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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 244, Volume 45 Number 2, November - December 2018.

News & Notes
Menard Press · Marking the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Menard Press, Anthony Rudolf wrote to us on 15 September:

Menard Press (then The Menard Press) started life in 1968. Its first publication appeared in January 1969: this was the Michael Hamburger issue of the Journals of Pierre Menard, set on a typewriter and mimeographed in Oxford by Peter Hoy, co-editor of the magazine. For me, Jon Silkin was the exemplary poet-editor, Donald Davie the exemplary poet-critic and Michael Hamburger the exemplary poet-translator. Poetry translation was at the heart of our enterprise, but in addition to literary titles we published a series of pamphlets on the nuclear issue, one of which sold more than 14,000 copies, Towards the Nuclear Holocaust by Sir Martin Ryle, one of our Nobel Prize winners. The press became dormant in 2009, forty years on, having brought out about 160 books. Since then I have been pleased to publish two essays by the late Nigel Foxell, the fugitive poems of Caroline West and the press’s first and last comic book, Nightmare Scenarios, dealing with mental health issues, by the poet and illustrator Matt Barrell, whom I first met in 1965, when he was a few weeks old. I am pleased to say that Shearsman Press has published a few reprints of Menard titles over recent years, including Jonathan Griffin’s translation of Pessoa’s Message. A short history of Menard and its origins in the exceptional era of the late 1960s can be found in the press’s fortieth anniversary catalogue. Something was in the air, symbolised by Jenny Lee as the first Minister for the Arts. If you send me ten pounds, I will send you the catalogue and a Menard book post free. The press had its moments but a one-man band demands energies I no longer possess, and these days I have other priorities.

I end with a revised extract from my book Silent Conversations:

Vasko Popa’s magnificent Collected Poems (published by Peter Jay at Anvil Press, now Carcanet) is prefaced by a poem, dated 5 June 1981, which Popa wrote overnight at the Cambridge Poetry Festival (founded by Richard Berengarten in 1975) on learning of the death of his main translator, that modest yet scholarly and authoritative Oxford philologist, Anne Pennington, who had an ear for his music. The next day Peter Jay, Daniel Weissbort and I sat at a café table and produced the following version together, which was first published as a MenCard and then in TLS before coming to rest in Collected Poems:

ANNE PENNINGTON
Until her last breath
she enlarges
her Oxford house

built in Slavonic
vowels and consonants

She polishes the corner-stones
until their Anglo-Saxon shine
begins to sing

Her death is like a short breath-stop
Under the distant lime trees of her friends

My fondness for this poem, my nostalgia for the circumstances of its creation, my pleasure in the translation by three friends, probably with help from Popa in French, all feed a dream of fellowship in or through poetry. Perhaps that was what Menard was about.


Publicity costs · In the CB editions newsletter, received on 29 September, Charles Boyle wrote tellingly about prizes and prize culture, after Will Eaves, a contributor to these pages, was shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize for his novel MurMur). Boyle reported himself pleased: ‘Pleased, despite the reductionism of lit prizes, which take their form from what is increasingly (and depressingly) the only show in town, capitalist competition, winner takes all. But we work from where we are, which is not where we used to be (say, a century ago, when so-so poetry collections sold in their thousands and writers were paid many thousands of £££ by magazines for a single short story). Reading being no longer central to the culture, publishers are a little desperate for publicity for their books, to get them known to more than friends and family, and the prize culture has become embedded.

‘Some prizes are more equal than others. There was a twitter flurry this week following the announcement that the Women’s Fiction Prize (sponsored by Deloitte, Baileys and NatWest) had decided to charge publishers “a small fee of £1,000 for the sixteen longlisted entries, in addition to the existing fee of £5,000 – which remains unchanged – for each of the six novels shortlisted”. The Costa Book Awards charge publishers £5,000 for each book chosen as a category winner (as well as requiring at least fifty free copies), plus another £6,000 for the overall winner. The Dylan Thomas Prize and the Man Booker Prize also charge publishers of shortlisted books several thousand £££ for non-transparent reasons such as “contributions towards publicity costs”. (For comparison, total set-up cost for CBe in 2007: just over £2,000.) A number of the smaller presses are thereby excluded from these prize competitions (and even if they did enter books that were shortlisted, would lose money, because sales income would not meet costs).’


‘Hijab-wearing mermaids’ · Book banning in Kuwait has hit the news. The issues for the Kuwaity authorities are political and physiological. Michelangelo’s David cannot be displayed because of his genitals, Disney’s Little Mermaid because of her pneumatics. ‘There are no hijab-wearing mermaids,’ said Shamayel al-Sharikh, a Kuwaiti women’s activist. If Disney wants to sell mermaids in Kuwait, there may soon be some. 4,390 books have been banned since 2014, 700 in the last eleven months, and to our knowledge none has been unbanned despite protests. The committee of censors numbers twelve. Sometimes reasons are given, sometimes mystery surrounds the decisions. Maya Angelou, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Naguib Mahfouz and George Orwell are among the proscribed authors. A new branch of bookselling is evolving, the banned bookdealer. Kuwait allows public protests, hence the welcome focus on this issue. The Kuwait Book Fair is the third largest in the Arab world, a further irony. ‘There is no book banning in Kuwait,’ the Ministry of Information declared: ‘There is a book censorship committee that reviews all books.’ And an assistant minister proclaimed, ‘In Kuwait, over the past five years only 4,300 books were banned out of 208,000 books – that means only 2 percent are banned and 98 percent are approved.’


Poetry prizes · The Poetry Foundation in Chicago announced this year’s winners of its major awards. The Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships were awarded to Safia Elhillo, Hieu Minh Nguyen, sam sax, Natalie Scenters-Zapico and Paul Tran. The $25,800 fellowship is among the most generous awards available for young poets in the United States. ‘Our 2018 fellows created their own trails and important beautiful markers for those who will follow them into the future,’ Don Share, editor of Poetry, said.


Rafael Cadenas · The Queen Sofia Award for Latin American poetry has been given this year to the Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas. Poet and essayist, now in his late eighties, he is a prolific writer whose books first appeared in 1946 (Cantos iniciales) and who has received major awards in Venezuela and in Latin America more generally.


Matthew Sweeney · Peter Pegnall sent us this appreciation, written in August: NEVER BELOW PAR, Matthew Sweeney was a master hypochondriac; he would seize on any hint of malaise and be spellbound. This extended to his friends’ ailments and treatment, he would leave not a detail unprobed or unnamed. This was not through misanthropy or negativity: it was his love of life and of friends and partners that compelled him towards the anguish of loss, the geography of pain. That he should fall victim to Motor Neurone disease, following the awful demise of his beloved sister from the same sickness is a dreadful irony. Reality more than outstripped imagination and I am not at all surprised that he displayed character, tenacity and courage in adversity. Like the White Queen in Alice, he had already expressed his pain before the worst occurred.

He spent childhood in Donegal, beautiful, bleak and desolate. Ballyliffin, his hometown, is a place where nothing happens, not twice, as in Beckett, but 365 days every year. The Beckett link is telling, Matthew wrote dark fables laced with gallows humour, never explaining or apologising, but searing his way into the reader’s memory. His children’s poetry has something of the same grim fascination, he knew the story of growing up too well to condescend or sentimentalise. His readings of his own work were dramatic and uncompromising, he could snarl and tease, set puzzles without solutions. He was as driven by the art of Tom Waits as he was by more literary models, was never stuffy or pusillanimous, wore a black leather jacket with sinister panache.

As a friend, his smile was a blessing, his delight in fine food and drink Jonsonian, his irascibility almost a public spectacle. Especially fond of lacing into editors and administrators, it is not surprising he never became an establishment figure, thank the good lord. He taught with real gusto and his candour was always creative rather than proscriptive; the list of poets assisted by his judgment and example is wide and will grow. I trust that, somewhere this side of the undiscovered country, he senses this.

Another neglected aspect of his work are two great anthologies, Emergency Kit and Beyond Bedlam, the first with Jo Shapcott, the second with Ken Smith, two of the very best. One covers the wild and playful and overtly or covertly political in contemporary poetry, often drawing on European and American writers scarcely mentioned in these narrowing shores; the other reaches back into history to chart the treacherous waters of mental health and creativity. A pioneer without imperial ambitions, Matthew had the ability to be a professional golfer. He would have graced the fairway and improved the fashions in sweaters and trousers. Better a poet, perhaps.


Publisher to Beckett, Miller & Selby · John Calder, an outspoken foe of censorship and always a controversial figure in the publishing world, died in August at the age of ninety-one. His Calder list, acquired and maintained now by Alma Books, published Russian classics, Beckett’s poems, plays, novels and essays (his main claim to fame), Henry Miller and Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, prosecuted for obscenity in the Old Bailey in a case lasting two years. Calder was convicted, won an appeal, and that was the last major case of prosecution of a literary work for obscenity. Calder was also a bookseller, one of whose ventures was closed owing a number of small presses what were to them considerable sums and endangering a sector he had seemed to champion. His autobiography, The Uncensored Memoirs of John Calder, was self-published in 2001.


Blood from a stone · The Canadian poet, memorist, fiction writer, playwright and editor Priscila Uppal has died at the age of forty-three. She was suffering from synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. She was born in Ottawa, her family originating in south Asia, and she was a Professor of Humanities and English at York University in Toronto. Of her eleven books of poems, Ontological Necessities (2006) was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize. She was shortlisted for other awards as well, for her memoirs and other writing. In a very short time – just over a decade – she became known throughout Canada and abroad. Her first collection remains among the most memorable, How to Draw Blood from a Stone, published when she was twenty-three. ‘Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem’, a late poem, part of an editorial project of that title she undertook with Meaghan Strimas, begins:

My body and I have now entered that phase
of relationship where all the quirks and ticks
that used to tug at your heart are sources
of irritation and argument. The monotony of being
with you, day in and day out, going through the motions.
We are now that couple no one wants to
see in public, whose shopping bags hang like broken
promises.

In 2013 she gave a series of readings with Tishani Doshi around Britain and Ireland, delighting audiences at events in Newcastle, Galway, Grasmere, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Sheffield. Her first UK poetry selection was Successful Tragedies: Poems 1998–2010 (Bloodaxe). Her most recent book is Sabotage (Bloodaxe).


Friend of the Beats · In August the poet, editor, sportswriter and biographer Tom Clark died at the age of seventy­-seven in a traffic accident in Berkeley, California. His books include Light & Shade: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House, ٢٠٠٦) and Threnody (effing press, ٢٠٠٦). He was a friend of the Beats, travelled with Ginsberg (later falling out with him), gave readings with Gregory Corso and with Robert Graves, and wrote the life of his mentor Charles Olson. His essays were widely published in Britain and the United States, and he edited poetry for the Paris Review during a crucial decade, from 1963.


A neighbourhood poet · Anthony Rudolf remembered his friend the poet and translator, musician and broadcaster Keith Bosley, who died at the age of eighty, in The Fortnightly Review, noting among other things, his skills as a non-professional musician. ‘Before dinner at his house with Keith and family, some visitors would be invited to St Laurence’s next door, to listen to him practising the organ for Sunday: a kind of aperitif. Bosley was […] good enough not only to play the organ in public from the age of sixteen but also to accompany on the piano his first wife Helen Sava and his second wife Satu Salo, professional singer and harpist respectively.’ He was a leading translator from the Finnish. But in his own right, ‘He was a neighbourhood poet in the best and broadest sense of the word. The Chilterns, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire feature prominently in his writing.’


‘A sort of mystical experience’ · Boletines, the eighth Carlos Montemayor Languages of America poetry festival (which occurs every two years) was celebrated in October at the Nezahualcoyotl Hall in Mexico City, bringing together poets representing many of the indigenous languages of the continent from Mexico itself, with its enormous range of languages and dialects, Guatemala, Colombia, Chile, Canada, Brazil, the United States and elsewhere. The festival provides ‘a privileged space for languages that usually don’t enjoy so much exposure’. Natalia Toledo, the Zapotec poet from Juchitan, Oaxaca, declared it an honour ‘to listen to other cultures, the first of the continent, which offer us their poetry, radical and beautiful’. She was one of seven hosts for the festival, organised by the Program of Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Studies (PUIC) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). It takes its name from the anthropologist, historian and writer Carlos Montemayor, who coordinated the festival until his death in 2010. ‘Every festival, we have brought to the Nezahualcoyotl Hall a sort of mystical experience, for two or three hours, with an audience consisting largely of students, who are changed after hearing the poetry in different languages,’ said Jose del Val, PUIC director. The festival also included talks and discussions between the poets, students and the public. This year the poets reading included Humberto Ak’abal (Mayan Quiche), Natalio Hernandez (Nahuatl), Elicura Chihuailaf (Mapuche), Margaret Randall (English), Briceida Cuevas Cob (Mayan), Ignacio Vieira de Melo (Portuguese), Louise Dupre (French), Fredy Chicangana (Quechua), Juana Peñate Montejo (Ch’ol) and Zara Monroy (Seri). The great historian, philosopher and translator Miguel León-Portilla was an honorary guest at the event.

This item is taken from PN Review 244, Volume 45 Number 2, November - December 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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