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This item is taken from PN Review 259, Volume 47 Number 5, May - June 2021.

News and Notes
Missed Encounters

Charles Baudelaire was born two hundred years ago, on 9 April 1821, and this definingly original poet of the city was remembered in the Times Literary Supplement by Beverley Bie Brahic with a decidedly pandemic-flavoured longing. ‘Paris with its crowds is Baudelaire’s haunt: café scenes of missed encounters with the woman he might unreservedly have loved; public gardens, avenues or winding side streets where he notes the cacophony tenderly or mercilessly.’

If gatherings and festivals to celebrate his work are off-limits, readers could revert to Baudelaire’s transits in English, via Francis Scarfe, Christopher Mattison, Carol Clark and Walter Martin or occasional travellers among the Flowers of Evil, like Arthur Symons, Robert Lowell, and Derek Mahon. Or they may want to consult Gallimard’s updated selected edition, La Passion des images which amounts to almost 1,900 pages. Flood Editions of Chicago will publish a new selection, translated by Daisy Fried, in time for the 201st anniversary.

What Can Be Thrown Away

Roy Fisher’s archive was ‘packed into the back of a car and made the scenic journey from Newcastle-under-Lyme to Sheffield on 26 January 2018’, writes Amanda Bernstein, archivist at University of Sheffield, but the pandemic means that access and cataloguing are still at an early stage. The website ( offers some initial gleanings including a selection of aphorisms (‘Identity is what can be thrown away.’; ‘The city breeds mockery gods.’), while a lively zoom launch of the project in April included readings of Fisher’s work, and new poems dedicated to him, by Fleur Adcock, Jeffrey Wainwright, Paul Muldoon, Peter Robinson and others.


Adam Zagajewski died in March, on UNESCO’s World Poetry Day, aged seventy-five. At a round table of poets in 1989, Derek Walcott evoked the Polish poet, already something of a legend. ‘I was going to see Joseph [Brodsky] in a taxi with a photographer, going downtown, and I was with Adam Zagajewski – a terrific Polish poet. And I turned to Adam and I said something about happiness, and he said – No, not happiness, joy. Now if you think of Adam’s experience’ – of repression and censorship in Poland during his formative, dissident years and on into his adulthood, when he went into exile – ‘well, how could a Polish poet under the regime and the suffering of the people and so on be happy? But what he was saying was something that I think is very simple. That to believe in Joy for him was so innocent... That the preservation of that innocence, despite the barbed wire and the tanks... That it can visit a poet, and that’s what I was saying – that you are pinned to a wall and you know, somebody has a bayonet in your chest, and you say – yes, I believe in Joy.’ He returned to Poland, to Krakow, after the political thaw two decades ago and his life and poetry sought new directions.

At PN Review we received several letters from poets shocked at Zagajewski’s passing. He was loved and respected and his influence was considerable. We hope to run an illustrated essay by Jonathan Hirschfeld about making Zagajewski’s portrait. He was an award-winning poet. His first exile was in Paris in 1982, after his work was banned in Poland. He was fluent in French, and also in German and English, and his career in exile as a writer and teacher was rich in travel. He taught at the University Houston, the University of Chicago, and was companioned by his beloved wife the translator and actress Maja Wodecka. In the Guardian, Colm Tóibín wrote that in his best poems, ‘he has succeeded in making the space of the imagination connect with experience; things seen and heard and remembered in all their limits and sorrow and relished joy have the same power for him as things conjured.’ There is that word ‘Joy’ again. His world can be grim and serious, but comedy is never far away. Another obituary said that his passing ‘leaves a hole in Polish spirituality,’ a curious and suggestive image rooted in notions of a surviving national culture. Lvov, the Polish town in which he was born in in 1945, became Lviv, part of the Soviet Ukraine. The family was forced to move to Silesia, to Gliwice, which had been German before. In Krakow he studied psychology and then philosophy and became a teacher until his expulsion. His first poem appeared in 1967. He has been well translated into English and is published by Faber in the UK.

Bay Laureate

The poet Al Young has died at the age of eighty-one. He was, in the words of the jazz scholar Ted Gioia, ‘a treasure of the Bay Area cultural scene. I first knew him as a jazz lover who wrote movingly about the music – and I would run into him frequently at clubs and concerts. But he was probably even better known in the literary world, and Young would eventually serve as poet laureate for California (2005). But he was also a teacher, a screenwriter, a novelist, an editor, and a mentor to many. In fact, you couldn’t find a better role model. Every encounter I had with him was an inspiring one.’ Young spent much of his career teaching at Stanford. He was admired as State Poet, possessing a gift for public service. ‘He travelled to rural areas of the state that previous laureates had overlooked. He spoke in urban schools where he was a powerful role model of the African American artist,’ said the poet Dana Gioia, who followed him as California laureate. He received the American Book Award twice and received Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Wallace Stegner fellowships, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.’

Paul McLoughlin

John Lucas writes: The poet, Paul McLoughlin, has died of cancer at the age of seventy-four. He came to poetry as an adult, having left school, which he loathed, at the age of sixteen, and taken a succession of odd jobs, among them greengrocer’s assistant and bookie’s runner, before deciding to be a jazz musician. He accordingly enrolled for music A Level classes at Chiswick Polytechnic, and by the time he graduated from a West London College of Education a few years later was an accomplished flautist. A career in teaching followed, as did his discovery of poetry. He was soon publishing in a variety of poetry journals, and a passionate delight in the poetry of Brian Jones, on whom he began a part-time PhD, eventually led to the publication of Brian Jones: New and Selected Poems (Shoestring Press 2013). By then his own first collection, What Certainty Is Like, had appeared from Smith/Doorstop (1998). It was followed at regular intervals thereafter by further collections, all of them from Shoestring. They include The Road to Murreigh, (2010) for which the poet made a number of line drawings related to the part of Ireland from which his family came, and, most recently, The Hungarian Who Beat Brazil (2017), which among other matters testifies to his relish for football.

Death of a Publisher

Editor and poet Robert Hershon, who helped found the American poetry press Hanging Loose in 1966, died in March at the age of eighty-four. He published several books of his own poems but his main achievement was furthering the careers of others, including Sherman Alexie, Joanna Fuhrman, Cathy Park Hong and Denise Levertov. Hanging Loose Press was originally a magazine, the poems mimeographed and enveloped, so readers were free to discard work they didn’t like, functioning as editors since the main editors, meeting in a bar in the East Village, were notably generous in their acceptances. Book publishing began in the 1970s. The current Hanging Loose editor explained, ‘His preference was for poetry that didn’t take itself too seriously but was energetic and inventive in both form and language; nothing pompous or stuffy or smelling of the library.’ He was rather proud of the fact that, ‘I never took a poetry class, was never part of a workshop.’

Translating Amanda Gorman

After her enormous public success as a performer at President Biden’s inauguration, European publishers were keen to secure the text of 23-year-old African-American Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ to publish in book form in their markets. The poem was quite direct, in theme and language. One by one the nominated translators were declared unsuitable for the job. The Dutch translators Marieke Lucas Rijneveld removed herself because of the dissatisfaction surrounding her ‘profile’. There were no doubts about her language skills but her ethnicity was at fault. The Catalan translator was removed for his profile, defective in both gender and ethnicity. ‘They told me that I am not suitable to translate it,’ Victor Obiols said. ‘They did not question my abilities, but they were looking for a different profile, which had to be a woman, young, activist and preferably black.’ Given the enormous force of the Black Lives Matter campaign the uproar might have been predicted. Yet it struck some of the rejected translators as the wrong battle with the wrong weapons. Obiols has translated works by Shakespeare and Wilde. Here the task was Gorman and Oprah Winfrey, who provided a foreword. He had finished his translation of Gorman when word came from the American publisher that he ‘was not the right person’. Obiols was bemused. ‘If I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, black, an American of the 21st century, neither can I translate Homer because I am not a Greek of the eighth century BC. Or could not have translated Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-century Englishman.’ Obiols will be paid for his work, in any case.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was described by the Dutch publisher Meulenhoff as a ‘dream candidate’ for the job. She is twenty-nine years old and the youngest author to win the International Booker Prize for her novel The Discomfort of Evening. Amanda Gorman had chosen Rijneveld herself, a fellow young writer who had also come to fame early. She was startled by the controversy, said she understood why some people felt hurt, and withdrew. Outspoken on issues including gender equality and mental health, Rijneveld identifies as non-binary. She announced that she had been selected to translate Gorman on Twitter, with two sparkling heart emojis. 

This item is taken from PN Review 259, Volume 47 Number 5, May - June 2021.

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