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This item is taken from PN Review 268, Volume 49 Number 2, November - December 2022.

News & Notes
In Search of Enheduanna, the Woman Who Was History’s First Named Author • ‘She Who Wrote’, an exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum, New York, until 19 February, explores the world of an ancient Mesopotamian priestess who wrote with ‘a strikingly personal voice’. This is the farewell exhibition by Sidney Babcock, the longtime curator of ancient Near Eastern antiquities. ‘Ask people who the first author was, and they might say Homer, or Herodotus. People have no idea. They simply don’t believe it could be a woman’ – and she was writing more than a millennium before either of them. ‘Enheduanna’s work celebrates the gods and the power of the Akkadian empire, which ruled present-day Iraq from about 2350 B.C. to 2150 B.C. But it also describes more sordid, earthly matters, including her abuse at the hands of a corrupt priest – ‘the first reference to sexual harassment in world literature’ according to the show. ‘It’s the first time someone steps forward and uses the first-person singular and gives an autobiography,’ the curator said. She was discovered in 1927 by excavators in Ur, daughter of the king Sargon of Akkad, wife of the moon god Nanna and a priestess. Her surviving work includes forty-two temple hymns and three stand-alone poems pieced together from more than 100 surviving copies made on clay tablets.


Remembering the Mexican poet David HuertaAdriana Díaz Enciso writes: On 3 October this year, just a few days before his seventy-third birthday, the Mexican poet David Huerta passed away. It’s impossible to overstate the dimensions of the loss that his death means for poetry> in the Spanish-speaking world, for contemporary poetry as a whole, and for cultural life in Mexico – particularly poignant when independent thought in that country is under siege from the paranoid chambers at Palacio Nacional.

Huerta was born on 8 October 1949, the third child of Efraín Huerta, a major poet himself from the generation formed around the Taller magazine, which was so influential in shaping Mexico’s contemporary letters. To follow his vocation as a poet with such an imposing figure as a father was no mean challenge, but David rose to it fearlessly, developing a wholly personal voice nurtured by his voracious reading of diverse traditions, and invigorating the Latin American neo-baroque movement.

His earlier books distinguished him as an outstanding poet, but his consolidation came with Incurable (1987), a 389-page vertiginous descent into the underworld; a portent of imagery and daring where consciousness and language, on the edge of delirium, struggle to apprehend reality. Huerta continued to grow as a poet and critic, with each of his more than twenty books a renewed attempt at subverting language to express the ordeal and wonder of being human and spiritual in a material world. Huerta received all major Mexican awards. Poets of younger generations used to approach him with awe, but he put them at ease with his curiosity, modesty and humour. An indefatigable teacher of poetry, loved by several generations of students, and a generous champion of colleagues and younger authors, he taught us how to read the poets of the Spanish Siglo de Oro, how to read Neruda and, mostly, how to read the world as a poet.

Being a committed left-winger didn’t impair his critical insight into the flaws of the left or right. It was as a poet and not as an ideologue that he wrote about the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre (which he survived, having been demonstrating in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas that fateful 2 October) and the disappearance of the fortythree Ayotzinapa students in 2014. His columns in the Mexican press up to the week of his death were an invigorating source of lucid thought, of illuminations on poetry, as well as an uncompromising interrogation of the status quo. He died as a voice dissenting from the current López Obrador’s government.

With his surviving wife, the author Verónica Murguía, he established a stronghold of love and loyalty ever revolving around the passion for literature.

‘I appeared in the blood of October’ – the poem on the Tlatelolco massacre (in Mark Schafer’s translation) begins. It was, however, in the light of October that David Huerta was born, and in that light he’s left us mourning him, yet celebrating the inexhaustible wealth of his work and the memories of a generous friend and teacher.


Venezuelan poet Rafael Cárdenas awarded the 2022 Cervantes Prize • Born in 1930, Rafael Cárdenas has been a brave poet, staying in his native country through political thick and (mainly) thin, a figure of the left who has watched the left consume itself time after time, writing poetry, aphorisms, essays and autobiography in ways that illuminate his country’s history, a series of hopes and wakes. The Premio Cervantes is among the key awards for Spanish literature, and Cárdenas follows in the (recent) illustrious company of the Uruguayans Ida Vitale and Cristina Peri Rossi, and the Spaniards Joan Margarit and Francisco Brines.

In recent decades, one eulogist declared, the presence of Cárdenas denas has acquired an almost heroic moral weight in his country. Like his Cuban laureate predecessor Dulce María Loynaz, he decided to stay at home, choosing an inner exile, manifesting his dissidence. In 2014 he emerged from retirement and gave a reading in Caracas on behalf of political detainees oppressed under the Nicolás Maduro regime, and in memory of those who had died in the troubles of that eventful year. During this period he referred to Hugo Chávez and then to Maduro as ‘that man’, refusing to use their names. The writer has not been applauded or acknowledged by the political or cultural authorities on his reception of the award, a neglect for which he is clearly grateful.


Edwin Morgan redivivusA.B. Jackson writes: Back in 1986, Scottish poet Alexander Hutchison (only two years back on home turf, after living and teaching on Vancouver Island since graduating from the University of Aberdeen in 1966) brought his enthusiasm for poetry-audio projects to the Edinburgh scene to which he was acclimatising. With his Uher 4200 Report Monitor (two 5” reels, 1/4” tape) he began recording poetry readings at the School of Scottish Studies and one-to-one sessions in poets’ homes, to launch a ‘cassette magazine’ called Bonfire. Only one cassette was ever produced, featuring Norman MacCaig and Hamish Henderson among others. As the literary editor and archivist of the Hutchison estate I was given access to a pile of his CDs, one of which contained all the original reel-to-reel recordings from 1986–88 converted into MP3 files. Among them, a 25-minute recording of Edwin Morgan reading at his home in Whittingehame Court, Glasgow, 4 May 1988, which was never used. Newly edited to omit coughing fits and false starts, it is finally available to hear at www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLALODXRymk.


David Scott (1947–2022)Neil Astley writes: We are saddened by news of the death of poet and priest David Scott, aged seventy-five. David was renowned for his dedication to both vocations. He was being cared for at the Gilling Reane Care Home in Kendal in Cumbria where he had been living since 2019 after falling ill with Alzheimer’s disease. Before he died – just before dawn on Friday 21 October – his wife Miggy and children Adam and Lucy played a chant for the Nunc Dimittis familiar to all of them: ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy Word’, then ‘grant us a quiet night and a perfect end’. They said their goodbyes ‘to the gentlest and best of men’ with priest Angela Whittaker from St Mark’s Church, Natland, where he is to be buried.

Norman Nicholson wrote that ‘David Scott belongs firmly to the long tradition of parson-poets that goes back at least as far as George Herbert… For all their reticence, there is a compassion in these poems and a sense of propriety.’ Springing from ordinary events, or a picture, or an aspect of the priestly life, David Scott’s beautifully restrained poems work up the detail into a moment of significance. They are rooted in an English culture which is found not only in locality, but also in understatement, and the sideways look. But his poetry has wider reverberations, exploring spirituality and ways of praying as well as momentary glimpses of meaning caught in everyday life.

In 1978 David Scott won the Sunday Times/BBC national poetry competition with his poem ‘Kirkwall Auction Mart’. A Quiet Gathering, his first book of poems, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 1984, and won him the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1986. His second collection, Playing for England (Bloodaxe, 1989) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Both books were illustrated by Graham Arnold of the Brotherhood of Ruralists. The poems from the two collections were republished with new work in David Scott’s Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 1998), and followed by Piecing Together in 2005. His retrospective, Beyond the Drift: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2014), drew on his four previous Bloodaxe titles, with the addition of a whole collection of new poems.


Ruth Bidgood (1922–2022)John Greening writes: Any poet approaching their centenary loses some readers, but Ruth Bidgood’s was once a familiar name – especially as a woman poet in the 1970s, which was when her first three collections appeared. If bookshops outside Wales were more likely to stock Pitter or Fainlight, at home she was popular and would eventually be honoured by the Welsh Academy and Aberystwyth University as well as featuring in the prestigious Writers of Wales series. A glance at her 2004 New & Selected (from Seren, like much of her work) reveals preoccupations not dissimilar to Gillian Clarke’s, with something of R.S.Thomas (for whom she wrote the elegy, ‘Bereft’). Although she was not a confident Welsh speaker, Welsh themes – people and especially places – dominate her collections from The Given Time (1972) to Time Being (2009) and all the late pamphlets.

Born near Neath, Ruth Bidgood read English at Oxford before joining the ‘Wrens’ as a decoder – chiefly in Alexandria – and later worked on Chambers’s Encyclopaedia. But her poetry, when it emerged (in Coulsdon, which she left for Wales after a marriage breakdown), would need no encyclopaedia and little deciphering: accessible, economical, with spiritual reach, it offered an unforced lyricism and a variety of voices, finely crafted though formally unambitious. She could be anecdotal but not confessional, keeping herself in the background, preferring to look closely, to speculate and remember, elegizing landscapes, recalling the folklore of hawthorn or a fifth-century legend. There is the occasional celebration of ‘now’: a ‘Church in the Rain’, an ‘Earth Tremor’ or eclipse, a watched hare, a ‘Sheep in the Hedge’(‘that woolly maniac would hate you/if she had any consciousness to spare/from panic.’). R.S. Thomas found his bright field; Bidgood catches one that’s ‘an odd shape’ and ponders its history. Indeed, she produced some admired local histories, but it is the poetry that distinguishes her.


...imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal... • Professor Sunny Singh, novelist and academic, was nominated for a place on the executive of the Society of Authors. She is reported as having tweeted in 2020: ‘I get regular invites to debate on various platforms. I always say no. Because debate is an imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal technique that transforms a potential exchange of knowledge into a tool of exclusion & oppression.’ 

This item is taken from PN Review 268, Volume 49 Number 2, November - December 2022.



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