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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 248, Volume 45 Number 6, July - August 2019.

News & Notes
Ten commandments · Robert Alter has issued (The American Scholar, May 25) ‘Ten Commandments of Bible Translation’. They are commandments to which even the secular translator might harken (though the word order of the eighth and tenth commandments could be improved):

1. Thou shalt not make translation an explanation of the original, for the Hebrew writer abhorreth all explanation.
2. Thou shalt not mangle the eloquent syntax of the original by seeking to modernize it.
3. Though shalt not shamefully mingle linguistic registers.
4. Thou shalt not multiply for thyself synonyms where the Hebrew wisely and pointedly uses repeated terms.
5. Thou shalt not replace the expressive simplicity of the Hebrew prose with purportedly elegant language.
6. Thou shalt not betray the fine compactness of biblical poetry.
7. Thou shalt not make the Bible sound as though it were written just yesterday, for this, too, is an abomination.
8. Thou shalt diligently seek English counterparts for the word-play and sound-play of the Hebrew.
9. Thou shalt show to readers the liveliness and subtlety of the dialogues.
10. Thou shalt continually set before thee the precision and purposefulness of the word-choices in Hebrew.


Poetry appointments · Nail-biting drama surrounded the appointment of the new Poet Laureate. After much speculation, Simon Armitage was confirmed as laureate for the next decade, a welcome appointment marking (as the poet himself intends to mark) a change in the poetic climate. Armitage is the Professor of Poetry at Oxford and perhaps the first poet to transition from that post to the laureateship, at the relatively young age of fifty-five having held two of the key public posts in British poetry – and received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2018.

Drama now surrounds the selection of Simon Armitage’s successor for the Oxford Poetry Chair, with three candidates and much social media controversy. Poetry nowadays seems as furiously wedded to gossip and scandal as politics is.


Like God's attention, · Les Murray (the first of whose fifty-one contributions to PNR appeared under the name ‘Les A. Murray’ in 1982, PNR 24) died at the end of April. He has been a cornerstone of the magazine for most of its life. His first poem contribution was ‘Equanimity’, about Arcadia, New South Wales, which concludes:

From the otherworld of action and media, this
interleaved continuing plane is hard to focus:
we are looking into the light –
it makes some smile, some grimace.
More natural to look at the birds about the street, their life
that is greedy, pinched, courageous and prudential
as any on these bricked tree-mingled miles of settlement,
to watch the unceasing on-off
grace that attends their nearly every movement,
the crimson parrot has it, alighting, tips, and recovers it,
the same grace moveless in the shapes of trees
and complex in ourselves and fellow walkers; we see it’s indivisible
and scarcely willed. That it lights us from the incommensurable
we sometimes glimpse, from being trapped in the point
(bird minds and ours are so pointedly visual):
a field all foreground, and equally all background,
like a painting of equality. Of infinite detailed extent
like God’s attention. Where nothing is diminished by perspective.

The handsome portrait bust of Les Murray made by Jonathan Hirschfeld features on the inside back cover of this issue, and Hirschfeld’s meditation on working with Murray will appear in PNR 249.


Delightful silliness · John Whitworth, who has died aged seventy-three, wrote poetry that was both popular and proficient. Les Murray described him as a ‘master of metrical whigmaleerie’ and his poems as ‘as smart and full of fun as a pair of glazed tap shoes’. He published eleven books of poems described by the Telegraph as ‘vigorous, accessible, and often characterised by a delightful silliness. But a darker and more serious vein often runs beneath the apparently light-hearted surface tone as he explored more disturbing territory.’


A deep impression · The poet and translator Jenny Lewis paid tribute to Fawzi Karim, who died in May: ‘I only met the Iraqi poet Fawzi Karim once, at Adnan and Majida Al-Sayegh’s London flat, but it made a deep impression on me. I’m re-reading his poems now from his collections – Plague Lands and Other Poems (2011), and Incomprehensible Lesson (2019, both Carcanet). Both are translated in wonderfully vibrant ‘versions’ by Anthony Howell and have haunting, dreamlike cover artwork by Fawzi himself. The poetry is extraordinary. A poet in exile who has assimilated the rootless, fragmentary nature of exile and can write from the depths of the new culture while taking frequent soundings from his own (Gilgamesh looms). There is huge sadness and a sense of incomparable loss within the literary Arab world at his passing – especially, perhaps, the diaspora, for which he was holding up the flame. That flame has now been extinguished. Fortunately for us his poetry lives on.’

The composer Michael Hersch writes about his experience of collaborating with Karim’s words in this issue.


Parnassus · A significant passing, for those interested in poetry journals and the declining culture of reception, is that of Parnassus: Poetry in Review, founded by the indefatigable Herbert Leibowitz (biographer of William Carlos Williams among other things) in 1973 and ‘going out’ with its fifty-second issue. It is a magazine that still boasts a terrestrial address (205 West 89th Street, #8F, New York, NY 10024) and whose website has a remote, parchmenty feel to it and does not render up quite what the twenty-first century web navigator would expect. It costs $15 a year and $27 for two years, and the issues are bulky and rich, scrupulously edited and beautifully produced. For those who relish critical engagement with new writing and have a central or side passion for music, this journal has been a long-time companion. Because of the depth and quality of the archive of past issues, it is unlikely to sink from view, though its reluctance to embrace the digital, which at one level is deeply admirable, at another is frustrating. Parnassus has always been an inspiration to PN Review and a companion, different as we are in tenor. We are inspired by Mr Leibowitz’s ‘Editor’s Note’ which we replicate here as a celebration, a caution, an inspiration:

Since its founding forty years ago, Parnassus has stubbornly hewed to a single guiding principle: that poetry criticism should be practiced as an art. Along with insight, rigor and good judgment, the critic needs a passion for style, a sense of adventure, an entertainer’s wit and timing. In ‘The Age of Criticism’, Randall Jarrell observed, ‘Taking the chance of making a complete fool of himself – and, sometimes, doing so – is the first demand that is made upon any real critic: he must stick his neck out just as the artist does, if he is to be of any real use to art.’ […] Parnassus has always encouraged its contributors to take precisely this chance. Often enough, sticking one’s neck out means not only taking stylistic risks but voicing unfashionable or negative opinions. Poets seem to have an especially hard time doing so. Some, doves by temperament, aren’t suited to real criticism. But many are simply too fearful.

This item is taken from PN Review 248, Volume 45 Number 6, July - August 2019.



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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