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This item is taken from PN Review 251, Volume 46 Number 3, January - February 2020.

News & Notes
John Ash · Michael Schmidt writes: In January 2015 we had news that John Ash had returned to Manchester from Istanbul, where he had lived for many years after his earlier exile in Manhattan. He was in very poor health and had exhausted his resources. Since his return he had gradually pulled himself together (despite a series of serious hospitalisations) and had even begun, sporadically, writing poems and working on the proofs of his Collected Poems. He received a Royal Literature Fund pension, renewed his passport and opened a bank account. He was planning an escape from the Manchester winter and there was a glow like light at the end of a very long tunnel. But in early December his daily morning phone calls ceased, and then came news that he had died suddenly from sepsis and pneumonia.

He left Istanbul having abandoned all his possessions – books, manuscripts, records, paintings. It seemed they were irrecoverable, though in the last few weeks Carcanet has begun assembling an archive of his letters, poems and other writings in order to make the Collected Poems more complete and to work towards a volume of his letters. Anyone who was in regular receipt of his always handwritten missives and manuscripts knows their unparalleled value as entertainment and instruction.

Handwritten: because John did not type, did not use email or the internet, and only mastered the basics of the mobile phone when his survival depended on it. People typed for him. People did a lot for him: they supported him, they cultivated and valued him. Though he was a journalist (an extraordinary travel writer), a teacher and poet, there were times in his life when the kindness of friends and strangers was what he had to live on. He maintained a number of close, sometimes volatile friendships. John Ashbery, Christopher Middleton, Kenneth Koch and Harry Matthews were among his best-known correspondents. Friends were bound to him by his sense of humour, his enormous learning (in history, music and literature), his generosity of spirit, and his extraordinary poems. The only thing he never had much of was money.

One of his friends from his Istanbul years sent me a number of the poems he read at the poetry group with which he associated there. It consisted of young, established and striving writers, and visiting writers were welcome. This poem, his ‘All-purpose Elegy’, can stand as a wry selfie by the man who never mastered the camera phone, and as a taster for the poems that will follow in this and other journals, and in the Collected:
O, it was here. But now it’s gone!
It is always gone or going. It was here,
I am convinced of it, only a minute
Or a century ago, and I already miss it.
Gone thing, will you come back, make
One last appearance, well-lighted like
A sunset over a lake between terrific mountains?

Glen Cavaliero · Kevin Gardner writes: Glen Cavaliero, FRSL, was above all a poet – but no less a scholar, teacher, friend, and gentleman. With his death in October at the age of ninety-two, a link with the old ‘Cambridge English’ of Forster and Leavis was broken. Glen came to Cambridge in 1965 to take a PhD in English; he stayed on as Fellow Commoner in St Catherine’s College and remained a fixture at High Table lunch until his last illness. ‘He was the best-read person I have ever met,’ says Peter Scupham, ‘and we used to have gentle literary teas in his rather Edwardian rooms in Cambridge.’

He wrote scholarly books on modern English literature, including studies of Forster, J.C. Powys and Charles Williams, as well as the rural tradition, the supernatural, and laughter in English fiction. He supervised many students who remember him fondly. Professor Sir Jonathan Bate recollects his Leavisite instruction: ‘Among my fondest student memories are the practical criticism classes with Glen Cavaliero in which we close read dog-eared cyclostyled copies of unidentified poems. He was the most wonderfully subtle and generous teacher. And no mean poet himself.’

Glen’s main legacy is surely his poetry, published in eight volumes between 1973 and 2011 by Carcanet, Tartarus and Poetry Salzburg; his collected poems, The Flash of Weathercocks, appeared in 2016. His work is marked by a serious religiosity – he was in Holy Orders but no longer officiated and was, as he put it, ‘haunted by the presence of forsaken pieties’. In his poetry is a prevailing assurance that the shadow in which we dwell was created by light, the material world is enfolded by the numinous: ‘A globe of endless flux, chasms of chaos, dried-up / lakes and flooded prairies, blinded griefs, unbridled growths / and ancient emptiness, and at its source a God impaled / on what he wills’.  

Clive James · Australian-born poet Clive James’s final book of poems is due to be published in 2020. He died on 24 November 2019 at the age of eighty, having been ill for a long spell (his terminal diagnosis was given a decade before his actual death). In announcing his death, Picador pointed out that he was ‘the longest continuously published author on the list, with some forty titles in all. The first Picador James title was Unreliable Memoirs; it was an immediate bestseller and went on to sell over a million copies […] and remained with the imprint ever since.’ They quoted the New Yorker on his versatility: he was ‘a brilliant bunch of guys’: essayist, television and radio personality, memoirist, novelist and a poet with an enviable, sometimes treacherous facility. His best-selling later collections include Sentenced to Life and a translation of The Divine Comedy. His collected writings on Philip Larkin, Somewhere Becoming Rain, was the last book he published in his lifetime. There will doubtless be long after-tremors.

In 1992 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia and though he was so much a British media fixture there was never any doubt of his Australian roots. He was awarded an honorary doctorates from Sydney University and another by the University of East Anglia. In 2012 he was appointed CBE and, to restore the balance, in 2013 an Officer of the Order of Australia.

Amjad Nasser · The Jordanian journalist, writer and poet Amjad Nasser, known also as Yahya Numeiri al-Naimat, died in London (where he had made his home) in October 2019 at the age of sixty-four. He was one of the earliest Arabic-language explorers of the prose poem and was an important modernist voice. He was born into a Bedouin family and began writing poetry at school, where he also became a politically alert individual. He was affected by Palestinian militant movements and became an activist when he left school. In 1979 his first collection of poetry was published, with a preface by the Iraqi poet Saadi Yousef. After the siege of Beirut in 1982, he continued to work in the Palestinian media in Cyprus and from 1987 in London, specifically with the daily newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi, where he wrote for and edited the culture pages. He did not enlist his poetry in the political struggle, retaining it largely as a space in which to explore forms, appropriate language, and the specifics of a life lived in a complex world. He wrote what was a new kind of love poetry in Arabic as well. His last and in some ways his most ambitious poetic work was the 2004 Hayatun sardin mutaqatta’in ka (life as an intermittent narrative). He published eight poetry volumes and was widely celebrated as one of those who forged the way for modern Arabic verse. Available to the English reader are three books drawn from his oeuvre, Shepherd of Solitude: Selected Poems, 1979-2004, translated by Khaled Mattawa (Banipal, 2009), Land of No Rain, translated by Jonathan Wright (A&C Black. 2014) and Petra: The Concealed Rose, translated by Fady Joudah (Tavern Books, 2014).

2020 Digital Transition · Books Ireland has announced its transition to purely digital transmission. It is primed ‘to provide all the latest news, events, festivals and coverage of Irish-published, Irish-authored and Irish-interest books – but now faster than before and in ways that better suit how people stay in touch and receive their news.’ After forty three years of print and latterly digital, this transition to a digital platform, supported by the Irish Arts Council, ‘enables us to future-proof our ability to continue to be a leading Irish source for authoritative news for writers, readers and the book publishing sector – amplifying and supporting the work across the industry and helping this work reach new audiences.’ The change is in response, the editors insist, to changes in the ways people read. They are also alert to the ‘climate emergency’ and are ‘reducing our carbon footprint and using fewer resources in terms of paper, printing and transport.’ There is the promise, which may be misplaced given the opportunities that digital provides, to ‘keep the spirit of the print version and remain true to the traditions established over 43 years’. Transitions of this radical nature offer an opportunity for re-invention. Print and digital are not equivalent, any more than reading on the screen and reading on the page are equivalent experiences. Analogous, at best. There seems to be a will to enhance and broaden the offering. ‘We will still have our regular reviews but we are adding new content, such as our new monthly interview series, “This Literary Life with Mary McCarthy”, and providing a shared space for Irish literary-focused podcasts, as well as other new features.’ PN Review will watch developments on screen. We are not minded to follow suit just yet.

The Cervantes Prize · On 23 April 2020 (the anniversary of Cervantes’s death) Queen Sofia of Spain will present the 2019 Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the principal literary award in the Spanish language, to the Catalan poet Joan Margarit. The €125,000 purse is ample recognition of a lifetime’s work.

Margarit is eighty-one years old. In his day job he is an architect, but he has published twenty four books of poetry, in Catalan first, but in Spanish also. This is not his first prize: in fact he has won many of the major Spanish-language awards available. Sharon Olds wrote in the introduction to his Bloodaxe collection Love Is a Place (2016) that his work is ‘brilliant . . . sensually beautiful (but not too beautiful) and with a genuine, just-conceived feeling’. He is Spain's most widely acclaimed contemporary poet, at home and abroad. Bloodaxe published two earlier volumes, Tugs in the Fog: Selected Poems (2006) and Strangely Happy (2011).  

Whitman in Bolton · A celebration for Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday was held in Bolton in May, including readings, a Whitman walk, specialist talks and a display of Whitmaniana at the Bolton Museum (part of the touring British Museum exhibition, Desire, Love Identity: exploring LGBTQ histories in Bolton, 15 March to 26 May). All events focused on commemorating the great poet’s connection with Bolton, begun by a group of ‘Whitmanites’ in the 1880s. The major event was a two-day conference held at the University of Bolton, 23-24 May. It featured keynote addresses from Kirsten Harris, Michael Schmidt and Don Share. The conference culminated in a reading of Whitman’s poetry at Bolton Central Library. Readers included Share, as well as poets James Arthur, Tim Liardet, Kathryn Maris, John McAuliffe, Jennifer Militello, Maurice Riordan, and Ben Wilkinson, alongside performances from local groups ‘the Wonder Women’ and women from the ‘City of Sanctuary’ group.

This item is taken from PN Review 251, Volume 46 Number 3, January - February 2020.

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