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This item is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

News & Notes
Poetry trafficking in Colombia · A poet in Usaquén, to the north of Bogotá, was arrested on 10 March for selling poems in the street during an artisanal festival. The martyr to verse is Jesús Espicasa. He had set up a stall where, on an old manual typewriter, he was composing poems in return for a donation. Espicasa was declared to have ‘invaded public space’ and asked to move on. He refused, the police were called, and the poet was carted off and fined the equivalent to $260 dollars, the largest fine allowable under the police code. That’s a lot for poetry. Asked what his crime was, the police spokesman replied, ‘trafficker in poems’. The police offered no samples of the offending produce.

A Continent of Poetry · Brunel University’s seventh annual International African Poetry Award, worth £3,000, announced its shortlist at the end of March. African poets from around the world who have yet to publish a full collection are eligible. Each poet submits ten poems to a panel of judges, this year including three poets – Matthew Shenoda (Egypt), Leila Chatti (Tunisia) and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers (South Africa). More than a thousand entires were reduced to ten finalists, the winner to be announced on 30 May:

Afua Ansong (Ghana)          Mary-Alice Daniel (Nigeria)
Inua Ellams (Nigeria)           K. Eltinae (Nubian Sudan)
Omotara James (Nigeria)     Nadra Mabrouk (Egypt)
Selina Nwulu (Nigeria)          Emmanuel Oppong (Ghana)
Jamila Osman (Somalia)      Sherry Shenoda (Egypt)

Previous winners include Warsan Shire (Somalia), Romeo Oriogun (Nigeria) and Theresa Lola (Nigeria). ‘When I started the prize in 2012, African poetry was almost invisible on the literary landscape. Today there are legions of poets out there successfully building careers and being heard,’ declared Professor Bernardine Evaristo, Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel.

Turning a century · Lawrence Ferlinghetti has lived to see the counter-culture institutionalised. He turned a hundred on 24 March. He is, one critic said, ‘a living monument’, which is better than being a dead one. ‘The Beat poets began the counterculture movement in the arts; that is the reason all the artists I know are still here in San Francisco,’ Andrew Sean Greer, a San Francisco­based novelist who won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Less, declared in an eloquent celebratory non-sequitur. ‘Ferlinghetti and his friends changed the city from men in gray flannel suits to poets in leaky basements, black and female and queer poets even then,’ Greer told CNN. ‘We’re a continuation of that hope and rage and art. I still go to Caffe Trieste with a friend to write and Vesuvio to drink and City Lights for poetry.’ San Francisco celebrated its surviving Beat. City Lights Bookshop hosted an ‘open house’, art galleries featured Ferlinghetti’s photos and paintings. The Mayor declared 24 March Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day. There were celebrations in New York (he was a child of Bronxville). ‘He is so very beloved by his friends and neighbours in North Beach and people all round the world,’ the punk art surrealist Winston Smith, who designed the controversial Dead Kennedys’ album cover, In God We Trust, Inc., in 1981, said. ‘Putting up with the human race for a full century deserves a reward,’ he added.

One reward has been book sales. A Coney Island of the Mind with over a million copies in print – translated into over a dozen languages – has outsold even Rupi Kaur. It is, Amiri Baraka declared, ‘one of the banners of an emerging generation’s quest to remake American poetry’. Neruda told him in 1960 in Havana, ‘I love your wide-open poetry’. For Robert Creeley he is ‘our determined conscience, our wit and eloquence – our steadfast friend and witness – and our communal wisdom’s articulate, patiently old-time voice. Would that all might stand as he and be counted.’

A New Divan: A Lyrical Dialogue between East & West · To honour Goethe and the 200th anniversary of the first publication of the West-Eastern Divan, his great poem sequence of 1819, A New Divan – A Lyrical Dialogue between East & West presents twenty-four outstanding new poems by leading world poets, with facing English-language versions by leading contemporary poets, to create a conversation between languages and cultures. Two of the poems are featured in this issue of PN Review. ‘This reimagining of Goethe’s seminal work gives us the opportunity to re-engage with his thoughts – a much needed exercise, given the state of the world today,’ writes Daniel Barenboim in his Foreword.

The poets come from across the East – Morocco to Turkey, Syria to Afghanistan – and from across the West – Germany to the United States, Estonia to Brazil. Writing in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, and English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Slovenian, each pair of poets has responded to one of the themes of the twelve books of Goethe’s original Divan, including ‘The Poet’, ‘Love’, ‘The Tyrant’, ‘Faith’ and ‘Paradise’. Working with the original poems or by bridge translations, the English-language poets create new poems that draw on the poetic forms and cultures of the poets taking part. Three pairs of essays accompany the poems, mirroring Goethe’s original ‘Notes and Essays for a Better Understanding of the West-Eastern Divan’. Bill Swainson and Barbara Schwepcke brought the book together. ‘The “Gingko Biloba” was Goethe’s ode to friendship,’ writes Schwepcke, ‘and symbolised the union between old and young, man and woman, human and the Divine, literature and scholarship, East and West – a union which in [Goethe’s] mind was inseparable.’

Rotterdam jubilee · This year’s Rotterdam Poetry International Festival celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, from 13 through 16 June in De Doelen, Rotterdam. All the international poets participating in the festival will take part in the opening event. The line-up includes Rita Dove (United States), Kayo Chingonyi (Zambia/UK), Mona Kareem (Kuwait), Antjie Krog (South Africa), Lieke Marsman (Netherlands), Patricia Lockwood (United States), Koleka Putuma (South Africa), Vahni Capildeo (Trinidad/UK), Charles Bernstein (United States) and Raúl Zurita (Chile). The full festival program will soon appear on line.

What survives · The award-winning American poet Linda Gregg died in March at the age of seventy-six. Emily Langer commented on her life and work. ‘Gregg was nearly 40 when her first book of poetry, Too Bright to See, was published in 1981. She followed it with half a dozen more volumes, attracting praise from poets as distinguished as the late W.S. Merwin, who lauded her poems as “original in the way that really matters. They speak clearly of their source,” Merwin observed in comments published by the Poetry Foundation. “They are inseparable from the surprising, unrolling, eventful, pure current of their language, and they convey at once the pain of individual loss, a steady and utterly personal radiance.”’ In ‘Lies and Longing’, she described a scene in a women’s homeless shelter:

Half the women are asleep on the floor
on pieces of cardboard…
An old woman sings an Italian song in English
and says she wants her name in lights:
Faye Runaway…
One keeps talking about how fat she is
so nobody will know she’s pregnant.

In ‘Wrapping Stones’ her austere, thrifty style approaches personal revelation:

Everything I am is what survived
love’s leaving. Everything I see, eat, want,
have is what survived the goneness
of what love is. Love, like time, takes down
the house, leaving only the partial walls,
open squares of light for windows,
and a door.

She insisted, ‘Certainly one can make good poems without feeling much or discovering anything new. You can produce fine poems without believing anything, but it corrodes the spirit and eventually rots the seed-corn of the heart.’

Much ado about very little · On 27 March the Associated Press announced that the grave of Anne Bradstreet, the first published American poet, was once again being sought: ‘professors and students at Merrimack College in Massachusetts are trying to pinpoint her burial site while at the same time restoring her legacy and what they say is her rightful place in the pantheon of Western literature.’ ‘Even though we don’t know much about her, she was a household name in the seventeenth century, both here and in England,’ an assistant professor of English at Merrimack announced, a little implausibly. The best that can be said is that she was not unknown, which is not quite the same thing as being a household name. Two associate professors ‘are leading several students in the project, dubbed Finding Anne Bradstreet’. The poet is believed to be buried somewhere on the Merrimack campus. ‘The aim is to use ground-penetrating radar to find subterranean disturbances that might indicate a burial site. Given the passage of time, there are unlikely to be any remains, and even if there are, there are no plans to exhume them.’ One student declared, ‘I just thought finding the grave of America’s first poet sounded exciting and very Indiana Jonesy.’ But without a shovel.

No mention of John Berryman’s ‘Homage to Mistress Bradstreet’, the poem in which she genuinely survives.

Spoken jazz · Richard Sandomir remembers the poet Ken Nordine, who died in February at the age of ninety­eight. He ‘improvised poetry in a silky voice to cool, vibrant musical accompaniment, creating a form of storytelling that he called ‘word jazz’, and that brought him renown on radio and led to collaborations with Fred Astaire, Tom Waits, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and other artists. [… He]

became wealthy doing voice-overs for television and radio commercials. But he found his passion in using his dramatic baritone to riff surreally on colors, time, spiders, bullfighting, outer space and dozens of other subjects. His free-form poems could be cerebral or humorous, absurd or enigmatic, and were heard on the radio and captured on records, one of which earned a Grammy nomination.

‘I like jazz,’ he said, ‘for the principle of what jazz is: a flight of musical fantasy within structure. […] I’m trying to do the same thing verbally: take off on a theme so you become tangential and transcendent at the same time.’

This item is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

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