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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 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

News & Notes
Medellín ·  The annual Medellín Poetry Festival, now in its twenty-eighth year and one of the most popular and celebrated gatherings of its kind in the world, may be in peril of collapse. It has long been dependent on the Colombian Ministry of Culture. The Festival organisers have been advised that their grant for the year ($260,000,000 or about £65,000) will not be awarded because they failed to complete the application forms correctly or completely (a technical issue, the Ministry’s website insists), but also perhaps because, with the understandable hubris that can characterise popular and successful operations who grow impatient with the bureaucracies that provide them with funding, it never crossed their minds that rejection was possible. The Ministry said that the application omitted the ‘social impact’ assessment, even though the Ministry itself carried out an impact study last July which showed that, each year, the Festival has a direct impact on 45,000 people, and an indirect impact world wide. It is a matter of record that, in its early years, it helped change the culture of Medellín in the wake of the Pablo Escobar cartel years. The organisers suspect the Ministry of unspecified chicanery. They vowed to fight on. Discussions are in progress even as this issue of PN Review goes to press. Fernando Rendón, the long-time festival director, recalled that the event has over time brought more than one thousand six hundred poets from one hundred and seventy countries to his country, providing enormous, enthusiastic and informed audiences. The show, he insists, will go on.


Man Booker ·  More than thirty publishers signed a letter asking the Man Booker Prize organisers to reconsider their 2014 decision to allow American authors to be submitted. Their concern about a ‘homogenised literary future’ was borne out by last year’s shortlist. There is also the issue that the great American prizes are not open to Anglophone authors from other nations. Some poetry publishers were wondering whether a similar case should be made for the major British poetry awards. The Booker letter declares: ‘The rule change, which presumably had the intention of making the prize more global, has in fact made it less so, by allowing the dominance of Anglo-American writers at the expense of others; and risks turning the prize, which was once a brilliant mechanism for bringing the world’s English-language writers to the attention of the world’s biggest English- language market, into one that is no longer serving the readers in that market…’


Helen Dunmore · Helen Dunmore’s final poetry collection before her death Inside The Wave (Bloodaxe) received the Costa Poetry Award and the major Costa Prize. Poet, novelist and children’s writer, Dunmore lived and died in Bristol. She was sixty four when she died of cancer last year. The Costa judges called the book, ‘an astonishing set of poems’ and ‘a final, great achievement’, praising her ‘spare, eloquent lyricism’ which explores the ‘underworld and the human, living world’.


Paul Muldoon · Paul Muldoon has been awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2017. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2003.


Richard Murphy · Mary O’Malley writes: The poet Richard Murphy has died in Sri Lanka at the age of ninety. He belonged to that great Anglo-Irish poetic tradition exemplified by Yeats. He spoke beautifully, and wrote in ‘a voice that hungers for authority and yearns to make people and things, which are sure to vanish, last in verbal granite’.

‘I wanted to write about the sea’, he told me, ‘so I bought a boat’. The boat was a Galway hooker, and when she was repaired he began running a small business carrying passengers to Inis Boffin, earning his living on ‘the ribald face of a mad mistress’, as he wrote in his first collection. Sailing to an Island, published by Faber in 1963, included the celebrated poems ‘The Philosopher and the Birds’ and ‘The Cleggan Disaster’.

His long poem ‘The Battle Of Aughrim’ was commissioned by the BBC and first broadcast in 1963. Among the readers were C. Day Lewis and Ted Hughes.

The music was composed by Sean O Riada. Its structure was an influence on the long poetic sequences of Montague and Heaney and it is among the finest long poems in English of the past century. Out of the tension of his Irish-English ancestry and the competing voices of his personal history, Murphy crafted a poem that satisfied his own ambition, ‘to build a poem that will be beyond repair’.

Like many of the Anglo-Irish, Richard was obsessed with houses and renovation, an activity he turned into poetry in the sonnet sequence ‘The Price of Stone’, in which he ventriloquised fifty buildings, including an Oxford College, an industrial school and a monk’s cell on High Island.

He parted company with Faber after the then editor refused to include the sequence ‘The God Who Eats Corn’ in what became New Selected Poems, and moved to Bloodaxe in 1989 for the publication of ‘The Mirror Wall’. Lilliput Press has published a selection of his poems from 1952–1912.


Bobi Jones · Meic Stephens writes: Bobi Jones died in Aberystwyth on 22 November, aged 88. He was by far the most prolific of all Welsh writers in the twentieth century. Poet, short story writer, novelist, literary critic, scholar and polemicist, he published a long shelf of books that reflected his passionate nature, his erudition in the fields of linguistic and literary theory, and his religious belief, which was profoundly Calvinistic and Evangelical.

His collected poems were published in three substantial volumes, two of which had the title Canu Arnaf (‘Singing about myself’). His distinctive voice could be heard from the start: his work struck a note of insolent innocence, spurning common usage and creating a cascade of fresh, often incongruous images – God in trousers – that baffled some readers. In an early poem he announced, ‘Angau, rwyt ti’n fy ofni fi’ (‘Death, you’re afraid of me’). His poems are a celebration of ‘a new Adam’ who has discovered love, the Welsh language and the natural world all at once. He enjoyed his reputation as an enfant terrible who upset many an applecart, thereby offending some of the staider figures in the literary establishment.

His later work is mostly concerned with love for his wife and family, his country and people, but it also refers to the years he spent in Africa, Canada and Mexico. In the anti-epic poem Hunllef Arthur (‘Arthur’s dream’), which at twenty-one thousand lines has the distinction of being one of the longest poems in the Welsh language, he explores the mythologies of Wales with reference to its contemporary state. Making no concession to popular taste, which he scorned, Bobi stretched the reader unfamiliar with modern trends in ways many have found daunting.

Almost as if one name was not enough to contain his prodigious talent, he also wrote prose as Robert Maynard Jones, especially works of linguistic theory and literary criticism. While Professor of Welsh at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, he published some two dozen works of literary history and fiction which are among the most erudite, not to say difficult, in the language. This prodigious energy, thought by some to be hyperactive but said by the writer to be ‘the least I can do in the circumstances’, showed no sign of abating. A selection of his poems was translated by Joseph P. Clancy in 1987. In his last years, beset by ill health and nothing daunted by the poor sales of his books, he published whole collections of new poems and essays on the world wide web. His devotion to the poet’s craft and vocation was exemplary.


Landeg White · Peter Pegnall writes: Landeg White (1940–2017) was composed of apparent contradictions: an audacious scholar, a restrained hedonist, a rational romantic, nomadic home-builder. He could be fascinating; he could be interminable. These qualities emerge as fully in his work as they do in his life, as anyone unfortunate enough not to have known him will find in Living in the Delta: New and Collected Poems (Parthian 2015).

He is likely to best known for his translation of Camões’s great epic, The Lusiads (Oxford 2001), a formidable task, pursued and delivered with love: he maintains a more or less seamless ottava rima throughout the journey, at times achieving a luscious sensuality, at others rumbustious aggression. The buccaneer protagonist sets off with warning voices haunting his departure and returns to a very insecure native land. One of his very fine, reflective lyric poems touches with proper modesty on parallels between translator and anti-hero:

I’m still wondering about Camões, having
myself (to compare great things with small)
been seduced overseas by visions of home
as a place where matters were better organised
and returned to the grim reality. Thatcher
was not unlike Sebastian…        
     (Poetry of Verandas.)

He arrived in England from Zambia in 1979, to direct the Centre for Southern African Studies at the University of York; he was joined there by his lifelong friend, Jack Mapanje, whose release from prison in Malawi Landeg had largely masterminded and effected. To witness the two together in recent years was rather like observing semi-retired thoroughbreds, still capable of more than a canter in politics, poetry and fine Douro wines.

Fidelity to people and places was a central aspect of the man’s way of life, he fully recognised the importance of trust and humility, the negligible place of ego in professional and personal life. Take, for example, this beautiful, brief, ars poetica:

[…] my job’s to find
a style so transparent you don’t
hear any voice of mine shouting
Look at Me, just the depths gleaming
without a ripple to refract the art.

But he could also be stubborn, defiant. In the brilliantly titled ‘When Paul Celan Met Heidegger’ he cuts to the chase with lethal accuracy:

I write in praise of the canine hybrid
that claims its space by hoisting
a leg, no matter who planted the lamppost.

Impossible to write of Landeg without marking his devotion to his sons, John and Martin, and, above all, to his beloved wife Alice. She was sometimes an amused, dissenting voice, at others utterly supportive. They were so close in mind, spirit and body that these lines are almost too painful to read. But they remain. It is high time for real recognition of his work in these islands:

and my heart kicks at the thought of the message
that must one day far too early come

about her to me or about me to her
in no pidgin I will understand or signs
in any way bearable.
    (‘Just fine’)

Sarah Maguire · The poet Sarah Maguire died of cancer in November 2017 at the age of sixty. She was also a translator. She trained as a gardener, and her work was inspired by this discipline, about which she knew as a practitioner and a student. Her four collections of poetry were Spilt Milk (1991), The Invisible Mender (1997), The Florist’s at Midnight (2001) and The Pomegranates of Kandahar (2007). She travelled to Palestine and Yemen and became a noted translator of Darwish, Zaqtan and others. She founded (2004) and directed the Poetry Translation Centre. Her own poems were translated into Arabic by Saadi Yousef and published there, a rare accolade for a British (woman) writer. In a moving obituary in the Guardian, Kate Clanchy noted:Establishing the PTC took tenacity, vision and great generosity of time. Sarah proved herself equally generous, as she coped with characteristic frankness with her final illness, in letting go.’


Nicanor Parra · After Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra (born in 1914) was Chile’s great modern poet. His earlier poems and ‘anti-poems’ have been familiar to English readers since the mid-1960s (they were first published in the mid-1950s, and his first book in 1938) when his work became available in translation. He told the New York Times in 1964, ‘When there is humor, irony, sarcasm, when the author is making fun of himself and so of humanity, then the author is not singing but telling a story — that is an anti-poem.’ There was something refreshing about the work’s corrective scale, its humour and unpretentious tone, after the large, sometimes excessive gestures of his friend Neruda. Anti-poetry became a kind of movement and spread well beyond Chile. Given his, and Neruda’s politics, it was a tribute and an irony that his death was announced by Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile.

Parra trained as a mathematician and physicist (pursuing his studies in the United States and Oxford). His day job for many years was teaching theoretical physics at the University of Chile. His approach to the language of poetry was initially lateral, through slang, cliché and imitated speech. There was a strong democratic bias in his diction and his prosody, and insistence on staying close to the voices he heard. This was accompanied by a lack of interest in his own mere subjectivity. The poems can be deeply moving, but more by their language and what they reveal of the world than by calculation and rhetorical design. Poems should talk first and sing, if they must, later.

Other deaths reported include:

•  At eighty-five, the great Israeli novelist and writer Aharon Appelfeld (Gabriel Josipovici will contribute a memoir to PN Review.)

•  At seventy-nine, Keorapetse Kgositsile, the South African poet and activist whose work linked his country’s struggle with the Black Arts Movement in the United States

•  At ninety, the leading Urdu poet Rasa Chughtai

•  At ninety-four, the Israeli ‘national poet’, journalist and film-maker Haim Gouri

•  At ninety-four, the Salvadorean/Nicaraguan writer Claribel Alegria, recipient last year of the Queen Sofia Award for Poetry, the major Latin American poetry prize

•  At eighty-nine, Yu Guangzhong, the Chinese/Taiwanese poet exiled in his teens when his family went into exile in 1949, and never quite at home in exile: ‘China is me I am China’ he wrote in 1966; ‘Nostalgia is a coastline, a shallow strait. / I, on this side, / The mainland, on the other.’


Votes for Women! ·  A century ago women secured the right to vote at thirty, and ninety years ago to vote at the same age as men. In Ireland, the struggle for equality continues. The issue is cultural, less a question of entitlement than of fairness. Equality does not mean parity but it does mean resistance to inbuilt prejudices which are buttressed by institutions and by special pleading. The recent issue of the exclusion of women from the National Theatre recalls the concerns surrounding the Field Day Anthology. And now they surround the Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets edited by (the poet) Professor Gerald Dawe of Trinity College, Dublin.

The book has given rise to a movement called FIRED! Irish Women Poets and the Canon, which is setting out ‘to redress the gender imbalance in Irish poetry’. The imbalance is less in the poetry than in its critical perception and reception, its representation in the media, at festivals, in publishing, in critical consideration, and the failure to represent women as critics. The Cambridge volume has just four female contributors out of thirty essayists. Only four women poets are seriously considered – Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill – and twenty six male writers from the seventeenth- to the twenty-first centuries.

This insistence that women be included as critics and as authors, to assess and be assessed, in the wider sphere is not a question of special pleading. It is a demand that the changes secured in the political sphere be reflected in the cultural sphere. As such it seems unexceptionable and commendable. Exceptional women critics working in the area of poetry, and not only or exclusively on women’s writing, are working throughout the Anglophone world. ‘For women who write professionally,’ the report says, ‘comes the realisation that omission on such an academic level remains a fact of life.’

This magazine is at fault. It has itself been criticised for publishing fewer female than male poets and critics, a balance we continually try to redress through commissioning new work and encouraging new writers to submit, and the record is clearly improving. The long-desired outcome, which in our view must be achieved without ‘quotas’, and which might in time result in some issues carrying a majority of women contributors, is still a way off, but the quest continues. The quest in particular is for writers who have critical and creative integrity and who do not deploy special pleading, not wanting to be patronised or in their writing to patronise others.

This item is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.



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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