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This item is taken from PN Review 260, Volume 47 Number 6, July - August 2021.

News and Notes
Friederike Mayröcker

Jena Schmitt writes: The Austrian writer Friederike Mayröcker died on June 4, 2021, at the age of 96. Since her first poems appeared in the journal Plan in 1946, she published over one hundred books of poetry, prose, librettos, plays, radio plays, children’s books and hybrid in-between formats, collaborating with writers and artists including her partner, the poet Ernst Jandl (1925–2000), and winning such prestigious awards as the Austrian Prize for Literature and the Georg Büchner Prize. ‘I went from a purely experimental writing to a kind of narrational writing, though in interviews I have always declined to label my writing as storytelling,’ she said in a 1983 interview with Siegfried J. Schmidt. ‘I don’t want to write stories in any usual sense, but I want to approach a totally unconventional, unorthodox narrational writing, if one can call it that.’ Her experiments with form, genre, syntax, semantics, punctuation, grammar and quotation have led to a dazzlingly evocative and innovative array of texts, ravelments filled with memories, feelings, artistic influences, reminiscences both real and imagined, an accordion-like overlapping of time and place, of the Umwelt or “world around” her and a rich inner landscape. Mayröcker’s most recent collections include Pathos und Schwalbe (2018) and da ich morgens und moosgrün. Ans Fenster trete (2020), and the English translations Requiem for Ernst Jandl (2018), Scardanelli (2018), études (2020), just sitting around here GRUESOMELY now (2021) and The Communicating Vessels (2021), in which she wrote (in Alexander Booth’s translation): ‘…and I sink down and my throat is tied and I wiped the blood out of my hair, and now the end has come, but I have not found an end I never find an end…’

(An extended essay on Mayröcker’s work, by Jena Schmitt, is scheduled for publication in PN Review.)

Francisco Brines

Michael Schmidt writes: At a literary conference in Valencia in the 1980s I bought a book of poems by Francisco Brines, a writer I had not heard of before. I loved the poems and in my enthusiasm shared it with my neighbour. He blushed and turned aside. Later in the proceeding someone told me, ‘That’s Francisco Brines.’

He is the most recent recipient of the Cervantes Prize (the most important of the Spanish literary awards), celebrated and not yet sufficiently translated across the world. He was born in Valencia in 1932 and died in Oliva, not far from the landscape of his childhood, El Mundo reminded its readers. His life was devoted, the obituarist declared, ‘to writing, hedonism and friendship’.

Though Valencia was his home, he spent part of the Spanish Civil War in Marseilles. Still a boy, he came home to a happy youth, and his life was inflected by those years and the loss that their passing represented. In 2020 he said in an interview that most of his writing proceeded from that sense of loss, his poetry evoking at one and the same time the joy and happiness of that earlier time and the loss. They are part and parcel of one another, the positive and the negative held in tension. His early writings date from his student years in the Law departments of Deusto, Valencia and finally Salamanca, and then Madrid where he studied Philosophy and Literature. His first book – published when he was twenty-eight – was awarded the Adonais Prize. Clearly he was not in a great hurry. He had taken his bearings from some of the great poets of the generations before his, Cernuda in particular, and made his way not by contrariety but by continuation and extension. He spent much of his time in Madrid, living among poets but also making his writing way independently of the movements and fashions of the time. His sensuality and subtle eroticism develop, darken and deepen in an oeuvre that is coherent and abundant. His prosody is beautiful to follow, full of unexpected but always effective turns, surprises and climaxes. His first collected poems appeared in 1974: An Attempt at Farewell. He was a great reader of poems and a brilliant critic. He looked always for pleasure, and when he found it he spoke if its various qualities. His enthusiasms were broad, he was a tolerant man and a tolerant critic, keen to be surprised out of himself.

Seamus Deane

John McAuliffe writes: The Irish critic, novelist and poet Seamus Deane has died at the age of eighty-one. He was the most formidable Irish critic of his generation, a scholar of Edmund Burke and the author of acute, elegant studies such as Celtic Revivals and A Short History of Modern Irish Literature. He was also a talker and lecturer of prodigious ability, memorious and articulate not just on Burke and Joyce, Derek Mahon and T.S. Eliot but also on Durkheim and Daniel O’Connell and, the obituaries published by friends, former colleagues and students in the Irish Times attest, a wide range of non­academic subjects too.

Deane grew up in the Bogside in Derry, which is the subject of his Booker-shortlisted novel Reading in the Dark, a book which began as a memoir until he found, as he told one interviewer, that he could no longer tell his own stories apart from those he had heard from others. He studied at St Columb’s College in Derry, a ‘scholarship boy’ from a brilliant generation that included Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel and John Hume. After taking a BA at Queens he completed his PhD at Cambridge and initially taught at Berkeley before taking up a post at UCD.  

There, he directed the theatrical and publishing activities of Field Day, which would include the Derry premiere of Friel’s Translations, a series of pamphlets which brought Irish Studies firmly into the ambit of international post-colonial theory, and the massive editorial project The Field Day Anthology, whose initial three volumes established a new way of considering Irish literary history and culture, while also creating a controversy about gender which has, perhaps, been as influential as that work’s monumental scholarship. In the wake of the anthology’s publication, Deane was challenged to explain its omissions by interviewers such as Nuala O’Faolain and by Eavan Boland’s comment that she was ‘sorry to be included’. He acknowledged immediately the need for ‘a correction of the error against feminism that percolates through the anthology’ and his colleague Geraldine Meaney has recognised ‘the intellectual integrity [in how] he worked to redress this in commissioning two further volumes on women’s writings and traditions’.

Deane’s other work included a Selected Poems (Gallery, 1988), essays most recently collected in Small World: Ireland, 1798–2018 and the editorship of the beautifully produced journal, Field Day Review, published from his last academic post at the University of Notre Dame.

Chris ‘Zithulele’ Mann

Chris Miller writes: The South African poet, singer, and song-writer Chris ‘Zithulele’ Mann died in Makhanda/Grahamstown on 10 March 2021. I have met few men I admired more. Born in 1948, he took a BA at Wits University, followed by an Oxford MA in English Language and Literature and one from SOAS in African Oral Literature. Returning to SA, he worked for twelve years in rural development. In 1999, he founded Wordfest, a festival celebrating the many South African languages of poetry. As a singer, he performed illegally in multiracial groups under Apartheid, and at Mandela’s first post-release rally, before an audience of a quarter of a million. He was constantly inventing new ways of making poetry accessible. His poems are one long description of South Africa, but his most personal volume is Rudiments of Grace (2014), dedicated to his wife, the artist Julia Skeen, and movingly retracing the course of their shared lives and love. His was a life dedicated to South Africa, to patient work, often against the odds, to improve the lives of his fellow citizens. To help him do this, he built a body of thought and poetry (see PNR 209 for an essay on him). In this thought, the notion of the ‘shade’ carried a singular importance, the Nguni notion of ancestor shades expanded to include all the dead who continue to influence us, from parents to Virgil. In person, he was short, stocky, thoughtful and modest, his love of life an aspect of the askesis by which he lived in the service of others, constantly grateful for what he had been given and humbly anxious to give back. Poetry and an inclusive Christianity were his two faiths wrought into one. He was deeply saddened by what post-Mandela SA had become but committed to the work of reconciliation. He died peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones. When last I spoke to him, he showed me with delight the flowers growing behind his house. I knew he had had cancer but had no idea he was dying. His courage seemed, as always, undimmed, and he was writing almost to the last.

Brian Johnstone of StAnza

In May we learned with much sadness of the death of Brian Johnstone. He was a founder of StAnza Poetry Festival in 1998 and Festival Director from 2000 to 2010 – a key figure in its evolution. He was also a poet in his own right, a well-known reader of his work at home and abroad and widely translated into other languages. ‘In 2015, in recognition of his contribution to the organisation, he was appointed Honorary President. StAnza owes Brian a huge debt and he is remembered with fondness and gratitude by those at StAnza who worked with him from 1997 until 2020.’

Eleanor Livingstone worked with Brian as Artistic Director and from 2010 as his successor as Festival Director. She found in him an excellent mentor. ‘I was fortunate in inheriting the relationships he had established – with funders and partners, with venues and the many businesses whose cooperation underpinned the festival’s success – and the procedures and processes he had designed and initiated.’ Robyn Marsack spoke of his later years: ‘Free of his director’s responsibilities, he was glad to focus on his own work – in prose, poetry and musical collaborations – and indeed launched a new collection in April, The Marks on the Map, when dozens of friends were gathered online to celebrate the occasion.’

Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana

The thirtieth Queen Sofia award for Iberoamerican Poetry – the highest award for Spanish and Portuguese-
language poetry, went to the Portuguese-language poet and feminist critic Ana Luisa Amaral, born in Lisbon in 1956. The Patrimonio Nacional de España and Salamanca University jointly fund the prize which is valued at 42,100 euros. The poet spoke of her tremendous joy and pride at the receipt of the prize which entails writers from all the countries of the Iberian peninsula and the colonies of Spain and Portugal. In Amaral’s poetry, above all, the award presentation noted, ‘the voice of woman can be clearly heard’, a ‘quite extraordinary woman’.

Amaral is a professor at the University of Oporto, where she took her doctorate in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. She has published widely on British and American poetry and in comparative literature and feminist theory.

Pigott Prize

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin was awarded the €10,000 Pigott Poetry Prize (the largest poetry money-prize in Ireland) for Collected Poems. The selectors, Maura Dooley and Mark Waldron, said that the book, published by Gallery, was ‘of singular beauty and uncommon cohesion. It contains work from more than fifty years – nine collections and new previously unpublished poems. For all the serenity of their surfaces a core of historical concern permeates her lines. Often she attends to marginalised or solitary figures, and embraces multiple journeys which transport her readers to the dramas of hinted narratives.’ Mark Pigott, who sponsors the prize, is executive chairman of Paccar, who also recently donated £200,000, which Queen’s University Belfast matched, to endow a £400,000 Michael Longley Scholarship Fund for postgraduate students and to create a classroom known as the Longley Room, recognising two lifetimes of poetry excellence: Michael Longley’s, and his wife, Professor Edna Longley’s.

Forward Prize

The Forward Prizes announced their shortlist as representing a ‘perfect slice of the now’. It honours the work of the independent presses. The three shortlists are:

Best Collection (£10,000)
A Blood Condition, Kayo Chingonyi (Chatto). A God at the Door, Tishani Doshi (Bloodaxe). Men Who Feed Pigeons, Selima Hill (Bloodaxe). Notes on the Sonnets, Luke Kennard (Penned in the Margins). Cheryl’s Destinies, Stephen Sexton (Penguin).

Felix Dennis Prize for Best First
Poor, Caleb Femi (Penguin). bird of winter, Alice Hiller (Pavillion Poetry). Honorifics, Cynthia Miller (Nine Arches). Comic Timing, Holly Pester (Granta). Rotten Days in Late Summer, Ralf Webb (Penguin).

Best Single Poem (£1,000)
‘Androgeus’, Fiona Benson (Times Literary Supplement). ‘Middle Name with Diacritics’, Natalie Linh Bolderstone (National Poetry Competition). ‘Flower of Sulphur’, John McCullough (Poetry London). ‘1948’, Denise Riley (Poetry Ireland Review). ‘Pages 22–29, an excerpt from the Ferguson Report: An Erasure’, Nicole Sealey (Poetry London)

Stuff and Nonsense
J. Kates

To Mr. Kates:
I am drawing your attention to the misogynistic nature of the subject line of your email of April 18, 2021, and to its threatening overtones. Both the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the NH State Troopers have been alerted of
[sic] your email. I do not welcome any future communication from you; if you fail to observe this request, I will consider contacting art and writing agencies in the state and in reference to your behavior.

The e-mail arrived on my desk on May 21. It was signed, but I am not identifying the sender here. At first, I had no idea what it referred to. Then I remembered that I had queried the writer, a local poet whom I have never met or communicated with before, about a typographical error in one of her poems. My note to her did not originate from my own mail account, but from her web-site “contact” link, and therefore left no record in my own files. Still, I couldn’t imagine anything heinous enough to generate such a response after a month of silence.

An old friend I knew was acquainted with the sender. I forwarded the e-mail to her, and asked her to ask N for an explanation. But my friend’s immediate response (by telephone) was, ‘Oh, that was you! N had been in touch with me a month ago to complain about a stalker who threatened to behead her! But she didn’t mention any name.’ N had apparently then been so traumatised by my threat that she quivered silently for a month.

Our mutual friend offered to go between.

At the mention of beheading, though, a penny dropped. The ambiguity of the possible typo I had questioned at the beginning was between the words axe and axle – certainly evoking different images in N’s poem. That led me to remember that I might have used in the subject line the words (marked as quotation with appropriate punctuation) from Alice in Wonderland: “Talking of axes, off with her head.”

I needn’t wait for a SWAT team to come busting through my door, though, ready to confiscate all sharp objects. According to my intermediary friend, N had not named anyone in her report to the constabulary. She just told the State Police that she was in imminent danger of being decapitated, presumably – if her note to me is to be taken at face value – because she is a woman.

Conscientiously, I ran the record of this incident by several women, including college students who have and have not read Lewis Carroll carefully, my wife (an immigrant who has read Alice only in Nabokov’s translation, which botches the line) and others who can glibly quote whole stretches of the book. The unanimous reaction has been unqualified laughter.

Nevertheless, according to our mutual friend, N continues to see no ambiguity in this, feels no need to backtrack, and wants no communication with me.

Three things have come out of this. First, an anecdote I can dine out on for months.

Second, the unsolicited testimonials to my good character by two people (one of whom I hardly know at all) who have sent their own notes to N.

Third, an as yet undefined uneasiness that some seriousness must underlie all this, if only I could tease out what it is.

In the meanwhile, what does disturb me most about the whole affair is that N teaches at a reputable university.

What I enjoy most is N’s threat to take her case to a far Higher Authority than the legal and police apparatus of the state: arts organisations

This item is taken from PN Review 260, Volume 47 Number 6, July - August 2021.

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