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This item is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

News & Notes
A Literary Destination · The LRB Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JL ( celebrated its fifteenth birthday with an enormous party. This shop almost single-handedly (it sometimes seems) upholds the poetry culture of these islands, with the best poetry section of any British shop and the most knowledgeable buyers and staff. By their own account, ‘Fifteen years ago, a small retail unit in Bloomsbury was transformed into what is now heralded as a literary destination, drawing customers from across the world, as a companion to the prestigious London Review of Books magazine edited by Mary-Kay Wilmers.’ The shop is much more hospitable to poetry than the magazine. It now runs at a profit thanks to inspired management and an inexhaustible events schedule under the aegis of Claire Williams. Poetry outsells many elsewhere more popular genres by quite a margin, rising to over £70,000 last year. ‘Such is the bookshop’s influence that a Chinese bookstore has re-created its entire first floor in the image of the LRB. Sinan Books in Shanghai launched a “sister bookshop” last month, selling 40% of its titles in English.’ It has a wonderful tea and cake room for the thirsty book-handler. Strength to its mighty elbow.

Pulitzer Prize · The 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry was awarded to Frank Bidart for Half-light, which the citation describes as ‘a volume of unyielding ambition and remarkable scope that mixes long, dramatic poems with short, elliptical lyrics, building on classical mythology and reinventing forms of desire that defy societal norms’.

Dylan Thomas Prize · Zambian-British poet Kayo Chingonyi was awarded the £30,000 Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize, given for fiction in all forms including poetry, to a writer thirty-nine years old or younger. His debut Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus) is a ‘bold collection’ that ‘explores black masculinity and rites of passage for young black men in Britain today,’ the citation said.

Ernesto Cardenal · The one-time revolutionary Nicaraguan priest-poet and quondam Minister of Culture in the Sandinista government Ernesto Cardenal, now ninety-three years old, will see his Complete Poetry (Poesía Completa) published later this year by his Spanish publisher Trotta, an enormous honour for a writer who has commanded much attention and respect throughout Europe and in the Americas. He is seen as the poet of liberation theology but he is much more than an ideologue or propagandist, responding to the calamitous reality of Anastasio Somoza’s Nicaragua of his childhood and his early ministry. In 2012, rather late in his day, he received the coveted Queen Sofia Award for Poetry, the highest accolade for Spanish language poetry.

Rafael Cadenas · This year the Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas received the Queen Sofia Award. He was described as ‘humble, quietly spoken, rebellious’. He set out as a young Communist, his first collection appearing in 1946. He was exiled in Trinidad, only thirty miles from his homeland but a world away. Laconic and private, he has nonetheless produced a voluminous collected works. He remains deeply sceptical about the politics of his troubled homeland.

Pere Gimferrer · In May the Spanish Catalan poet Pere Gimferrer received the International Federico Garcia Lorca Prize for Poetry in Granada. He was praised for the universality and amplitude of his poetry, his ability to connect with ‘worlds previously not susceptible to literature’, and his continual renovation of the traditions of Spanish and Catalan poetry.

Poetry Reviews · The culture of reception for new poetry has deteriorated to the extent that very few reviews of new poetry appear in the press and the burden of assessment has devolved to independent journals (PN Review among them). A report published in May looked into ‘Race and poetry reviewing’, performing a statistical analysis of the sector and finding that not very many reviewers were of Black and Asian origin. The media reported this wrongly, suggesting that not many contributors were of Black and Asian origin.

It is possible to commission reviews without knowing the ethnicity of your contributor, just as one might not know their gender, age or disability. A review submitted speculatively (and many of our reviewers and essayists find their way to us, not vice versa) does not necessarily carry an author label. In the assignment of review books to critics, just as one does not immediately pair a female writer with a female critic or a trans writer with a trans critic, one might feel similarly reluctant in the area of cultural diversity. But it is certainly the case that fewer reviewers of Black and Asian origin than we would wish approach us to review books. The work of Sandeep Parnar in trying to encourage and develop the sector, most publically through her Ledbury Emerging Critics initiative, is admirable. I am one of the editors who are grateful to her. She points out, ‘It was once the case that less than 1% of poetry published in the UK was written by Black and Asian authors. This statistic, a finding of the 2005 Free Verse report commissioned by Spread the Word, seems unfathomable now. Since then, and in large part due to diversity initiatives shaped by individuals and organisations like The Complete Works, the number of poets of colour publishing in the UK has risen to more than 16%. High profile poetry prizes like the Eliot and the Forward Prizes had until recently rarely been awarded to poets of colour. This has changed dramatically. But […] reviewers and poets of colour are still hugely underrepresented in broadsheet and magazine publications, with only 4.3% reviewers and 8.1% poets from BAME backgrounds.’ At the 2011 census, 13% of the population identified as BAME, a percentage that has continued to rise over the last seven years.

Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize · The Poetry Foundation has awarded the valuable Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize to Martin Espada for his life’s work. He is the first American Latin@ poet (of Puerto Rican extraction, born in Brooklyn) to receive the award since it was established in 1986. As well as a poet, he has worked as an essayist, editor and translator. Like many writers from diverse backgrounds his work tends to be read as a species of life writing, which sells it short. It is much more than that, though its lived politics are complex, subtle but clear.

Griffith Prize · Susan Howe has been awarded the International Griffin Prize for her book Debths (sic) and Billy-Ray Belcourt, a poet of Cree extraction, the Canadian Griffin Prize for The Wound is the World. The runners up were presented with a leather-bound edition of their own books and a consolation cheque of C$10,000. The winners claimed C€65,000 each. In its eighteen years the prize has become one of the most coveted and criticised. The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry’s 2018 Lifetime Recognition Award was presented to Ana Blandiana, the acclaimed Romanian poet. She opposed the Ceauşescu regime in outspoken poems, and she ‘defended ethical values’, becoming a legendary figure in European poetry.

Sam Hamill · The poet Sam Hamill, who helped to found and direct Copper Canyon Press, the leading non-profit poetry publisher in the United States, died in April, He was seventy-four. A one-time Marine, he became a pacifist and was most powerfully vocal at the time of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 when – invited by Laura Bush to a Whitehouse symposium on Dickinson and other American poets, he took the opportunity to rally opposition to President Bush’s foreign policy. He was a significant editor and anthologist and a prolific poet himself, with seventeen collections to his credit. ‘His work could be autobiographical and naturalistic, but he believed that verse should engage with the world,’ one obituary vaguely declared. His impact was felt politically but the durable element in his work will be his publishing house, the best of his poems, and the vivid story of his life from being born the son of an illiterate carnival fry cook to being one of the significant voices of conscience and poetry in the United States.

J.D. McClatchy · In the mid-1960s he wrote a sequence of five ‘Letters from New York‘ for PN Review and interviewed Richard Wilbur for these pages. In April J.D. McClatchy (born Joseph Donald, known as Sandy), described by the New York Times as a ‘poet of the body, in sickness and health’, has died at the age of seventy-two. His accomplished formalism was a medium well-gauged to explore a profoundly romantic and troubled thematic world. He was widely and deeply read, and the eight published volumes of his poems trace not only the development of his life in the world but also his evolving sense of language, a growing suppleness and directness of address. His critical, editorial (he directed the Yale Review brilliantly for almost three decades), translation and anthology work were formidable. He was a major librettist, a translator of librettos (seven of Mozart’s, for example) profoundly indebted to music – and to film. He was clearly, as the New York Times declared, ‘one of the country’s foremost men of letters’. He spoke of poetry as ‘as much an art of leaving things out as of putting them in’. In 2001 he told the Advocate that his work mixed ‘autobiography and fiction in an effort to get to some sort of emotional truth’. He experienced as a gay man the AIDS epidemic and lost many friends. He had cancer. The human organism and its gifts and vicissitudes became his focusing subject.

His first ‘Letter from New York’, in PN Review 49, was a celebration and farewell of his teacher (and mine) Robert Fitzgerald. The piece ends: ‘Fitzgerald’s translations of the classics are unmatched; for a quarter of a century now his Odyssey has enthralled both the schoolboy and the scholar. It is difficult to imagine what may surpass it. What will last, too, is his example, the man of letters as man of principle. In 1928, an orphan at age seventeen, he wrote from school to his Aunt Agnes, ‘I feel very strongly and very often that if a fellow keeps away from cheap and commonplace things and does his level best to live proudly and sincerely, and never quits, then somehow, I don’t know how or why, things will turn out all right in the end.”’

This item is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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