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This item is taken from PN Review 273, Volume 50 Number 1, September - October 2023.

News & Notes
The Joan Margarit International Poetry Award • In late July King Philip of Spain launched at the Cervantes Institute, New York, the Joan Margarit International Poetry Award, which will become a key prize on the calendar. Sharon Olds at eighty, with a tremendous haul of awards (Pulitzer, National Book Critics’ Circle etc) already on her mantle shelf, is the first recipient. The poet who made a tearful Laura Bush face the human horrors of the Iraq War by publicly rejecting her invitation to the National Book Festival in Washington with a manifesto declaration, herself wept with emotion on receiving it. The purpose of the award was, the King declared, to acknowledge the ‘profound personal impact that poetry can produce on its readers’. Note, he used the word readers and did not mention audiences. Olds translated the eponymous Catalan poet Joan Margarit and was a key advocate of his work. He also translated her. There was something appropriate – ‘symmetrical’, said one attendee – in that Margarit was returning in spirit the favour of her devotion and skill, and the King was delivering it to her. ‘Joan Margarit’s work is fierce, and it is partisan’, Olds declared when she introduced him to anglophone readers. ‘It is on the side of fresh perception. He’s a fierce protector of his precise truth, like the bees – like a big bee – with honey. His abstractions and his daily objects are given to the reader with equal, deft, homemade tenderness and brio.’

Two-timing Márquez with Cervantes • Edith Grossman, whose acclaimed translations of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes raised the profile of the often-downplayed role of the translator, died in early autumn, aged eighty-seven. Described as ‘an earthy, tough New Yorker who was known as “Edie”’, she started translating Latin American and Spanish authors when literary translation was not considered a worthy academic discipline. In her book Why Translation Matters (2010), she saw the translator ‘not as the weary journeyman of the publishing world, but as a living bridge between two realms of discourse, two realms of experience, and two sets of readers’. Her name was to appear on the cover of any book she translated, alongside that of the author. Her amazing Don Quixote was published in 2003 and remains an ineradicable achievement. She also held out for adequate remuneration for translators. A translator was, in her view, engaged in creative activity, and the ear played a key role. ‘I think of the author’s voice and the sound of the text, then of my obligation to hear both as clearly and profoundly as possible,’ she declared in Why Translation Matters, adding ‘and finally of my equally pressing need to speak the voice in a second language.’ Her Márquez sounds very different from her Cervantes. It is not merely a matter of period and country. It has to do with the different dynamics of their imaginations, their tones, their imagined and actual readerships. She also found the voices of Isabel Allende, Carlos Fuentes and Laura Esquivel.

Edith Grossman translated Don Quixote over two years, loving every minute. ‘Going to the seventeenth century with Cervantes was like going there with Shakespeare, sheer joy.’ From the hands of the King of Spain she received the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Civil Merit. García Márquez accused her of ‘two-timing me with Cervantes’.

Sleeping athletes • Keith Waldrop, who died in late July at the age of ninety, won the National Book Award for poetry in 2009 for Transcendental Studies: A trilogy, having first been nominated forty years earlier. He taught at Brown University for four decades and was a celebrated poet, translator (mainly from the French), collagist and, with his wife Rosmarie, a distinguished publisher. In an interview with the radio show ‘Close Listening’, he remarked that some of his poems came about as his collages did, despite the differences in the creative processes. ‘I’ve never felt that they quite go together, the verbal collages that I do and the visual collages […] But I enjoy doing both of them, so I do them.’ In the early 1960s he founded the magazine Burning Deck which he soon co-edited with Rosmarie, turning it into an acclaimed independent publishing house. It started with an old letterpress, bought for $175, which accompanied them on their move from Michigan to Connecticut in 1964. Waldrop started teaching at Brown University. Ben Lerner recalled taking one of his courses. The class was ‘composed, on the one hand, of young writers eager to listen to one of the best-read humans on the planet talk about literature, and, on the other, of sleeping athletes who knew Waldrop pretty much gave everybody an A’.

Gboyega Odubanjo • Lisa Kelly wrote to us: I am sure you know about the passing of Gboyega Odubanjo, and the impact it has had on the poetry community. He touched so many people and was in such high demand within diverse groups and organisations within the poetry world. Everyone’s thoughts are with his family and friends.

It is a very difficult time for the Magma team. He has been my Co-Chair since 2020 and joined the board in 2019 when he co-edited the Act Your Age issue, going on to co-edit the Obsidian Issue with its focus on Black writers. I wrote a newsletter which I would like to share with you after the Magma board met last Friday to mourn and share our grief. We are still reeling.

I had the pleasure of hosting Gboyega at the Torriano Meeting House on Sunday 15 December 2019, and paired him, providentially, with Joe Carrick-Varty. It was their first meeting and they established such a connection that on the way home Joe invited him to co-edit bath magg. This is how his presence was felt – people wanted him in their lives, both working and social, for his exceptional poetic skill, talent with people and all-round niceness.

The Magma blog contains valuable information about the man and his achievements. ‘Everyone he met was touched by his lovely warmth and presence. And everyone who experienced his poetry in performance or through his pamphlets, While I Yet Live (Bad Betty Press) and Aunty Uncle Poems (Smith/Doorstop Books), which won the 2020 Poetry Business New Poet’s Prize, was amazed by his talent, and looking forward to his first full collection, Adam, out with Faber next year. Gboyega, as Magma Co-Chair, was appreciated for his wise head, his generous outlook, and his positive attitude. […] It is impossible to comprehend his passing at such a young age – only twenty-seven – but it is possible to carry on his legacy, which we, like many others, will strive to do. His sister, Rose Odubanjo, has set up a fundraiser to establish the Gboyega Odubanjo Foundation for low-income Black writers; at the time of writing, this is well on its way to reaching its £70,000 target which will, no doubt, be exceeded.’

Serious playfulness • Robert Hampson writes: The poet Gavin Selerie died in July. He was born in Hampstead in 1949, the son of a wine merchant and recent war-hero. The Selerie family came to London from northern Italy around 1880 and ran a restaurant in Wardour Street. The appreciation of good wine was a family legacy which Gavin happily accepted. Muriel Lee, his mother, worked for a film company in Wardour Street before her marriage and also appeared in advertising films for Spectator Short Films. Her maternal grandfather and uncle, William Henry Grimwood and Herbert Henry Grimwood, were successively principal instructors at the School of Art Wood-Carving, South Kensington.

Gavin Selerie was educated at Haileybury School, and subsequently at Lincoln College, Oxford, and the University of York, where he undertook research on Renaissance literature. He was involved with the counterculture from 1966–76 and in the 1980s was one of the main poetry reviewers for the London listings magazine City Limits. His earliest published poetry dates from 1972, and his major books after that are Azimuth (1984), Roxy (1996), LeFanu’s Ghost (2006) and Hariot Double (2016). He also published Days of ’49 (1999) with the poet and visual artist Alan Halsey (1949–2022). They had first met in the late 1970s and they regularly collaborated thereafter: Halsey produced the cover and section plates for Azimuth; they collaborated with David Annwn and others on Danse Macabre (1997) and The Canting Academy (2008); and Halsey had a graphic input into Hariot Double. Selerie favoured long forms, volume-length sequences conceived of as research projects, where original academic research was combined with formal inventiveness and a serious playfulness. LeFanu’s Ghost was based on research into the complicated Sheridan and LeFanu families, while Hariot Double brought together Gavin’s wide-ranging knowledge of the Renaissance, his love of music and his fascination with London by juxtaposing the Renaissance polymath Thomas Hariot and the jazz saxophonist Joe Harriott. Thomas Hariot was a mathematician and astronomer who travelled with Walter Raleigh to the New World; Joe Harriott travelled the other way – from Kingston, Jamaica, to the London jazz scene of the 1950s and 1960s. There were also shorter sequences such as Elizabethan Overhang (1989) and Tilting Square (1992), and his Collected Sonnets were published by Shearsman in 2019. Between 1979 and 1983, Selerie conducted the Riverside Interviews, a series of book-length interviews with poets and playwrights (from Allen Ginsberg and Jerome Rothenberg through to Tom McGrath). He published critical work on poetry, beginning with a study of Charles Olson in 1980, as well as two interviews with Ed Dorn (2013) and essays on Pound and contemporary poetry.

Tobias Hill • Just as this issue of PN Review was going to press we learned of the death on 26 August of Tobias Hill, at the age of fifty-three. His agent Victoria Hobbs at A.M. Heath said, ‘The precision of the poetry fed the prose in a deeply satisfying way’. Latterly he was more celebrated for his prose than his poems, especially The Love of Stones, described by his editor Paul Baggaley as ‘a wonderful novel which followed the story of a legendary jewel across continents and centuries, and genres, and was typical of his fiction as a whole – atmospheric, dexterous and always engaged with the world and its secrets’. Twenty years ago, his future as a poet seemed assured. In 2004 he was selected as one of the country’s Next Generation poets and shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 1995.

Writing from Wales • Carole Strachan has been named Seren Publisher’s new chief executive following the retirement of long-term publisher Mick Felton. Seren means ‘star’ in Welsh. It is a leading independent publishing house specialising in English-language writing from Wales. The press was founded by Cary Archard in 1981. Strachan’s experience with the National Trust and other charities, and her work in theatre and music, most recently as chief executive of the contemporary opera company, Music Theatre Wales, make her an unusually suitable candidate. She is also a published writer, her third novel due from Cinnamon Press in 2024. Strachan’s appointment, Seren said, ‘marks the beginning of an exciting new phase for Seren. Under her leadership, we will continue to champion writers and books from Wales, while also exploring new opportunities for the business’.

This item is taken from PN Review 273, Volume 50 Number 1, September - October 2023.

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