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This item is taken from PN Review 263, Volume 48 Number 3, January - February 2022.

News & Notes
His hair was the razor wire that patrolled Victorian walls
And his mouth a hidden tunnel burrowed beneath concrete.
But his heart. His heart.
His heart was a home. Lamp lit. Early dusk. As the
Children walk clumsily home from school.
     (from ‘Home is Where the Heart is’)

On 11 January the 2021 T.S. Eliot prize was awarded to Joelle Taylor for C+nto & Othered Poems (Westbourne Press), described by Glyn Maxwell, chair of the judges, as ‘a blazing book of rage and light, a grand opera of liberation from the shadows of indifference and oppression.’ This is her fourth collection. She is a generous and an enabling activist, running workshops where they might matter (as at Wandsworth Prison), promoting the work of others. At the Southbank she hosts the London-based night of poetry and music, Out-Spoken. She has published plays and short stories as well.


The 2021 Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry was awarded to Grace Nichols, in particular for her first book of poems I Is a Long-Memoried Woman (which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1983), her prose, and several books for younger readers. ‘Over the past four decades,’ the poet laureate Simon Armitage declared, ‘Grace has been an original, pioneering voice in the British poetry scene. Her poems are alive with characters from the folklore and fables of her Caribbean homeland, and echo with the rhymes and rhythms of her family and ancestors… They are also passionate and sensuous at times, being daring in their choice of subject and openhearted in their outlook. Above all, Grace Nichols has been a beacon for black women poets in this country, staying true to her linguistic coordinates and poetic sensibilities, and offering a means of expression that has offered inspiration and encouragement to many.’ Her husband John Agard was awarded the Medal in 2012, the first time a single household has boasted two. ‘In my own work,’ she said, ‘I’ve celebrated my Guyanese/Caribbean/South American heritage in relation to the English traditions we inherited as a former British colony. To poetry and the English language that I love, I’ve brought the registers of my own Caribbean tongue. I wish my parents who used to chide me for straining my eyes, as a small girl reading by torchlight in bed, were around to share in this journey that poetry has blessed me with.’


Portuguese poet Ana Luísa Amaral received the 2021 Queen Sofía Award for Iberoamerican Poetry on 7 November. The award was conferred at the University of Salamanca. She is the thirtieth recipient. The award recognises the entirety of the poet’s work and its literary value to the cultural patrimony of Iberoamerica and Spain. Amaral was born in 1956 in Lisbon. She is one of the most celebrated Portuguese writers of recent times. A professor at the University of Porto, she took her doctorate in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and has published widely on Anglophone poetry, comparative literature and feminist studies. The award entails a generous sum of cash and a scholarly, annotated edition of some of the writer’s work.

The occasion also presented an opportunity to remember and celebrate those previous award winners who had recently died, among them major figures including Caballero Bonald, Francisco Brines, Ernesto Cardenal and Joan Margarit.


John Lucas writes: The death has occurred of Tim Thorne, Australian poet, publisher, and important promoter of poetry in Tasmania. Born in 1944, Thorne spent most of his life in his native state, although during the late 1960s he lived in Sydney, where he was closely associated with Poetry Magazine (later New Poetry), and startled the natives by appearing in public in a long cloak and beret. This was deliberately intended as a show of homage to nineteenth Century French poets at a time when other poets connected to Sydney were busy rejecting the influence of English poetry in favour of, among others, Mallarmé and Rimbaud, though Thorne’s familiarity with the French language provided a large measure of authenticity for his avowed admiration of Baudelaire.

Back in Tasmania, and by now married to his life-long love and companion, Stephanie, Thorne settled in Launceston, from where he began the wonderfully lively Tasmanian Poetry Festivals, of which he was director for seventeen years, and to which, with some financial assistance from the Australian Arts Council, he invited a large number of internationally-known poets, as well as important Tasmanian writers, including such luminaries as Gwen Harwood, Andrew Sant, Margaret Scott, and Vivian Smith. During these years he founded The Cornford Press, under which imprint he published pamphlets and whole collections of work by a variety of young or hitherto little-known poets. A man of outstanding energy and generosity, Thorne’s reputation as a poet was secured by the publication, in 2008, of I Con: New and Selected Poems, published by Salt in both Australia and the UK. That came after the publication of at least a dozen individual collections and would be followed by others. His work is represented in the UK by The Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry, 1994), first published in Australia in 1991 as The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry.

A principled socialist, Thorne never used poetry as a means of preaching to the converted, is often sharply satirical; and his formal adroitness – he was especially resourceful in his use of rhyme and half-rhyme – makes his best work memorably sharp-edged. ‘Sight Screen’ is the punning title for a poem about the defection of one-time Australian cricket captain Kim Hughes to play in apartheid South Africa after he had burst into tears  (blinded by them) on a tour of England when matters were going badly against the old enemy. ‘Blindness is only a virtue in justice,’ Thorne writes, ‘or else black and white look unalike/and a keen eye can pick out/a lethal delivery against a coloured crowd.’ This was written at a time when Tasmania was becoming increasingly troubled over the treatment by nineteenth-century settlers of the island’s original population, but its relevance extends beyond any particular moment or place.      


Raúl Rivero, the Cuban journalist, poet and eventually a radical opponent of the Castro regime, imprisoned for subversion due to his insistence on an independent press in his country, died in Florida on 6 November. He was 75 years old.

He had been a chief correspondent in Moscow for the Cuban news agency for three years, from 1973, then a culture editor for Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba publications. He initially hailed Castro in these terms: ‘the dreams of human redemption sung by the bearded victors of 1959’ and was regarded as the revolution’s poet. But he went beyond his ideological remit, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. He and other Cuban intellectuals petitioned the authorities to increase civil liberties, hold elections and free political prisoners. Journalism should no longer uphold the ‘fiction about a country that does not exist’. His efforts became known and celebrated abroad, he was singled out by Reporters Without Borders in 1997 and received the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University in 1999. In 2000, the International Press Institute named him one of the world’s 50 heroes of press freedom.

He and others established the Association of Cuban Journalists in 2001. They published two issues of De Cuba magazine before Castro’s ‘Black Spring’ that rejected the petition. Many arrests were made, Rivero among them. He was charged as a ‘paid collaborator with a hostile country’ – the northern neighbour – and sentenced to twenty years in prison. He wrote his collection Life and Offices (published in 2006) from his cramped cell. His confinement in the end lasted a year, then he was released with others in a gesture of appeasement to the EU. In 2004, he was awarded the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for his life’s work by UNESCO.


The American writer best known for his poetry David Wagoner died on 18 December at the age of 95. His main fame was in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, his poems (more than twenty volumes over a long lifetime) informed by his childhood there and by the vivid geography and climate. In 1991 he won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. One of the prize judges, Rita Dove, declared, ‘He has never imitated himself. He has always moved in deeper directions; he has always been exploring something new.’ He was  a precursor to the eco-poetry movement, a conservationist.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

 At Theodore Roethke’s suggestion the University of Washington hired Wagoner in 1954 and 48 years later he retired as poet emeritus. He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002, introducing and honouring numerous poets in its pages.


Michael Schmidt writes: When Poetry Nation began, Robert Bly’s name was much in currency. In the first issue James Atlas commented on the Minnesota poet’s translation work, Robert Shaw on his debts to Ginsberg. He referred to The Teeth-Mother Naked At Last as ‘a sort of up-dated, outward-looking Howl’, The concern with violence and racism at the time of Vietnam and the protest movement was vividly evoked, but also with a touch of the academy in its strategies: ‘In an apocalyptic patch Bly envisages the nation as finally polarised, young set against old, the peace movement against the increasingly authoritarian government (the “teeth-mother”)’ and he quotes:
Now the whole nation starts to whirl,
the end of the Republic breaks off,
Europe comes to take revenge,
the mad beast covered with European hair rushes through the mesa bushes
in Mendochino County,
pigs rush toward the cliff,
the waters underneath part, in one ocean luminous globes float up (in them
hairy and ecstatic rock musicians) –
in the other, the teeth-mother, naked at last.

Bly makes an appearance even in the editorial which laments his and Denise Levertov’s turn to vehement protest poetry. In Poetry Nation 2 Jeffrey Wainwright quotes from his interview with Neruda: he was at the centre of our sense of the contemporary, and not just contemporary American poetry. He branded For the Union Dead a counterfeit and seemed bound – with his comrades – in quite another direction. As time passed, he became less important to PNR contributors and readers, referred to as a major translator of contemporary poetry and, in a brilliant essay by Eavan Boland, described as a quondam pastoral poet who had proceeded to ‘the violated pastoral -- whether regional or global’ which is ‘all that’s left of that landscape. But this is not new. The poem of disappointed expectations, of spoiled hopes remains a cultural seismograph today as it did in earlier times. The site where a deeply private experience of loss, illness, estrangement puts a proper stress on language remains a rich source. Above all, form and its likely fragmentation in the face of intense experience is a central theme.’

His most widely read work was and perhaps still is Iron John: a Book About Men (1990), arguing against the sissification of American man, and advocating the restoration of what the New York Times called ‘primal male audacity […] He held men-only seminars and weekend retreats, gatherings often in the woods with men around campfires thumping drums, making masks, hugging, dancing and reading poetry aloud.’ It seemed to some a harsh response to feminism, to others a parody or comedy: ‘Cartoonists and talk-show hosts ridiculed it, dismissing it as tree-hugging self-indulgence by middle-class baby boomers.’

Bly, a year junior to Wagoner, died a few days after him, at 94. His passing marks the end of an extraordinary publishing phenomenon, with a library of over 50 books of poetry and translation to his credit, and an enormous investment in the advocacy and translation of major Latin American and European writers.

For my generation the poet of snowy fields and rural quiet became the strident voice of public protest, just as we were coming of age and the Vietnam War was hotting up and threatening to include us. His poems named names: President Johnson, Defense Secretary McNamara, Dean Rusk, General Westmoreland… He co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War. The reading tours and protests he organised were in a sense the crucible for the public poetry that has followed in the States and around the Anglophone world. He became quieter in later years but the fires he lighted are still burning.

This item is taken from PN Review 263, Volume 48 Number 3, January - February 2022.

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