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This item is taken from PN Review 277, Volume 50 Number 5, May - June 2024.

News & Notes
Marjorie PerloffJames Campbell writes: Marjorie Perloff, who has died aged ninety-two, was an unrelenting champion of the New, in literature, in art, and most other things. When it came to aesthetic appreciation, however, she was a defender of traditional critical values and a sworn foe of the modern – but not Modernist – trend of identity approval. Marjorie had just turned seventy when I invited her to write for the TLS. I did so after reading her letter to the editor of the London Review of Books, critical of remarks in its symposium on the attacks of September 11, 2001. She proceeded to write one TLS review after another, fuelled by close reading, on subjects ranging from D.H. Lawrence to Concrete Poetry, Hart Crane to Tom Raworth. To borrow a term from popular music, Marjorie’s reviews had ‘attack’. She was a generous critic, though never afraid to go on the attack in the more usual sense.

In her final decade, Marjorie published several books, among them a study of writers of the Austrian diaspora (Edge of Irony), a two-volume collection of her reviews (Circling the Canon), and her final and most surprising success, a translation of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Private Notebooks: 1914–1916, warmly received on publication in 2022. Her first book, Frank O’Hara: Poet among the Painters (1977), was the earliest study of the poet.

She was a vigorous correspondent – not lower-case jottings, but opinionated letters (though the medium was email), often containing stories about the good and the great of American poetry. Knowing my interest in the Black Mountain poets, she recalled how, in 1976, she organized a series of readings near her home in Los Angeles with Edward Dorn and Robert Duncan, among others. ‘Dorn turned out to be great company and interesting, but Duncan was impossible. He was on the wagon (so he said), until he started drinking everything and anything he found in the bar, talking non stop about Baudelaire, theosophy – anything. There was something so pre-Raphaelite about him that made me, as a Modernist, nervous.’

She left Austria in 1938 at the age of six. Her memoir, The Vienna Paradox, recounted the travails of family upheaval as the Nazi threat rose. Whenever she found herself at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Marjorie wrote, ‘or Euston Station in London or the Gare du Nord in Paris, I feel unaccountably sad’. She attributed this ‘train phobia’ to the night of 13 March 1938, ‘the night I left Vienna for Zurich on the train’.

Marjorie’s directness was part of her charm. When I was in Los Angeles in 2008, on commission from the Guardian to profile Gore Vidal, she picked me up at the (I thought) pleasant hotel where I was staying in Hollywood. Stepping inside for a moment, she looked around and said, ‘Can’t the Guardian do better than this?’ After lunch at the Beverley Hills Hotel, she drove me to her house in Pacific Palisades, a splendid place in a natural dip, surrounded by trees. ‘And this is the Pound room’, Marjorie said, gesturing towards book-lined walls.

In my last email, sent a few days before she died, in the knowledge that the end was imminent, I wrote: ‘I loved working with you as editor to writer. I used to say, “When a book has been reviewed by Marjorie, it knows it has been reviewed.”’

Alan BrownjohnMaren Meinhardt writes: The poet Alan Brownjohn died on 23 February in London at the age of ninety-two. He was the poetry editor of the New Statesman (1968–74), chaired the Poetry Society (1982–8), and worked as the poetry critic for the Sunday Times for more than two decades.

Influenced by the poets of the Movement, and a member of The Group clustered around Philip Hobsbaum, he once said of his work, ‘I write nothing without hoping it might make the world one grain better – a pompous statement which, I suppose, makes me a moralist as a writer, a humanist one.’ This social engagement was not confined to his writing: he contested the seat of Richmond for the Labour Party (unsuccessfully), campaigned for nuclear disarmament, and backed the republication of James Kirkup’s poem ‘The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name’, which had been found to be blasphemous in a private prosecution brought by Mary Whitehouse.

Brownjohn loved cats – ‘A Bad Cat Poem’ is, ostensibly, about a couple’s failure to teach a cat how to use a cat flap. It was an expression, perhaps, of his non-conformist leanings that his own cat should have been a Manx cat. The collection Ludbrooke & Others appeared in 2010, when Brownjohn was in his seventies, and is perhaps the culmination of the best tendencies in his work. Widely admired, it concerns the progress of Ludbrooke in love, rejection and the hope – against experience – of worldly success and, perhaps even more importantly, of cutting a dash. Most of the sonnets are made up of thirteen lines. As Kit Wright put it in the eulogy on his friend delivered at the funeral, they are like cats without a tail.

Brownjohn’s unorthodox tendencies carried over into the sartorial realm. In later years, he developed a fondness for wearing suits in a range of alarming pastel shades, of which I remember, in particular, the lilac and the pink. This made him easy to spot at literary parties, where he was a fixture, and where his gently-amused, friendly presence will be missed.

The kitchen of our childhood • Patrick McGuinness writes: The poet Guy Goffette died in Namur on 28 March at the age of seventy-six. Born in Jamoigne, in the Belgian Lorraine in 1947, he was brought up in a working-class rural family near three borders: Belgium, France and Luxembourg. After his studies at the Ecole normale in Arlon, where he was inspired to write poetry by his tutor, Vital Lahaye, he became a schoolteacher in Rouvroy. In 1969 he published his first volume of poems, Quotidien rouge, and began what would become a lifelong association with what is called, in French, ‘l’édition’. He began editing, in 1980, the literary review Triangle, and took on L’Apprentypographe, a limited edition press publishing fine books on fine paper, which Goffette himself typeset.

The book that brought him to the notice of the French literary establishment was Eloge pour une cuisine de Province, which appeared in 1988 from Champ Vallon and won him the Prix Mallarmé. His next book, La Vie promise, appeared in 1991 from Gallimard, where, after giving up school-teaching, he became an editor and a member of the editorial board. He was a prolific poet, producing more than a dozen volumes, but he also wrote livres d’artistes, pamphlets and several volumes of prose, including, in 1996, his Verlaine d’ardoise et de pluie, a short and haunting experiment in biographical writing, a novel about Bonnard, and, in 2013, a lightly fictionalised autobiographical novel about his brutal, taciturn father, Geronimo a mal au dos, a sequel to his earlier Un été autour du cou (2001).

Goffette’s work is known for its lyricism and its virtuosic but never forced mastery of a range of tones and modes as well as verse forms. Like Verlaine, he believed that poetry must remain faithful to the idea of voice, and there is a quality of spokenness to all his work, however learned or allusive, which gives it a unique warmth. Yves Bonnefoy wrote of him:
Goffette is an heir to Verlaine. A poet who very courageously has decided to remain faithful to his own personal life, in its humblest moments. He keeps things simple, he is marvellously able to capture the emotions and desires common to us all. Goffette is without question one of the best poets of the present moment in France.
A popular and approachable poet, he was also, in his way, a ‘poet’s poet’, despite steering clear of cliques and cénacles. Among the many prizes he won, of particular note are the Grand prix de poésie de l’Académie
francaise, the Prix Goncourt de la poésie and the Prix Max-Jacob in France, and the Prix Victor-Rossel and the Prix Félix-Denayer in Belgium.

Goffette thought of himself as always en partance, about to leave, and en lisière, on the margins. In 2020 he published Pain perdu, a volume in which – after a stroke and during Covid, and unable to write new poems – he revisited and retouched old drafts and aborted versions of old poems, and turned them into a book. The title – ‘French Toast’ would be the name in English – refers to stale bread that is dipped in egg, cooked and served with sugar as a treat. In a moving interview for TV Lux, Goffette spoke of how he returned to these poems at a time of exhaustion and illness, when he thought he had nothing left ‘in the kitchen cupboard’, and how, with a bit of invention and a few extra ingredients (time being one of them) he made new dishes. It would have been a symbolic and fitting last volume, but his next book, Paris à ma porte, appeared in 2023. Also in 2023, Éditions Labor in Belgium published a substantial Selected Poems under the title L’Oiseau de craie.

‘We all one day return to the kitchen of our childhood’, wrote Goffette. When he retired from Gallimard and came back to live in Belgium, in the Gaume of his childhood, he bought a house in the small town of Lacuisine. It is uncannily fitting for a poet who bridged the distance between the country and the city, the French metropolis and the Belgian terroir, the kitchen and the salon.

The Open Text • The death at the age of eighty-two of the poet Lyn Hejinian was announced in late March. Her revolutionary moment began in the 1960s when, as writer, publisher and university teacher, she was a central figure in the development of the Language Poetry Movement, initially a challenge to received conventions, in due course itself a convention.

Its anti-confessional polemic, tilting against the ‘confessional’ poetic perspectives of Robert Lowell and John Berryman, among others, produced a wealth of theoretical and creative work. The first person became a vexed zone for the poet to occupy. Language writing developed in San Francisco and New York City and featured poets including Rae Armantrout, Carla Harryman, Ron Silliman and Charles Bernstein. Hejinian set up Tuumba Press around a manual letterpress machine to showcase Language writing. Gertrude Stein was a chief influence, and on the theoretical side Roland Barthes. The poems featured were, in Bernstein’s words, ‘as much about how they make meaning as what they mean’. ‘Often the poems evaded any direct message in favour of an attention to the language of the poem and its sonic rhythms.’

Under the influence of the anti-Vietnam war, civil rights and feminist movements, Hejinian and other poets advocated writing ‘that allows for a multiplicity of points of view and meanings’, as though this was something entirely new. Her essay ‘The Rejection of Closure’ (1983) was a key text for these poets. ‘The open text is one which both acknowledges the vastness of the world and is formally differentiating. It is form that provides an opening.’ In rejecting closure, ‘the writer relinquishes total control and challenges authority as a principle and control as a motive’. Language writing ‘resists the cultural tendencies that seek to identify and fix material and turn it into a product; that is, it resists reduction and commodification’.

Hejinian liked being an insider/outsider, a ‘maverick’: ‘We attended and participated in poetry readings that took place two or three or sometimes four times a week, talked until late at night at bars, launched literary journals, hosted radio shows, curated readings and lecture series’, she declared in 2020. ‘We had very little respect for official academia, which, in turn, had very little respect for us.’ Until it did, and it assimilated the threat that Language writing had seemed to pose. A selection of her essays was published by University of California Press and, while not widely read, her example and and her theory are widely referenced.

Copyright and AI • The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act was adopted with a large majority by the European Parliament on Wednesday 13 March. In California, a US district judge largely sided with OpenAI, dismissing the majority of claims raised by authors alleging that large language models powering ChatGPT were illegally trained on pirated copies of their books, without their permission.

The European legislation proposes basic obligations on the AI firms in the field of copyright. General purpose AI (such as generative AI) is expected to respect copyright law and formally articulate policies to ensure transparency. ‘The EU now has rules that will be a model for the rest of the world. The AI Act recalls basic but fundamental principles that AI companies must respect. They must respect EU copyright law and actively ensure that they do, even if the AI was trained outside of Europe. They will finally have to be transparent on the data used to train their AI, which, to their own admission, relies on the use of copyright protected content.’

The California judge for her part decided that there was insufficient evidence to prove the case, rejecting most ChatGPT copyright claims from book authors. The judge resolved that the distinguished authors behind three separate lawsuits had ‘failed to provide evidence supporting any of their claims except for direct copyright infringement’, surely a sufficient ‘except’ to cast the judgement in doubt. The judge importantly and tendentiously approved OpenAI’s claim that when authors alleged that ‘every’ ChatGPT output ‘is an infringing derivative work’, their case was ‘insufficient’ to sustain an allegation of ‘vicarious infringement, which requires evidence that ChatGPT outputs are “substantially similar” or “similar at all” to authors’ books’. The absence of ‘factual’ evidence weakened the authors’ case.

Positioning itself for the next general election, the Publisher’s Association declared that the value of the publishing sector in the UK was £11 billion to the economy. With greater government backing, this value could increase by 50 percent by 2033. The report specifies ten areas for development which include delivering ‘AI opportunities for the whole economy’. The numbers are impressive:

£11 billion – contribution of UK publishing sector to the UK economy overall
84,000 – number of jobs supported by UK publishing in 2024, which is predicted to grow by 43,000 by 2033
£6.5 billion – gross value added of publishing exports
20 percent – growth in international demand for UK publishing by 2033

The Publishers’ Association has imprinted these statistics on the minds of government and opposition cultural spokespersons.

Yale Young Poet •  In February, Lohn Liles won the 2024 Yale Younger Poets award, a competition that brings attention to America’s promising new poets. Liles is a poet and science writer of ‘dense, sonically gorgeous studies’ of the natural world and of the human heart, described as both ‘scientifically grounded and emotionally engaged’. Liles’s collection is entitled Bees, and after. The selector was Rae Armantrout. Bees, and after will be published by Yale University Press in April 2025.

It is Armantrout’s fourth selection as official selector. The press release says that ‘Liles’s work is predicated on academic and archival research – “a writing process that necessitates achieving an organic/animal understanding of the present surviving phenomenon”. Aiming to establish a new interdisciplinary space between the arts and sciences, Liles holds to a self-established canon where the scientific must remain true.’ He lives in Fort Bragg, California, where ‘he writes and works as the head naturalist at the Pacific Environmental Education Center, a nonprofit organization that provides standards-based, residential marine environmental education programs to schools throughout northern California.’

Incisive ideas and necessary questions • Guernica, a little, distinguished online literary journal, published, and then retracted, a personal essay about coexistence and war in the Middle East by an Israeli writer, leading to resignations by volunteer staff who objected to its publication. The website includes the unambiguous statement, ‘Guernica regrets having published this piece, and has retracted it. A more fulsome explanation will follow.

The essay by Joanna Chen was entitled ‘From the Edges of a Broken World’. Chen is a translator of Hebrew and Arabic poetry and prose. She had written about her experiences trying to bridge the divide with Palestinians, including by volunteering to drive Palestinian children from the West Bank to receive care at Israeli hospitals, and how her efforts to find common ground faltered after Hamas’s attack of 7 October and Israel’s subsequent attacks on Gaza. Among the resignations was that of the former co-publisher, Madhuri Sastry, who said that the essay ‘attempts to soften the violence of colonialism and genocide’. Chen responded in an email that she felt her critics had misunderstood ‘the meaning of my essay, which is about holding on to empathy when there is no human decency in sight. It is about the willingness to listen, and the idea that remaining deaf to voices other than your own won’t bring the solution.’ Chen added that she had worked on the essay – her second for Guernica – with the magazine’s editor in chief and publisher, Jina Moore Ngarambe. Over emails and in a one-hour phone conversation, Chen said, ‘I was offered the distinct impression my essay was appreciated. I was given no indication that the editorial staff was not onboard.’ Ngarambe, who in 2017 and 2018 worked at the New York Times as its East Africa bureau chief, did not reply to requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday.

Summer Lopez, the ‘chief of free expression programs at PEN America’, said ‘a writer’s published work should not be yanked from circulation because it sparks public outcry or sharp disagreement. The pressures on U.S. cultural institutions in this moment are immense. Those with a mission to foster discourse should do so by safeguarding the freedom to write, read, imagine and tell stories.’ Guernica describes its mission to be ‘a home for incisive ideas and necessary questions’.

This item is taken from PN Review 277, Volume 50 Number 5, May - June 2024.

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