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This item is taken from PN Review 264, Volume 48 Number 4, March - April 2022.

News & Notes
History repeats itself   •   (from N&N, PNR 217, 2014)The New Yorker carried a report by Sally McGrane of the abuse of one of Ukraine’s best-known poets and ‘counterculture writers’, Serhiy Zhadan. He was beaten up by pro-Russian demonstrators in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, and images of his damaged face immediately circulated on the internet. ‘As the attackers were hitting him, the writer said, they told him to kneel and kiss the Russian flag. “I told them to go fuck themselves,” Zhadan wrote, on his Facebook page.’ Sally McGrane notes how Zhadan’s ‘raucous poetry and poetic novels depict post-Soviet working-class lives in his country’s rust belts; in his imagination, Ukraine’s vast, rolling, sparsely peopled steppes and historically shifting western border are part of the country’s vital essence rather than a point of weakness. He also fronts a popular ska band, “Dogs in Space”… Now, Zhadan is back in the hospital – his jaw has not been healing properly. But, he wrote in an e-mail, the beating has not deterred him. “It’s very simple,” he wrote. “I don’t want to live in a country of corruption and injustice. I, like millions of other Ukrainians, would like to have a normal measure of power. A dictatorship is not normal, and people who don’t protest injustice, they have no future.”’

Valentina Polukhina   •   On 10 February we received news, from Emeritus Professor Joe Andrew of Keele University, of the death of Valentina Polukhina on 7 February at her home in London. She was a friend and major advocate of Josef Brodsky’s, publishing as many as twenty books about his work, and was a significant translator (often with her late husband Daniel Weissbort) of leading Russian women writers into English. With Daniel Weissbort she produced the generous and comprehensive Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets in 2005. She was also a vital presence in the London poetry and translation scenes. She went to the University of Keele in 1973 as a Russian Language Assistant and retired as a full professor in 2001. To PNR 203 (212) she contributed a translation of Mariya Galina’s ‘Ode to the Unveiling of Yury Gagarin’s Statue in London’.

David Wagoner   •   John Greening writes: Just before Christmas, the death was announced of American poet, novelist, editor and teacher, David Wagoner (1926–2021). An extraordinarily productive writer, who published his first collection in 1953 and his last fifty-nine years later, it seems apt that he is especially known for ‘Staying Alive’. That poem’s instruction-manual tone became a trademark, and Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems (1999) is full of such openings as: ‘To walk downhill you must...’

Although he grew up during the Depression in industrial Ohio, Wagoner settled in Washington State, where he worked with Theodore Roethke, whom he considered a role model and whose notebooks he would edit. The influence is evident in poems about his father (and ‘The Journey’ could be from The Far Field), but Wagoner forged his own brand of eco-poetry. Invariably centred on Pacific Northwest landscapes and wildlife, it is timely and readable but seldom comfortable  (vertigo, encounters with bears...).

Wagoner did not court disorder and he is missing from key anthologies whose editors favoured something less well balanced. Anger comes readily when writing about his father, but also on environmental matters – e.g. his furious addresses ‘to Weyerhaeuser, the Tree-Growing Company’. But his strongest instinct was to laugh, as in ‘For a Woman Who Phoned Poetry Northwest Thinking It Was Poultry Northwest’ (Wagoner edited the former distinguished magazine for years).  Indeed, he was a true entertainer, a gift perhaps inherited from his opera-singer mother, and had been a practising stage magician – experience which fed into his novel The Escape Artist, filmed by Coppola.  

In later years Wagoner wrote elegiacally of love and fatherhood – two daughters arrived in his seventies, two collections in his eighties – softening the severity, reflecting rather than instructing. And all the while one of his very earliest poems was going viral (‘Stand still’ it begins) after Oprah Winfrey recited it online: without his knowledge, ‘Lost’ began to appear on T-shirts, in sermons and set to music.  Thus the poet becomes his admirers.

Edmund Keeley   •   The leading translator of modern Greek poetry Edmund Keeley (who was also a novelist, teacher and poet) died on 23 February at the age of ninety­-four. An obituary note will appear in PNR 265.

This item is taken from PN Review 264, Volume 48 Number 4, March - April 2022.

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