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This item is taken from PN Review 262, Volume 48 Number 2, November - December 2021.

News & Notes
Luis Alberto de Cuenca · El Pais on 21 October reported that Luis Alberto de Cuenca received a phone call telling him he had won the 2021 García Lorca Prize for poetry in honour of the full trajectory of his work (he is now seventy years old). The poet was amused, and of course pleased, to join the company of such outstanding writers as José Emilio Pacheco, Francisco Brines and Ida Vitale who got there before him. His latest book, a collection of a hundred new poems, Después del paraíso (After Paradise) was recently published by Visor. The book was composed against the grain during the pandemic: silent and dry, as he describes himself, he was suddenly visited by four unexpected lines and they became the engine of the book. He found the book, he said, ‘useful’ to his survival. He describes himself as having been a straightforward, plain poet who is becoming darker and more difficult as he progresses. He and Pere Gimferrer are the first poets of the 1990s to receive the prize which is intended to honour a poet from any Spanish­speaking country.

Pablo Neruda · To mark the fiftieth anniversary of his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, La Terracera reported, the publisher Seix Barral would publish on 21 October a boxed five-volume set (adding up to 3,692 pages) of the poetry of Pablo Neruda. All forty of his books are included. The volumes have been available singly but this monumental gathering of his legacy feels and looks definitive. The fourth volume contains a selection of all the scattered works and uncollected material so far discovered, with dedicatory poems to fellow Chilean and Latin American writers and occasional poems dedicated to Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Image of five-volume set of the poetry of Pablo Neruda

Harvard · The Taiwan Times on 12 October reported that Harvard University had decided to transfer its Mandarin Chinese summer program from Beijing to National Taiwan University in Taipei in summer 2022. The programme director recorded ‘a perceived lack of friendliness’ from Beijing Language and Culture University, according to the Harvard Crimson. Problems started when access to dormitories and classrooms became problematic. ‘Given the conditions they provided, we really couldn’t run the program with the quality that we are hoping to deliver to our students.’ Possibly the change, she suggested, was due to the shifting sense Beijing has of American institutions. The American government’s National Security Education Program had also moved its Mandarin language training to Taiwan, to the Chinese Overseas Flagship in Taiwan in 2019. Many of Harvard’s China programmes are staying in China.

Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze · SuAndi writes: Looking back, it was pretty reckless of me to take on the role of co-host with Lemn Sissay the same night as my very first performance as a poet. I wasn’t even calling myself a poet then. But I did. The evening consisted of Cultureword Identity Writers and the cream of Black writers; Grace Nichols, John Agard and Jean Binta Breeze. I was to introduce Breeze so I approached her to ask how she wanted to be presented, ‘By my name,’ she fired back at me. Breeze was fierce, a trait that I have heard to describe myself over the years. But Breeze’s fierceness was that of a lioness: she not only roared, she could bite.

I was fortunate to share many other performances with her and at almost all of them she would refuse to perform my favourite piece about the woman with the radio in her head but then at the end she would perform it, giving me a wide grin.

Looking back at her career it is understandable that she carried an inner strength born out of the fact that she was regarded as the first lady of Dub.

I never heard her speak of her childhood. Born 1956, she was raised in Hanover Parish, Jamaica, by her grandparents who were ‘peasant farmers’ so I don’t imagine there was money aplenty. But someone must have spotted her talent and drive as she went on to study at the Jamaican School of Drama. It is not surprising that she became recognised as a teacher, theatre director, actor and choreographer. Jean often sang during her performances, but for my ears she was never really a singer.

It was not until the seventies that she started to write poetry and rock the world of DUB which until then was a male bastion. Mutabaruka immediately recognised her talent and was the first to record her.

Thanks to Francia Messado for sending me the press link late on the night her death was announced. Instinctively I reached out to LKJ as I know Linton and she were close. I’m not going to say I shared the same level of friendship, but over the years Breeze and I shared a lot of time and gigs.

When she was directed by Yvonne Brewster for Talawa Theatre’s production of Shange’s play, I travelled to London in support. Jean was in a grumpy mood accepting a drink from my fella who had been blown away by the show, but refusing to speak to the Scottish man.

In Manchester she often stayed at mine, one time with her daughter. Breeze had been on the brandy so when I heard her daughter tell her there was a black cake box under the bed, I was thankful that she told the child to go asleep. A little later, on hearing Breeze in slumber, I crept into the bedroom to remove the box to the safety of my own cupboard. (I did tell Breeze sometime later that I had removed the cake box because it contains my father’s ashes and she thumped me hard. I mean really hard.)

Time passed before I spent an afternoon in a bar with her and Agard at some university event where we were reading. I wanted to talk about her wonderful short stories, I loved the one about cricket and the patent leather shoes of the little girl, but she was reminiscing with John, and I sat and listened. Later she benefited from the professional support and care of Melanie Abrahams (Renaissance One). I went to the Leicester University event lead by Corrine Fowler (a mentor to me and who later became my friend). She had nominated Breeze and later me as Writing Fellows.  And that was the last time I saw her.

Brendan Kennelly · The Irish poet Brendan Kennelly has died, at the age of eighty-five. He had returned to his native North Kerry some years ago, the place he had left, as a scholarship winner, for Trinity College Dublin. An outsider at Trinity as a student, he nonetheless returned there after graduate study at Leeds, initially as a junior lecturer, becoming Professor of Modern Literature, a role he occupied from 1973 to his retirement in 2005. He was an inspirational teacher, and as editor of Icarus, would publish and befriend younger gifted student poets, including Eavan Boland and Michael Longley. Longley would later edit, with Terence Brown, The Essential Brendan Kennelly (Bloodaxe, 2011), and wrote of this work, “It remains for me one of the best things I’ve ever done. I loved and revered the man and his words.”  

Kennelly was easily the most famous poet in Ireland during the 1980s, a regular on radio and tv chat shows and a non-driver who was the voiceover star of Toyota radio ads. He had by then shifted away from crisp and often agonizing lyric poems to long poems in which he adopted personae, ‘epic ballads’ as his friend Gabriel Fitzmaurice called them, which took on the voices of scapegoats, Cromwell and The Book of Judas, whose admirers included, among others, the singer Bono, who quoted The Book of Judas when addressing a US university audience: ‘If you want to serve the age, betray it.’

Máire Mhac tSaoi · Máire Mhac an tSaoi, who has died aged ninety-nine, named her autobiography The Same Age as the State. Her Belfast-born father, Seán McEntee, had fought in the GPO in 1916 and would serve as Fianna Fáil minister for finance, and as Tánaiste, while her mother, Margaret Browne, was also active in the Rising.

Mhac an tSaoi went to school Dún Chaoin, in the Kerry Gaeltacht, and took a degree in Celtic Studies and Modern Languages, which led to her publishing research on Irish Arthurian Romances. After training as a barrister, she joined the civil service. Her first collection, Margadh na Saoire, appeared in 1956 and soon after her highly critical review of Sean Seán Ó Ríordáin’s Eireaball Spideoige, which established the polarities of modern Irish-language poetry, with her work’s interest in continuities in the tradition seen as rejecting some of the modernizing bareness of Ó Ríordáin’s work.

After marrying politician and journalist Conor Cruise O’Brien, she lived for a time in Ghana with him, where they adopted two children, before returning to Dublin. Never shy of controversy, she was arrested for anti-war protests, and would resign her position in Ireland’s assembly of artists Aosdána over her criticism of a peer’s anti-Semitism. She continued writing, not just poetry but also fiction and a translation into Irish of Rilke, and was a notable encourager of younger women poets. In 2011, poet and critic Louis de Paor edited a landmark selection of her work The Miraculous Parish / An Paróiste Míorúilteach (O’Brien Press)  

Grey Gowrie · Stanley Moss writes, in a draft of his elegy to the poet Grey, Lord Gowrie, a PN Review contributor and friend:

Grey, Lord of two hearts,
your heart has become a shoreless ocean.
On the Third Day of creation,
dry land, plants, trees, and ocean,
you judged yourself, no absolution.
You are now apart
from those who love you,
manners, love, poetry, body, soul were you.
You know ‘happiness blooms in small corners.’
Calliope is among your mourners.
Now you are among the most ordinary
dead and the most extraordinary
with Callimachus,
the least superfluous.

His full name was Alexander Patrick Greysteil Hore-Ruthven, Lord Gowrie. He was eighty-one at the time of his death. As well as being a political figure (quondam chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) he left politics because the ministerial salary could not support his lifestyle. He was most visible as Minister for the Arts for two years under Mrs Thatcher. He became European chair of Sotheby’s and then chair of the Arts Council. His connections with poetry developed at Oxford and took a curious turn when at Buffalo University in upstate New York he encountered the Black Mountain poets and then, at Harvard, he assisted Robert Lowell, establishing a durable friendship. In 1969 he was back in the UK, teaching at UCL and taking the Conservative whip in the House of Lords (he had assumed the title aty the age of fifteen).

His first collection of poems was published in 1972, A Postcard from Don Giovanni. Though his output was sporadic, he built up a significant body of work. When Third Day: New and Selected Poems was published in 2008, Derek Mahon wrote in the Irish Times, ‘Grey Gowrie’s great Third Day: New and Selected Poems – a fine, stoical portrait of the age – fulfils all expectations’. It was a distillation of his life’s work, from 1958 onward. The book centred on the sequence ‘The Domino Hymn: Poems from Harefield’, published in 2005. It builds from his year spent at Harefield when, on the threshold of death, he was given a heart transplant. His most recent full collection, The Italian Visitor (2013), included a memoir of Robert Lowell.

A Rainbow for Callie Gardner (1990–2021)  . Maria Sledmere writes: I was about to get on a train when I first received news that Callie Gardner had passed suddenly on the 8 July. A prolific poet, critic and editor of the magazine and micro-press Zarf (2015-2020), Callie was a devoted supporter of many campaigns for political and social justice, to community organising and creating safe and nurturing spaces for marginalised writers. Their presence touched so many people: from queer folks all over the world who read their work, to the lucky ones who knew Callie as a tutor, editor or publisher, to the many friends and comrades they made through poetry and activist spaces such as the Small Trans Library. After earning a PhD from Cardiff University, Callie forged a life outside of the academy, running workshops at Glasgow’s queer bookshop Category Is, contributing to numerous reading groups and offering writing experiments and striking commentaries on contemporary poems through their blogs, misleadingly like lace and the second moon letters.

Callie was, to quote a close friend Gloria Dawson, ‘like an encyclopaedia that loves you back’: they had exquisitely detailed and lively knowledge on everything from space physics to emoji lore and the wallabies of Loch Lomond, and would offer it in enthusiastic bubbles of anecdote and dialogue. I cherished their secret streak of humour and wit – what the poet Dom Hale once admired as Callie’s unabashed love of the pun – and the generosity, nuance and care in everything they did. The education and poetics Callie championed were horizontal, sprawling, collaborative, beyond institutions: a kind of meadowing in common, available for everyone willing, (bio)diverse with mutual space to grow.

In all their attention to the (un)doings of language, its gatherings and play (especially in their work as a scholar of Roland Barthes), its social potential and material conditions, I think of Callie as a builder of ongoing worlds. Their book, naturally it is not: a poem in four letters (the87press, 2018) is an epistolary venture in what it means to queer, to compost, to be against ‘nature’ and the closed readings of what Veronica Forrest-Thomson calls ‘bad Naturalisation’. It’s a processual, multifarious work bet­ween seasons, scenarios, places, the portable work of address and citation which is a moving present: ‘going through time in this way i wish you were here’.

Back in 2018, in the final issue of a magazine I used to edit, Gilded Dirt, we published their poem ‘where it was you meant to travel’, which ends: ‘what a glow / emerges from the place where i might otherwise have been!’ It always struck me that Callie is and was a poet of transit and transmutation, and I find proof as I write this, on the train heading north and homewards to Glasgow: a rainbow appears and is gone, but still a gift to be proffered in naturally it is not – ‘rainbows hide; wish mine were yours’. As they describe in their Granta essay ‘Terminology’, Callie’s ‘unscientific utopia’ is a fantasy sleeper train called ‘Iris’, named ‘after the Roman goddess of the rainbow’: a place ‘on the move’ where ‘‘everything is gay and nothing hurts’’. Amidst lived precarity, it’s one abundance among many that Callie gave us, of wish and demand, what a glow.

This item is taken from PN Review 262, Volume 48 Number 2, November - December 2021.

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