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This item is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

News & Notes
Three Crowns · John Clegg writes: On Saturday 15 September there was a well-attended service at St James, Piccadilly, marking the centenary of John Heath-Stubbs’s birth. Among the readers, Eddie Linden gave a particularly memorable performance of ‘A Crow in Bayswater’. There was also a rare performance of three songs from The Unicorns, John’s abortive libretto, commissioned and set by Peter Dickinson and sung by Susanna Fairborn. The attendees subsequently adjoined to the Three Crowns to drink John’s health.

Open Access · With the rapid advance of academic publishing towards Open Access, the erosion of copyright, which protects the creative rights of inventors of and through language, is coming under cruder and harsher compulsions in certain parliaments. The Copyright Amendment Bill introduced in the South African National Assembly will be debated and voted on in its Second Reading. It was introduced in May 2017. Amendments to the 1978 Act were intended to accommodate digital era and ‘improve protection of artists and authors’. The new Bill ‘is poorly drafted and not based on clear policy’. Industry and legal experts say it cannot be implemented and breaches many international treaty obligations. It allows the use of copyright materials without permission and therefore without compensation to copyright holders – authors, illustrators and publishers. Entire books can be ‘copied for ‘educational purposes’ in certain circumstances’. Authors and publishers are left without recourse. The losses to publishing are estimated at R2.1 billion a year. A number of organisations, including PEN South Africa, PEN Afrikaans, the Association for Academic and Nonfiction Authors of South Africa (ANFASA), PASA and others have joined in continued protest by means of a petition (facilitated by LitNet).  The link to the petition is here:

Impossible Grace · Yogesh Patel writes: Meena Alexander’s poem published in the New Yorker in the aftermath of 9/11 was ‘Kabir Sings in a City of Burning Towers’. Kabir was a weaver, born into a Muslim family, who practised Hinduism. He was a critic of both. ‘What a shame / they scared you so / you plucked your sari off, / crushed it into a ball // Then spread it / on the toilet floor. / Sparks from the towers / fled through the weaves of silk.’ This sense of perils, survivals, fusions, marks her poetry. She died in November at the age of sixty-seven, after a long stand-off with cancer. On her last visit to London she collected the Word Masala Award in the House of Lords. A grand poet, a Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College, the City University of New York, she was loved and respected internationally as a writer and scholar. We had a strong bond through Umashankar Joshi, winner of India’s national Jnanpith Award. He was an ‘elder’ friend to me but ‘Bapuji’ (a father figure) to her. She never avoided the hard themes. She wrote in Jerusalem: ‘At Golden gate, / Where rooftops ring with music, / I glimpse your face. / You have a coat of many colours – impossible grace.’

Born into a Syrian Christian family in India, her formative years from the age of five were spent in Sudan where she took her BA at the University of Khartoum. Though she was in Britain earning her PhD at Nottingham, she went to India to teach. Finally, America claimed her.

On the deck of Karanja from Africa to India, I too experienced the sense of being nowhere. Meena’s poems often speak from that deck. She borrowed a green coat from Celan for – as her recent writing indicates – she was troubled with ‘a world of nationalism gone awry’ as she wrote recently: ‘We have no words/for what is happening – // Still language endures / Celan said // As he stood in a torn / Green coat // Shivering a little, / In a night theatre, in Bremen.’

Lopamudra Basu and Cynthia Leenerts suggest that Meena Alexander created ‘a new hybrid poetic form, which fuses the Western Romantic lyric tradition with non-Western ones of Bhakti and Sufi poetry’ from India. Keki Daruwalla reflected on her work: ‘Her output is phenomenal — memoir, scholarship, her writings on identity. She wrote on political subjects too, all that happened on the political stage was close to her heart. […] In Indian poetry in English, we have had Kamala Das and Eunice de Souza, Arundhati Subramaniam is well on her way to join them, and Meena is certainly there.’

Mixing slapstick and surrealism · The poet Judith Kazantzis died in September at the age of seventy-eight. She published a dozen collections, and essays and a novel. Some of her early poems develop and reinvent the roles of women in legend and fairytale, complementing what other writers were doing in prose. Her Clytemnestra, she declared, was not ‘a crazy bitch’, but ‘a human being with strong passions and good reasons’. Her later poems made emphatic political statements relating to current affairs, sometimes polemical, sometimes elegiac. Evoking the variety of her work, the Guardian obituarist wrote, ‘In Sister Invention (2014), the poems sneak up on both the powerful and the weak, eavesdropping, spying, reporting back to the reader in intimate, deadpan tones, mixing slapstick and surrealism to convey the horrors of hi-tech warfare. Yet in this same volume Judith’s imagination also encompasses journeys around North American landscapes, pilgrimages across the terrain of family and of love.’

High priest of irony · The poet Tony Hoagland died of cancer in October at the age of sixty-four. His publishers at Bloodaxe wrote: ‘A provocative poet, critic and literary figure, he was American poetry’s hilarious ‘high priest of irony’, a wisecracker and a risk-taker whose disarming humour, self-scathing and tenderness were all fuelled by an aggressive moral intelligence. His poems poke and provoke at the same time as they entertain and delight. He pushed the poem not just to its limits but over the edge.’ He published three books of poetry with Bloodaxe, with a fourth due out in 2019. British audiences first encountered him at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 2004. He was a popular poet-in-residence at Ledbury Poetry Festival in 2017, lecturing on the American poetic voice and giving poetry workshops.

B.C. · Martin Elliott sent us this appreciation of B.C. Leale (1930–2018). He was a member of ‘The Group’, which met in Chelsea to read and criticise one another’s verse in the late 1950s and early ’60s. His work appeared in major weeklies and in small magazines, for example Ambit, Bang, Pink Peace and Slow Dancer – some fifty periodical outlets in all (though not PN Review.) Several anthologies also featured his work. Barry Cavendish Leale – always B.C. in print – had a first collection, Leviathan published by Allison and Busby in 1984. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Later in that year, John Calder published his surrealist poems as The Colours of Ancient Dreams. ‘Surrealismo’ would be a more accurate account of the later work, since It describes and celebrates the early-century worlds of Paris and Lucerne and is haunted by Bréton, Duchamp, Magritte. Even when the modern world is addressed, it’s usually through the illogic of Barry’s own fin de siècle dreams. The older epoch is rarely far away. I’d suggest Barry was at his unique and considerable best when suggesting human or animal presences through images or the workings of art. So: ‘You laugh / you jump up & / down in green-brown / rhythmic brush-strokes’ (Frognal Way, Hampstead). Similarly, the dog in Sketch by Constable ‘knows it’s an early draft. He’s / full of destinations and joy as he / rounds the first bend from the house. . .’  

The verse overall is intense, powerful, with a never­failing sense of fun. Many titles demand that a poem be read – viz, ‘Our Baroque Cat’, ‘To savour the lake’, ‘Aunts in a deep sleep’… Writing less as he aged, Barry sent out no submissions in his latter years. His literary executors are considering how best to deploy the large store of his later poems.

In that rickety fashion · Yogesh Patel writes: Anthony Rudolf’s note in PNR 244 triggered some reminiscence of our work at the magazine Skylark, neglected now. Like Menard Press, we published our first issue, from Aligarh, in 1969. Our aim was to publish poetry in translation from around the world and from the regional languages of India, and to include emerging poets from the English literature in India. We ran to one hundred issues at a time before email, battling with stamps, the typical Indian problem of currency conversion, the packing requirements of the postal service, the queues at lazy post offices, and no intercity telephone lines.

Skylark was founded by the late Baldev Mirza. A student of optometry at the state medical faculty, I joined Baldev as co-editor in 1969. We set up letterpress printing in an Aligarh slum to meet our budget. Skylark continued to print in that rickety fashion until its final issue. Then it slipped into obscurity. Such labour-intensive printing would never do now. Baldev has died and many issues of Skylark are lost. I have a few random issues. But with the postcolonial Indian English literature only in its second decade, the magazine had a profound influence. New voices had a podium where they stood alongside international poets in translation. I revisited Skylark’s surviving issues and a note from Terry Cuthbert in Oxford fell out of one: ‘Wazir Agha (Pakistan) is very much an excellent poet & you must be proud of getting his work in your magazine. You seem to be an important cultural event in India, and I know that many in your sub-continent love poetry, which is more than can be said with the average Englishman!’

Poets from Korea, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, UK, USA, Canada, China, Bosnia, Argentina, Germany, Arabic region, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Russia, Japan, Israel, Norway, Chile, Hungary, and more countries worked with us. We published Borges, Neruda, Amichai, Tsutomu Fukuda, Carlo Copolla, Wazir Agha, Shivkumar Batalvi, Amrita Pritam, Niranjan Mohanty, Jayant Mahapatra, Kamala Dash, O.P. Bhatnagar, and other great and unknown poets, despite the punishing printing and postal drudgeries. Skylark did well with special issues, bought in bulk by the certain embassies, and this inspired our special number on the diplomat poets.

We listened and innocently acted on subscribers’ suggestions. In one of our unique issues, we curated poems from German writers who went into exile during the Second World War. We first published a special American women’s poetry number. We never dated our issues, so now I am unable to recall when this fifty-second issue appeared.

To further our struggle against discrimination, we dared to publish a Dalit poetry issue. There were others too: Poems from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Austrian poetry. We managed to publish a handful of pamphlets. Skylark UK, which I established, still helps Indian diaspora poetry. Nostalgia is a good place but perhaps it is time to hang up my hat as my friend Tony has! ‘The road that was my companion / disappears ahead / leaving me stranded here…’ (Raghuveer Chaudhary, Jnanpith Award Winner, translated from Gujarati by me).

This item is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

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