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This item is taken from PN Review 210, Volume 39 Number 4, March - April 2013.News & Notes
PN Review has been chronicling in News & Notes and in editorials the destruction of the UK public library system, which has accelerated in recent years. When deep national, regional and local cuts are advocated, the meagre library and arts budgets are always vulnerable as among the least politically sensitive. At the end of 2012 Newcastle City Council proposed 100% cuts to cultural and heritage funding (a public consultation is ongoing), affecting libraries across the region, as well as such vibrant arts institutions as the Sage Gateshead concert hall, the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books. Local literature development agency New Writing North has been conducting a campaign in Newcastle to stop the city council cutting £90 million over the next three years, the bulk from the provision for libraries. Writers, artists, musicians and actors have gathered to support the endangered libraries, which include those in Jesmond, Fenham and Dinnington. Five writers were commissioned to spend time in those libraries threatened with closure (many have already closed) and write about their experiences. A blog has been created at www.letstalklibraries.com. Events are planned across Tyneside, including various activities on National Libraries Day. Pledge your support by writing to Newcastle City Council or visiting www.newwritingnorth.com.
JOHN AGARD has been awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry 2012. Agard, a poet, anthologist and performer, was born in Guyana and came to Britain in 1977. His Bloodaxe collections include From the Devil's Pulpit (1997), Weblines (2000), We Brits (2006), Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems (2009), and Clever Backbone (2009). The Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, stated: 'John Agard ... levels the ground beneath all our feet, whether he is presenting Dante to children or introducing his own (Guyanan) culture to someone who hasn't encountered it before. In performance he is electrifying - compelling, funny, moving and thought-provoking. His work in education over years has changed the way that readers, writers and teachers think about poetry.'
Irish President MICHAEL D. HIGGINS unveiled a new acquisition by University College Cork (UCC) of the modern manuscript The Great Book of Ireland or Leabhar Mór na hÉireann, at a ceremony in January. President Higgins, who contributed his own handwritten poem to the project, was joined by other contributors to The Great Book including Seamus Heaney and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. The Great Book is a vellum manuscript comprising the original work of nine composers, 121 artists and 143 poets, including three literature Nobel Laureates: Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott. Masterminded in Dublin between 1989 and 1991 by the poet Theo Dorgan and the painter Gene Lambert, the manuscript - dubbed 'a modern Book of Kells' - has been acquired by UCC to be preserved and displayed by the University on behalf of the Irish people. It was produced as part of a fundraising initiative to benefit two charities, the Clashganna Mills Trust and Poetry Ireland/Éigse Éireann.
The US Poetry Foundation has appointed a new president to replace the inaugural president JOHN BARR, who is retiring. ROBERT POLITO will begin his tenure in July at the Chicago-based organisation, which publishes Poetry magazine, among other projects. A highly respected poet, critic and biographer, Polito has served since 1992 as director of Creative Writing at the New School in New York, where he founded its MFA Program. Born in Boston, he has a doctorate in English Romanticism from Harvard University. His own poetry, which blends lyric, collage and narrative impulses and draws on both American pop culture and literary tradition, has been collected in two books, Hollywood & God (2009) and Doubles (1995). He has also published critical works and is a contributing editor to the Boston Review. 'Robert Polito is the right leader for the next chapter of the Poetry Foundation,' said Poetry Foundation chairman John Kenney. Polito himself said of his new role: 'We live at a lucky moment for poetry, when there are so many surprising poets across generations, cultures, and styles - and this situation is one of the powerful legacies of Poetry, the magazine Harriet Monroe proposed a little over a century ago. I'm grateful to the Poetry Foundation for the chance to join their tradition of innovation and change - at once touchstone, template, and aspiration for the century ahead.'
The poet and critic DENNIS O'DRISCOLL has died at the age of 58. He had been a friend and contributor to PN Review from 1986 to 2011. He was, as well as a generous spirit, an inexhaustible resource, being the owner/curator of an archive of modern poetry, in both print and audio formats, second to none. His last book was Tell Me This Is Normal: New & Selected Poems (Anvil). He was a compelling advocate-critic who knew the value of interviews and public conversations. Among his many honours and awards, his honorary doctorate in literature from University College Dublin (2009) was particularly dear to him. He was also a popular judge of prizes and awards, including the Griffin Poetry Prizes, the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Cholmondeley Awards and the Geoffrey Faber Award. He never gave up the day job, working for the Revenue Commissioners for 40 years.
JAYNE CORTEZ, noted as a jazz poet and a performance artist, has died at the age of 78. She was a key figure in the Black Arts Movement that grew out of the Black Power movement in the 1960s. Her activism never flagged: she remained a poet of causes and occasions, and she published books of poems and recordings of her poetry with music. Margalit Fox wrote in the New York Times: 'Ms. Cortez's work was beyond category by virtue of embodying so many categories simultaneously: written verse, African and African-American oral tradition, the discourse of political protest, and jazz and blues. Meant for the ear even more than for the eye, her words combine a hurtling immediacy with an incantatory orality.' Cortez had homes in Manhattan and Dakar, Senegal; she was a founder of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, established in 1991.
LEUNG PING-KWAN, the poet and intellectual who celebrated and defined Hong Kong, has died at the age of 63 (as reported on the New York Times blog). Only days before his death, P.K. (as he was widely known) was discussing the recent leadership changes in Beijing and finalising his latest book, a Chinese-language collection of poems titled Dong Xi or East West. His poetry explored the changing identity of Hong Kong, caught between its former colonial ruler, Britain, and its new owner, China. P.K.'s oeuvre was enormous and widely translated (for a full list, see the website of Lingnan University, where he was professor of comparative literature), but his most notable collection was Traveling with a Bitter Melon, published in 2002. 'Hong Kong was always being described using other people's words,' said author Chan Koonchung. 'But [Leung Ping-Kwan] understood Hong Kong's changing culture. He very early on spotted that Hong Kong needed its own voice. He had that special voice.'
Sam Adams remembers Anthony Conran: Poet, translator, dramatist and critic ANTHONY CONRAN has died, aged 81, in Bangor, Gwynedd. He overcame daunting physical disability to become first a student and then research fellow and tutor at Bangor University. In addition to being a distinctively powerful and mesmerising modernist poet, he became a key contributor to our better understanding of Welsh-language poetry with his Penguin Book of Welsh Verse (1967) and was an outstanding academic critic of Welsh writing in English.
John Lucas remembers David Tipton: 'Show me your wound,' Hemingway was reputed to have challenged anyone introduced to him as a writer. David Tipton could have shown the old ham several, though he would have been laughing while he did so. A man who experienced much delight as well as genuine tragedy in his life, Tipton was able to live with a kind of unfazed relish for whatever the day might throw up. No wonder he loved betting on the horses, an activity which sometimes, though not often, put money in his pocket.
After completing his education in Birmingham and following National Service, Tipton moved with his wife and infant daughters to Argentina and then Peru, where for seven years he taught English at a number of academic institutions. While in South America, he began to write and publish poetry - Poetry (Chicago) took some of his early work - and met a number of South American poets, whose work he helped translate. In 1998 Tipton was the only British poet-translator to be invited to the World Congress of Poets in Lima, Peru. The sudden and shattering death of his wife brought Tipton with his daughters back to England, where he later remarried, taught, carried on writing and, after cutting his teeth as a publisher for the Rivelin-Grapheme Press, moved to Bradford, which became his home. It was here that he founded Redbeck Press, whose catalogue of poetry and prose makes plain Tipton's generous, wide-ranging tastes and enthusiasms. Among the better-known writers he published are Moniza Alvi, the short story writer and novelist Bill Broady, Jim Burns and Ian McMillan. The press also published important anthologies including British South Asian Poetry.
From his experiences in South America came the semi-autobiographical novel Paradise of Exiles; this and Medal for Malaya, recalling his time doing National Service, were both published by Shoestring Press. The latter is one of the best novels written about the last days of imperialism: funny, rambunctious, unsentimental, it deserves to be regarded as a minor classic. Of Tipton's many collections of poetry, perhaps the best is Amulet Against the Evil Eye and Other Poems (Salzburg University Press). His Collected Poems was launched at an occasion few who were there will forget. The poet, an inveterate smoker, had retired to one of the university's toilets in order to light up. Inevitably, a smoke detector went off and moments later the guests were surrounded by what looked to be the city's entire fire service department. Apologies from the organisers of the event were grudgingly accepted, but the head of the fire services turned down the offer of a signed copy of Tipton's Collected Poems.
This item is taken from PN Review 210, Volume 39 Number 4, March - April 2013.