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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 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

News & Notes
Almost Island · The handsome New Delhi magazine Almost Island (almostisland.com) has turned ten, publishing its fifteenth issue to mark the occasion. Subhashis Mohanty began it all by supporting the original plan with funds and hosting the magazine’s site, designed by Itu Chaudhuri. The editors are Sharmistha Mohanty, Vivek Narayanan and Rahul Soni, who conducted the annual international Writers Dialogues. The latest issue includes work from India, St Lucia, China, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere.


Claribel Alegria · The 93-year-old Nicaraguan poet, Claribel Alegria, also closely associated with El Salvador which lays claim to her, has been awarded the coveted Queen Sofia Prize for poetry, awarded by the University of Salamanca. She reflected on how hard it had been on starting out to be taken seriously as a woman and a poet, the term ‘poetess’ carrying a pejorative sense. For reasons of politics her father was forced to leave Nicaragua when she was nine months old; she grew up in El Salvador and returned to her native country for good in 1985 to assist in the reconstruction of the country. She was associated with the Sandinistas and rejoiced in the overthrow of the dictator Somoza. With twenty books of poetry, and novels and essays to her credit, things are not yet easy, but some of the prejudice that marked her early years has drained away. She is the sixth poet to win this major Spanish award for the best writing from Latin America. Alegria also received the Casa de las Americas Prize in Havana in 1978, and the Neustadt Prize in 2006.


Awards · It is a season of awards. The Poetry Foundation announced that Kristen Tracy has won the 2017 Emily Dickinson First Book Award for her manuscript Half-Hazard. The prize is given sporadically, most recently in 2012, to a poet of forty or more years of who has yet to publish a first collection of poetry. The book came to the judges with a history of prior shortlistings: for the Yale Younger Poet Prize, the Walt Whitman Award and Sarabande Books’ Kathryn A. Morton Prize. Graywolf will release the book in in 2018.

Tyehimba Jess has been awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Olio (Wave Books, 2016), her second collection of poetry. It ‘melds performance art with the deeper art of poetry to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity’, in this sense joining a new genre of declamatory poetry with a clear commitment to traditional textual challenges. ‘The book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I.’

In May the Poetry Foundation announced that Joy Harjo, described as ‘a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’, has won the 2017 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, created to honours a living American poet for lifetime achievement, with a purse of $100,000. It has run since 1986. Don Share said in the citation: ‘“History,” Joy Harjo writes, “is right here, right now. We are in it; we are making it.” And we are lucky to be living in a time during which Harjo is making poetry of that history as we live it. Her work is a thrilling and necessary antidote to false news, the ephemera of digital celebrity, and other derelictions. It pushes vigorously back against forgetfulness, injustice, and negligence at every level of contemporary life. Her work moves us because it is in the continual motion of bringing forward, with grace but also acuity, our collective story, always in progress.’


Other Peoples · In May the Canadian journal Quill and Quire carried a report that clearly identified a defining moment in contemporary Canadian letters. ‘An opinion piece in the spring 2017 issue of Write, the Writers’ Union of Canada members’ publication, has resulted in the resignation of its editor and a board member.

‘The issue spotlights work by several Indigenous authors, including Alicia Elliott, Joshua Whitehead, Shannon Webb-Campbell, and Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm. In an accompanying opinion piece, Write editor’ – no longer Write editor – ‘Hal Niedzviecki says, “I don’t believe in cultural appropriation. In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities. I’d go so far as to say there should even be an award for doing so – the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.” TWUC has issued a statement “unequivocally” apologizing for the editor’s note, acknowledging that Niedzviecki’s words “offended and hurt readers, contributors to the magazine and members of the editorial board.” That statement also indicated that Niedzviecki has resigned as editor. TWUC board member Nikki Reimer also resigned over the controversy. In a note on her website, Reimer apologizes for not having reviewed the issue prior to going to print.’


An Extremist Vocation · The Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, at the International Poetry Festival connected with the equally International Book Fair in Buenos Aires, Argentina, declared, ‘In poetry you can be a revolutionary of the left, you can be a fascist, but you cannot be a social democrat. The art has an extremist vocation…’ His intervention also included an indictment of the centripetal character of much contemporary poetry in Latin America, its tendency to solipsism.


Picador at Twenty · The Picador poetry list has reached the age of twenty under the editorship of Don Paterson. ‘I hope you’ll join us in celebrating our twentieth anniversary, now that two decades have passed since we published our first book, Robin Robertson’s A Painted Field.’ Of course we will! Paterson adds, ‘I’ve been fortunate to work for a number of people who believe in the intrinsic cultural value of poetry, and see no particular reason for it to have to keep defending its own existence. Their own role as guardians of the art is shockingly under-appreciated, though not by me. […] Picador Poetry has no “house style” other than broad excellence. Although it remains a pretty select list with around thirty-odd poets, we publish writers from across the poetic spectrum, from Denise Riley to Billy Collins, from Kate Tempest to Clive James, from Colette Bryce to Timothy Donnelly.’


Burton Watson · contributed by SHENGCHI HSU · On 1 April 2017, Burton Watson, the American scholar and translator of Chinese and Japanese, died in Kamagaya, Japan, at the age of ninety-one. Watson’s translation covers a wide range, from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry, to texts of history, religion and philosophy.

A few months into my studies in Literary Translation I encountered Burton Watson’s work. Having spent months reading translation theory, I was directed to ‘test them out’ on prominent Chinese-English translators’ work. When I first read Watson’s translation of Wang Wei’s Luchai 鹿柴 as ‘Deer Fence’ in Eliot Weinberger’s Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, like the Shanghai girl sitting in Lukas Klein’s class, I asked, ‘That’s it?’ Watson’s translation reads,


Empty hills, no one in sight,
only the sound of someone talking;
late sunlight enters the deep wood,
shining over the green moss again.


It was Weinberger’s commentary that answered my many questions on the simplicity and directness in Watson’s translation. He calls Watson ‘the first scholar whose work displays an affinity with the modernist revolution in American poetry: absolute precision, concision, and the use of everyday speech.’ No, that’s not it. No word-for-word, sense-for-sense, or any other translation theory could easily account for what Watson had done. For me it was a moment of epiphany. The simplicity in Watson’s translation presents the image as directly as Wang Wei’s poem does; Watson also renders it in a way that respects the highly regulated form. Wang Wei isn’t lost in translation after all, only transposed diachronically into a different time and place, made modern with a voice that speaks to readers of poetry in English.

To me, the new kid on the block learning about translation and learning to translate, Watson’s translation is a two-way mirror. In this mirror I can appreciate classical Chinese shi, and at the same time appreciate Western poetry, and find expressions to bridge the cultural and linguistic differences without recourse to awkward translationese.

Even as we lament the passing of a great translator, we remember Burton Watson for his achievements in and contributions to the world of translation, and – more importantly – for effortless, translucent translations that bring Eastern and Western literariness closer to one another.


Joanne Kyger · The abundant poet Joanne Kyger, inspired by a Zen take on nature, and one of the few women members (with Diane di Prima, Anne Waldman and a few others) of the Beat fraternity, died in March in Bolinas, California. She was eighty-two. She summed up her mature aesthetic in these terms: ‘The shape of the day, the words of the moment, what’s happening around me in the world of interior and exterior space – these are my writing concerns.’ She published thirty collections of poetry. Anne Waldeman characterised her as ‘a secret to the larger, more dominant official verse culture worlds,’ who ‘already has a palpable underground reputation, and I am confident it will grow.’


Carlos Rigby · West Indian writer Carlos Rigby, one of the largest figures in Caribbean poetry, a translator, trombonist and a major performer of his compositions, died in Managua, Nicaragua, in May, just short of his seventy-second birthday. He was key among the Afro-Caribbean poets, prolific and popular since the 1960s, publishing in magazines and supplements and widely translated. Dance, verse and music combined in his most ambitious works. A rural English was his first language but he came to write and compose in Spanish and his translators have had the task of restoring him to his ‘native’ tongue, though one far more nuanced than he grew up with. He identified closely with the Sandinista revolution and celebrated his cultural and civic roots. He received the highest awards for poetry that Nicaragua could confer. His vigil was kept by poets, artists, members of the Moravian church, musicians and workers.


Ooka Makoto · contributed by WILLIAM ELLIOTT · Ooka Makoto, poet and one of the outstanding critics of Japanese literature, died on 4 March 2017 at the age of eighty-six. His awards included the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for his poetry volumes Elegy and Benediction. His column of criticism appeared daily on the front page of the prestigious Asahi Newspaper for twenty years. Ooka and Tanikawa Shuntaro (a poet whose work is published by Carcanet) were founding members of the post-war poetry group ‘Oar’.

Also in Japan, Iwanami Shoten, the leading Tokyo publishers, put fifty-four of Tanikawa Shuntaro’s eBook poetry collections online in November 2015. That project – like Tanikawa at eighty-five – is ongoing. Kazuo Kawamura, co-translator with me of Tanikawa’s poems, died at eighty-two in November 2015.

This item is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.



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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