becket he says, 'He has no more questions./ There is a music he loves.' Through Lucie-Smith: 'This evening he decides/to replace his alphabet/with pine trees, twenty-six in number,/in a straight line/facing the sea.'

The Scottish poet ALAN BOLD died in Kirkaldy in March, aged 54. Regarded by some as an aftershock of Hugh MacDiarmid, his poetry began in great promise and ended in diffuseness, never achieving the passages of complete mastery that his mentor managed even in his most wayward verse and prose. He was active, prolific and partly successful on dozens of fronts, political, poetic, artistic (his paintings have a place in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), sporting (he was a fine pugilist), journalistic. He is the most bitterly bruised defeated candidates for the Chair of Poetry at Oxford in 1968, where he polled not a single vote. He shared Penguin Poets 15 with Kamau Braithwaite and Edwin Morgan and for a time was one of the most audible voices in Scottish poetry. He will be best remembered as editor of the Penguin Book of Socialist Verse and for his writings about Hugh MacDiarmid, with whom he struck up a friendship in 1962, and who appointed him official biographer. At the time of his death he was writing a biography of Robert Burns.

HELVI HÄMÄLÄINEN , the Finnish writer, died in January at the age of 90. Hämäläinen published prose and poetry. Her fiction and memoirs are best-known, but she published one celebrated collection of poems, about the Winter War of 1939. VILJO KAJAVA , two years Hämäläinen's junior, has also died. His first book of poems appeared in 1935, his last in 1996. He began his career writing in Swedish, but began a new phase writing in Finnish in 1949.

Peter Hewitt, former chief executive of Northern Arts, became Secretary General of the Arts Council of England on 9 March. On 1 May Gerry Robinson, chairman of Granada and BSkyB becomes Arts Council Chairman in succession to Lord Gowrie. Praising his successor, Lord Gowrie declared, 'Gerry Robinson is a brilliant man and no stranger to the management of change.' The word 'change' is much in the air in the world of public funding for the arts. The expression 'radical change' has also been heard, and rumours of root and branch change abound. When one disaffected Labour MP spoke of the Blair government as being 'hard on the arts and hard on the causes of art', the chill in the air was palpable. Peter Hewitt was largely responsible for Visual Arts UK (1996). Unlike Lord Gowrie, neither he nor Gerry Robinson is notably associated with literature, the Cinderella of the arts in terms of funding.

Asked how a bookseller might ensure success in the volatile modern market-place, one manager said simply, 'Buy the competition.' After the Waterstone's revolution of the 1990s, further developments in bookselling are afoot. Waterstone's has been prised free of W.H. Smith and joined together with Dillon's in a bookselling chain which controls 20% of the UK trade and probably as much as 40% of the UK retail trade in poetry. Further expansion is envisaged in Britain and abroad. At the same time, the American chain Borders Books acquired the vigorous chain BooksEtc and plans major expansion within the UK. Its leading American competitor, Barnes & Noble, is also contemplating a frontal assault on the British market. Both Borders and Barnes & Noble envisage the creation of mega-stores, three or four times as large as the spectacular new Waterstone's in Glasgow. Ottakar's is planning further expansion in the provinces. Competition for a not very elastic books market will have two effects. Publishers will be under pressure to give greater discounts to the larger chains (some already give up to 60-). And it is likely that every major bookshop will feature the same stock range and work to build market by discounting the buyers, with serious consequences for the independent booksellers already weakened by the ending of the Net Book Agreement. Though the mega-stores will, in theory, carry substantial range - 150,000 titles in some cases - smaller branches are likely to be exercise severe control of stock and range. A publisher's literary 'mid-list' - books published because they are worth publishing, not because there is a clear market waiting for them - will come under further pressure. There was a marginal fall in publishing output last year; that fall is likely to continue as publishers work to maintain turnover and margin on the strength of improved unit sales for a narrower range of books.

As American capital finds its way into book retailing, German money has acquired the great British - or Anglo-American - publishing conglomerate Random House. Thirty years ago Chatto, Cape, Bodley Head, Hutchinson, Secker, Heinemann and other 'imprints' were independent companies. By a series of mergers, enterprises joined, the coherent programmes and the unique qualities of the lists were diluted, some lists were entirely phased out. Within the Random group (to which, shortly before the German takeover, Heinemann and Secker, among others, were added), new poetry - which used to emanate from six of the imprints - is now generally concentrated on the Cape list. Within the conglomerates there are of course major paperback lists; the hardcover publisher or imprint which controls the head contract for a book can reclaim licenses and publish under its own paperback imprints titles previously sold to paperback houses. Penguin is not alone in suffering 'recalls': after sixty-odd years of publishing, for example, Graham Greene, it is being compelled to revert rights. With vertical integration, hard- and paperback editions will emanate from the same conglomerate. It is hard to under-estimate the effect of such changes on the publishing ecology of this country. As much as three quarters of literary publishing now emanates from three conglomerates. Bestselling and potential best-selling authors have never had it so good. Mid-list authors and general readers, however, will begin to suffer as the imperatives of the marketplace become increasingly the imperatives of editorial decision-making.

The eighteenth International Pound Conference will be held in July 1999 in Beijing, China - an appropriate location, it might be thought, to celebrate the work of the man who did so much to familiarise poetry readers with Chinese poetry and whose debts to the orient were considerable, especially in his formative years. Details of the conference are available from Professor Zhaoming Qian, Department of English, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA 70148 USA (e-mail za01@gnofn.org).

The Finland-Swedish poet TUA FORSTROM is the first Finnish woman and the first poet for six years to receive the important Nordic Council Prize for Literature, in recognition of her most recent book, published in 1997. Before her, the most recent poet to receive the Prize was Tomas Tranströmer (1990). Slow Dancer Press is looking for material for Stomp & Holler, an anthology of jazzrelated poetry and fiction, to be edited by David Kresh and John Harvey, and published in the autumn of 1999. The editors are seeking primarily unpublished material and work which has appeared in journals and magazines - though any work which has not appeared in similar anthologies will be considered. 'Payment will be small but the book will be wonderful,' they say reassuringly. (Slow Dancer Press, 59 Parliament Hill, London NW3 2TB)

This item is taken from PN Review 121, Volume 24 Number 5, May - June 1998.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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