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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 249, Volume 46 Number 1, September - October 2019.

News & Notes
Tuvia Rübner · Miriam Neiger-Fleischmann writes: Tuvia Rübner, Israel’s oldest poet, died on 29 July 2019, aged ninety-five. He was buried in his kibbutz, Merhavia, in the Valley of Jezreel. Rübner was born in ١٩٢٤ in Bratislava, today the capital of Slovakia. At the time, it was Czechoslovakian, of course, still deeply imbued with the cultural atmosphere of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. Like most of Bratislava’s Jews, his family was German-speaking, and he wrote poetry in German until the mid-1950s. Having escaped Nazi­occupied Czechoslovakia, he arrived in Mandate Palestine in 1941 as a member of a group of socialist pioneers. His parents and sister were deported to Auschwitz and murdered there.

As a central European poet and intellectual, it took him a while to settle into Hebrew culture. The established and distinguished poet Leah Goldberg took him under her wing and published his first poem written in Hebrew in 1950. He worked as an editor and translator in the publishing house, Sifriat Poalim, which was based in Kibbutz Merhavia. Later, he became a professor of comparative literature at Haifa University. Rübner translated German literature into Hebrew and vice versa. According to Gershom Scholem, Rübner’s translations of S.Y. Agnon’s fiction were instrumental in the award of the 1966 Nobel Prize to the great Hebrew novelist.

Rübner’s output was vast but he entered the Hebrew canon late. He received the Israel Prize – the country’s most prestigious award – in 2008. The prize jury wrote that Rübner’s poetry was polished and intellectual and that the presence of Death as a major theme and leitmotif did not annihilate his passion for beauty. ‘The dead man / is waiting / in the living man’ he wrote in one of his last books.


Marie Ponsot · The American poet Marie Ponsot died at the enviable age of ninety-eight on 5 July. She married the French painter Claude Ponsot, gave birth to and raised seven children, and yet managed to write seven books of poetry and win the Poetry Society of America Shelley Award, the Frost Medal for lifetime achievement, and the immensely lucrative Ruth Lilly Award. For a quarter of a century she was a member of the PEN Prison Writing Committee and wrote the PEN Handbook for Writers in Prison, read the poetry entries, and tirelessly fundraised.


Poet Laureate · Joy Harjo has been appointed poet laureate of the United States, the first writer of Native American antecedents to be named to the post. She was born in Oklahoma into the Muscogee Creek Nation. ‘I’ve been an unofficial poetry ambassador on the road for poetry for years,’ she declared. Now sixty-eight, the time for this honour was right. ‘I’ve often been the only poet or Native poet-person that many have seen/met/heard. I’ve introduced many poetry audiences to Native poetry and audiences not expecting poetry to be poetry.’


Etheridge Knight · Marilyn Nelson, awarded the 2019 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, was interviewed by Nicole Sealey on 7 May in the Poetry Foundation Newsletter:
Speaking of meter and form, you studied with Etheridge Knight, a poet not known for his engagement with either. What are some takeaways from your time as his student?

Etheridge was a very good teacher. He offered a private workshop called ‘The Free People’s Poetry Workshop’. He insisted that calling a poem ‘Untitled’ is a cop-out, that composing a title is an important part of writing a poem. He taught me to want my poems to be accessible to a wide audience. Perhaps most important for me was his taking us out of the workshop setting and into the community to present – unannounced – public readings. ‘OK, y’all,’ Etheridge would say, ‘meet me at 7:15 p.m. at the Burger King on the corner of X and Y.’ We’d meet in a crowded fast food restaurant or a café or in a bar; Etheridge would set up his little PA system and say, ‘OK, y’all, we gon’ read you some poems.’ And we would read our poems. No one heckled us or walked out; people slowed down, people listened. They applauded. They acted as though they had been waiting for poetry.

I’ve often told the story of the time we were reading in a bar in Saint Paul. A bedraggled man staggered up to Mary Karr, who was also in the workshop, as she read. He pulled a paper from his pocket and, reeling dizzily, asked Mary to read it. Mary said she would as soon as she had finished reading her poem. When she finished, she took this man’s paper and read it. It was a letter from his wife, asking him to come back to her, telling him she loved him, the children missed him. By the time Mary finished reading the letter, people were wiping their eyes. What I took away from that was that this man realized, after hearing us read our poems, that he had a poem in his pocket that should be shared. That makes me feel humble about my own poems and about the work poems can and should do.


Confucius Institutes · The Hong Kong Free Press on 26 July reported that major Australian universities are facing a ‘probe over deals with Chinese-state run Confucius Institutes’, the extension of an issue which has featured in other countries in which the Institute operates. Contracts with the CI constrain the contracted universities in various ways. ‘Attorney-General Christian Porter said the government was looking at whether deals between thirteen Australian universities and the Confucius Institutes breach new foreign interference laws.’ The CI is often compared with the Alliance Francaise, the Instituto Cervantes and the British Council. It contributes to teaching students about Chinese language and culture. But ‘the classes offer a selective view of Chinese life – purposely avoiding sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square crackdown or Tibet’. Taiwan is not a subject to be explored, and more recently, the Uyghurs and other tendentious themes are not funded for research. ‘A 2018 study by German academic Falk Hartig found that 50 Confucius Institutes in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas had a “clear agenda to present an apolitical version of China”.’

Australia’s government has pressed universities ‘to register the institutes – run by China’s ministry of education – under new laws to track foreign actors seeking to influence Australian politics and governance’. The Sydney Morning Herald published eleven of the thirteen contracts between Confucius Institutes and Australian universities. ‘Four contracts featured clauses that gave the Chinese institutes final say on “teaching quality” and stated activities must respect “cultural custom”. In return the universities received minimum funding of A$100,000-A$150,000 upfront and 3,000 Chinese books and other materials.’

The report continues, ‘The deals have helped boost educational ties between China and Australia. An estimated 190,000 Chinese students study at Australian universities, bringing in much-needed revenue. But the links have also created tensions as the two very different political cultures meet.’ The problems in Hong Kong are bringing further focus to bear on these arrangements. ‘On Wednesday, there was a violent standoff between pro-Hong Kong democracy protesters and a group of students backing Beijing at the University of Queensland. The university was recently put in the spotlight for making the Chinese consul-general in Brisbane a guest professor at the school of languages and culture.’


Cervantes Prize · For Spanish-language poetry, late spring is the season of major literary awards. The Cervantes Prize was awarded this year to the ninety-five-year-old Uruguayan poet Ida Vitale. She pronounced herself a devotee of Cervantes whose ‘poetic frenzy’ had always been dear to her. She spoke in the presence of the King and Queen of Spain at the University of Alcalá de Henares. The king himself, accompanied by his wife, paid rich tribute to the poet and to poetry at a time when Spain is ‘assaulted by marketing and propaganda’ instancing the way her poems, and good poems, resist such forces. The King proposed a toast which celebrated ‘our greatest wealth and commonwealth of so many nations and peoples, our language, the language of Cervantes’.
 

Neruda Prize · The 2019 Pablo Neruda Prize was awarded to another senior writer whose work as a poet and translator is widely loved but only now receiving the wider recognition it merits, the Mexican Gloria Gervitz, born in Mexico City in 1943, where her parents were in exile. She is the translator into Spanish of Anna Akhmatova, Lorine Niedecker, Marguerite Yourcenar, Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector. She began publishing as a young woman of twenty-six. Migraciones is her main work, a long poem or poem sequence not unlike the ‘Cántico’ of Jorge Guillén in its ambition and trajectory. The Neruda prize is sometimes seen as a stepping-stone to the coveted Cervantes and Reina Sofía awards.
 

Darío Jaramillo · The Colombian poet featured in these pages Darío Jaramillo has received the fifteenth Lorca City of Granada Award for Poetry. He was presented the award not by a king but by the mayor of the city. Jaramillo declared himself unworthy and at the same time overwhelmed. It was a great pleasure to be told, he said, that what you do is well done. Forty-three authors from seventeen nations were nominated for the prize this year by a variety of institutions. The intention is always to honour a body of work, and previous winners include Pere Gimferrer (2017); Ida Vitale (2016); Tomás Segovia (2008); Francisco Brines (2007); Blanca Varela (2006) and José Emilio Pacheco (2005).


Corazón · Staying with Latin America a moment longer: it is important to celebrate a world record which one hopes will hold for years, even centuries, to come. The Puerto­Rican writer Rafael Morales Rodríguez has written the longest book of poems in the world. Longer even than The Faerie Queene, and by the sound of it a great deal less interesting to read. Morales, from the municipality of Toa Alta, broke two other ‘literary’ records at the same time. His book contains 4,067 six stanza poems, written in quatrains. The Official World Record Association (OWRA) certified the poet’s achievement. The photograph of the poet shows a cheerful-looking man who evidently has been too busy to take much exercise but has been well fed during his marathon engagement with verse. He sports four pens in his breast pocket. His other two records, also OWRA certified, are that his book uses the word ‘amor’ 7,027 times and the word ‘corazón’ 5,238 times, outstripping every other book of poems ever published. Chito, the lord mayor of Toa Alta, was lost for words in expressing his sense of the honour this achievement conferred on the town. He did not mention whether he had read the book, but he had lifted it, which was (as with many books of poems) sufficient effort. The poet was presented – marking the exercise he had given the word ‘amor’ – with what looks in the press photograph like a substantial crystal dildo on a modest plinth with an inscription.


Tin House · The New York Times lamented the passing of the magazine Tin House, ‘a Literary Haven for “Brilliant Weirdos”.’ After two decades with a distinguished list of contributors and some notable discoveries, but not many weirdos, and with a readership well over the three figures that most literary magazines attract, this ‘funkier version of the Paris Review’ goes under, having made a metropolitan mark. ‘The great fame of American literary magazines,’ the New York Times declared, ‘is that almost no one reads them. […] The second best-known fact […] is that they are financially vulnerable. No one makes money from a literary magazine, and no one gets rich working at one. And yet these journals persist.’ Tin House is a quarterly launched in 1999. Its tone, design and mix of established and new writers set it apart. Its eightieth and last issue is ‘a 400-page testament to its essential role in welcoming unrepresented writers into the literary landscape’: ‘Part literary magazine, part glossy, it merged the design sensibility of a commercial magazine with an eclectic mix of short stories, nonfiction and poetry.’ Poetry has not been its strongest suit, but it has insisted that poetry belongs at the high table.


Adam Czerniawski · At a ceremony at the Polish Embassy in London Adam Czerniawski was awarded the Gloria Artis Gold Medal, the Republic’s highest award for cultural achievement. In his laudation Poland’s Ambassador to Washington stressed the medallist’s great contribution to promoting Polish literature and philosophy in the English-speaking world.


Professor of Poetry · Alice Oswald was elected Oxford’s latest professor of poetry, the first woman to fill the post. She told the Guardian that the process of selection was ‘distinctly unsettling’ but that she was ‘pleased, daunted, grateful to my nominators’. The campaign to elect her was painstakingly and efficiently planned, and during the process the poet gave the post a lot of consideration. ‘I look forward to thinking about all forms of poetry, but particularly the fugitive airborne forms,’ she said. She will focus ‘on spoken poetry and expanding the role to embrace the city of Oxford as well as the university’, the Guardian said. In her manifesto, she spoke of ‘Extreme Poetry Events’, ‘all-night readings, a carnival of translations and a poem circus modelled on John Cage’s anarchic community piece Musicircus’. ‘A book is a wonderfully quiet place, but I’ve always thought that poetry, if offered the right occasions, will rise to meet them and that one of our tasks as poets is to invent such occasions for ourselves and for others. I’d be delighted if I could tempt schoolchildren to take part in some of these.’ Her first lecture in the Examination School will be crowded.


Blue Plaque · Malcolm Lowry (1909–57), author of Under the Volcano, was finally honoured by Wirral Council with a Blue Plaque in his birthplace of New Brighton. The heritage plaque, unveiled on 28 July (Lowry’s birthday), looks out to the Mersey Estuary, ‘a resonant site for a writer whose voyages took him across the oceans’.


World Poet Series · The Poetry Translation Centre is pleased to announce its new World Poet Series. These pocket-sized bilingual editions offer introductions to some of the world’s exciting contemporary poets. The series places legendary figures such as the Somali poet Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’, alongside highly acclaimed emerging talents like Adelaide Ivánova, the Brazilian poet, photographer and political activist. The poets will be translated by prominent English-language poets working with accomplished bridge-translators. Each author’s work will bce ontextualised. The series marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Poetry Translation Centre. The PTC’s commissioning editor, Edward Doegar, calls the series ‘a new constellation in the making’. 

This item is taken from PN Review 249, Volume 46 Number 1, September - October 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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