Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Helbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PN Review 276
PN Review Substack

This item is taken from PN Review 144, Volume 28 Number 4, March - April 2002.

News & Notes
Following the sudden death of W.G. SEBALD, in a car crash in Norfolk, PN Review commemorates his life with the following two contributions. W.G. Sebald, who was Professor of European Literature at the University of East Anglia, was also a distinguished poet and critic, but is now most well-known for the semi-fictional prose he began to write in his forties. The Emigrants, which appeared in 1996, was his first major success; his most recent publication was Austerlitz (2001).

W.G. Sebald

Still stunned by his sudden death, I can't write anything as public as an obituary for W.G. Sebald the author, or Max, my friend. Nor would he have wished me to, knowing that I've dropped out of literary criticism and never wrote about his books in his lifetime, beyond a little note attached to an extract from my translation of his long poem After Nature. That he was a writer unlike any other, therefore irreplaceable, was generally and internationally recognised ever since the publication of his unclassifiable prose works, if not that of the earlier 'elemental poem', as he called it, just as unclassifiable, in 1988. A proof of the English version of that poem with the virtues of his prose was in the post to him and me for a last revision at the moment of his death; and on top of a pile of unopened mail on a table in his house I saw the letter I'd written to make arrangements for this joint finalisation of the text.

That was after his funeral service in a little Norman church within walking distance of his house. The service was Anglican, as brief and unceremonious as he had wished it to be, and as private, confined to his family and a few invited friends. There, too, nothing was said about his eminence as a writer or teacher. The hymns were sung - only two Schubert songs, unaccompanied, by his brother-in-law, a secular song and the 'Ave Maria'. After the service and burial, brief poems, those about death by allusion, ellipsis and sardonic understatement - the humour that made this collector of existential extremities accessible to more British readers than he is likely to have had without it - or without the sharp, loving eye for seemingly trivial minutiae so rarely combined with a panoptic, visionary momentum, as in him.

In all his works, not excluding the studies, not yet translated, or writers mainly Austrian or Allemanic, Max wrote as a voluntary immigrant, as much at home in his adopted country - or anywhere - as in his peripherally German native region, to which he remained attached by biographical and family - not national - ties. The little Norman church, of course, had been Roman Catholic before it was Anglican. The house he had made his home was a former rectory. His last resting-place, therefore, accords as well as any other that could have been chosen with Max's peripatetic writings and the magnanimous imagination, sympathies, affinities and curiosities from which they sprang. So did the unceremoniousness and privacy of his exit.

What no one present at his funeral will yet be able to accept or understand is its suddenness, the abrupt termination of a life and work so intricately rich that it seemed to call for a long continuation. Max may have known better, as his minimal last poem suggests. There was so much he knew at which he only hinted, so much that can never be told.


Three Sightings of W.G. Sebald

In the Jolly Sailor, you prod at skate and chips,
Having just been ferried back from 'the island' -
Now visitable though not demystified:
There's strange abandonedness at ShingleStreet,
But nowhere hugs its secrecy like this.
You look weary. Skate's a difficult fish.


In the Jubilee Hall, you read from TheRings of Saturn
As if you'd written it in English; are coy
About translators. The first questioner wants to know
Why the pages of his copy have come loose.
I think of Alfred Brendel, Michael Hamburger:
These twinkling Germanic melancholics!


In the darkest corner of a Bungay junk-shop,
You carefully leaf through the sepia postcards
As if they tell your story: which they do.
These images meld into narrative;
The narrative enacts your images.
Mind-traveller, time-traveller, you are the alchemist.


The Canadian poet ANNE CARSON was awarded the £10,000 T.S. Eliot prize for poetry on 21 January, for her collection The Beauty of the Husband, published by Cape. Carson, whose work has already been widely acclaimed in Canada, is the first woman ever to win the prize.

ELAINE FEINSTEIN and other British authors are to appear at the New Zealand Writers' and Readers' week (12-17 March) in Wellington, New Zealand. Feinstein will read from her forthcoming Collected Poems and Translations on 13 March at 5pm, and will also take part in other events throughout the week.

New poetry magazine The Paper launches its third issue in March, including work by Geraldine Monk, Steve Benson and Frances Presley. Issues, which are themed, cost £2.50 and are available from 29 Vickers Road, Firth Park, Sheffield, S5 6UY. (Cheques should be made payable to D.G. Kennedy.) Previous numbers have included poems by David Kinloch, W.N. Herbert and Peter Riley.

The autumn 2001 issue of Books from Finland includes two short stories by Moomins author TOVE JANSSON, who died last year. New modernised translations of Moomin books have recently appeared in the UK and in Germany. The UK translation has been adapted into rhyming couplets by the British poet Sophie Hannah.

Major articles in the broadsheets and a posthumous interview in the London Review of Books followed the death of the poet and critic IAN HAMILTON, who died in December at the age of sixty-three. Hamilton founded the poetry magazine the Review in 1962, when he was still only twenty-four. After its collapse in 1972, he went on to edit The New Review, which published early work by writers and poets such as Ian McEwan, Sean O'Brien, Tom Paulin and Andrew Motion. Hamilton's biographies of Robert Lowell and J.D. Salinger achieved popular success, as did his later books about Paul Gascoigne, Gazza Agonistes and Gazza Italia. He reviewed regularly throughout his career, and wrote poems intermittently. His last publication, Matthew Arnold, appeared in 1998.

PN Review proposes to publish a selection of poems by ANDREW WATERHOUSE in a forthcoming issue. Waterhouse, who died in October 2001 at the age of forty-three, won the Forward Prize for best first poetry collection in 2000 for his collection In. He had recently been appointed Writer in Residence at Northumbria University.

LÉOPOLD SENGHOR, who was the first president of Senegal as well as a political poet, died on 20 December at the age of ninety- five. Senghor, who wrote in French, published his first collection, Chants D'Ombre, in 1945. In the early 1940s he was held as a French prisoner of war and the poems in Hosties Noires, his second collection, were largely composed in captivity. After the war, he took an active part in the political process that led Senegal to achieve independence from France in 1960. He continued to write throughout his life and was made a member of the Academie Française in 1983.

JACK BEECHING, who was known as a poet as well as a novelist and historian, died on 27 December 2001 aged seventy-nine. His poetry was first published in 1970, in the Penguin Modern Poets series, and his other publications include The Chinese Opium Wars (1975), An Open Path (1982) and The Galleys of Lepanto (1982). He helped to found the literary magazine Arena and contributed journalism and essays to a number of other newspapers and periodicals throughout his life. His poems were collected in 2001 in Poems 1940-2000.

AGHA SHAHID ALI, who was shortlisted for the 2001 National Book Award in Poetry for his collection Rooms Are Never Finished (Norton, 2001) has died of cancer at the age of fifty-two. Ali grew up in Kashmir and was educated in the United States, where he lived from 1975 onwards. He published eight collections of poems, and a new book is due to be published by Norton in 2003. Ali's major themes are love, friendship and conflict. An extended tribute to him, edited by Yerra Sugarman, is due to be published in Ratapallax later this year.

News & Notes compiled by SARAH RIGBY.

This item is taken from PN Review 144, Volume 28 Number 4, March - April 2002.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
Searching, please wait... animated waiting image