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This item is taken from PN Review 148, Volume 29 Number 2, November - December 2002.

News & Notes
IMRE KERTÉSZ , the Hungarian writer born in 1929, an Auschwitz and Buchenwald survivor and the author of a memorable novel about the Holocaust and other books and meditations which touch on that subject and on other political and spiritual themes, has been awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature. At present his work is not published in the United Kingdom and as a result the Press responded to the award in the tersest tones. Kertész was awarded the Brandenburger Literaturpreis in 1995, the Leipziger Buchpreis zur Europäischen Verständigung in 1997 and the WELT-Literaturpreis in 2000. His works in English, available from the United States, include Fateless, translated by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson (Northwestern University Press, 1992) and Kaddish for a Child Not Born, translated by the same team (Hydra Books, 1997).

Urras Shomhairle, the Sorley MacLean Trust, was established in Scotland in 1997 to perpetuate the Gaelic work of SORLEY MACLEAN, and in 2000 it achieved charitable status. To mark its centrality to the Gaelic cause, Seamus Heaney has translated MacLean's greatest poem, Hallaig, in a limited edition, and delivered a lecture entitled 'The Trance and the Translation' at the Screenbase Theatre, Edinburgh.

It was announced in September that the poet EDWARD HIRSCH will assume the presidency of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation starting in January 2003. His predecessor, Joel Conarroe, declared of this unprecedented appointment that Hirsch is 'an articulate champion of what the Guggenheim stands for' and 'an ebullient spirit whose passion for literature is contagious'.

PETER PORTER , who earlier this year received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, has now received the Forward Prize, 'Britain's biggest poetry award', for 2002 (Max Is Missing, Picador). Tom French's Gallery collection Touching the Stones won the Waterstone's prize for Best First Collection. Mebdh McGuckian won the prize for the 'best single poem' for 'She is in the past, she has his grace', published in The Shop magazine. Given the publicity surrounding the Private Eye revelations of the Picador-O'Brien cabal, Porter's victory was not entirely a surprise. The judges' decision was, inevitably, unanimous: any dissent would have re-opened the controversy which, one imagines, is not yet entirely closed. The Guardian declared itself wholly satisfied.

National Poetry Day, according to the Bookseller (11 October 2002), had virtually no effect on poetry sales through the trade. In fact poetry turnover was £11,000 down on last year's National Poetry Day. The revelation that poetry sold only £158,000 in a week will be disheartening to poetry publishers and poets alike. There was some speculation that the publicity surrounding the Forward Prize (focus of National Poetry Day) had affected sales. Certainly Ottakars, one of the most imaginative chains, were unable to report a surge in business despite their strong support for events and their promotion of a series of competitions.

Poets Laureate in the United States have been stirring things up. On 5 October an indignant letter from Heather Blair of Chicago appeared in the New York Times: 'Re "Poet Laureate Stands By Words Against Israel and Won't Step Down" (news article, Oct. 3): I am appalled that New Jersey's Poet Laureate, - AMIRI BARAKA, is using his position to promote that horrid lie that Israelis and Jews working in the World Trade Center were warned of the attack. One look at the obituaries of the victims would show this to be false, but apparently he'd prefer to get his information from scurrilous Internet sources and empty gossip than to talk to the families of the people who were killed.' What did 68-year-old Baraka say? 'They have slandered me. They have created a situation where I will be known and characterised this way for the rest of my life.' Various groups, the Anti-Defamation League included, were on his case after he published his poem 'Somebody Blew Up America', which they characterised as anti- Semitic:

Who knew the World Trade Center
    was gonna get bombed
Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the
    Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away?

Baraka defended himself at the Bowery Poetry Club, insisting that the Israelis and President Bush knew what was about to happen. 'If you don't think President Bush knew, man, you are back in the cartoon days.'

Baraka was appointed Laureate in October of last year, after the poem was published. The Governor who appointed him was unaware of the poem and has asked the poet to resign, which the poet has refused to do. The legislature is trying to give the State Governor powers to fire him.

One effect of the controversy has been to let the world know that New Jersey has a Poet Laureate. In New York the fact that there was a laureate caused almost as much interest as Baraka's statements about September 11. William Carlos Williams, the New Jersey poet who is said to have inspired the idea of a laureateship, declared: 'It is dif- ficult/ to get the news from poems.' Not any more it isn't. Baraka intends to fight for his two-year post: 'If they succeed in duping people with a new cockamamie law,' he said, 'I'll sue them.' The Paulin Palestinian affair was far less emphatic than this shadowbattle.

Another American poet, the first official Laureate of the State of California, has stepped down after admitting to the Archerish charge that he had lied when he claimed on his c.v. that he had graduated from college. QUINCY TROUPE , at the venerable age of 62, was appointed on 11 June by Governor Gray Davis. He declared, quietly shutting the door behind him, 'I deeply regret my ill-advised decision to include inaccurate information on my curriculum vitae. While I attended Grambling College, I never earned a college degree.' Troupe was, it was admitted, a native of New York. He is a Professor of Creative Writing and American and Caribbean Literature at the University of California at San Diego and has written thirteen books. He intended to continue his teaching duties.


The literary critic, editor and radical reformer A.E. (Tony) DYSON died in London in July. He was 73. A friend and promoter of poets, Dyson is best remembered outside the poetry world for two major battles. He campaigned indefatigably for homosexual rights and his organising skills and careful argument contributed to the implementation in 1967 of the Wolfenden recommendation that homosexuality be decriminalised. Then, with C.B. Cox, he was responsible for editing the 'notorious' Black Papers on Education whose wisdom time has proven. His work in the field of poetry, on R.S. Thomas for example, was exemplary, and with C.B. Cox he did much to establish an intelligent modern secondary curriculum and to bring university English studies up to date. With Cox, too, in 1959 he founded Critical Quarterly, and poets including Thom Gunn, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes found advocates there. He was one of those rare presences who contributed to profound changes in his society without ever desiring to call attention to himself. His cogent advocacies, his close and sympathetic reading of poetry, made a real difference to education and to taste.

JIRI KOLAR, the Czech artist and writer renowned for his poetry and radical collages and whose life and work brought him into confrontation with Czechoslovakia's former Communist régime, died in August at the age of 87. His work was radical not only in its thematics but in the ways it used and reshaped language, the very language whose rules the propagandists adhered to in order to remove it from its natural meanings.

In late September IVAN JELINEK, another Czech poet and Kolar's senior by five years, also died, in Surrey. He was a classicist whose earliest public work (poetry and theatre) in the 1930s included translations of Auden and Isherwood. After he fled from Czechoslovakia, he came to Britain and worked for the BBC, returning to Prague after World War II, and then tasting exile once more in 1947. He lived in Canada and the United States before returning to the United Kingdom. There is a spiritual dimension to his poetry, rooted in his childhood Roman Catholicism but overlaid with Sanskrit and other elements.

In September, CHARLES HENRI FORD, the poet, novelist, editor, and artist, a cultural phenomenon and enabler whose work spanned the better part of the twentieth century and who was a confirmed modernist, died in new York at the age of 94. He was what the Anglo Saxons called an eardstappa, having lived in Katmandu, Paris and on Crete for many years. He was an inveterate traveller (with private means), cosmopolitan and charismatic, a jack of many arts, whose model was the multifarious and finally rather lean-talented Jean Cocteau. One of his lasting achievements was establishing, in 1940, the glossy magazine View, devoted to a cultural avant-garde that rooted in the surrealism of André Breton. Work by Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Dali and Magritte confronted, or affronted, work by Albert Camus, Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams or Paul Bowles. Ford's biography is full of major names, on some of which he had a major impact (on Warhol, for example). He is a wry man. He recalls how, when he introduced Dali to W.H. Auden, the painter asked the poet, 'Do you speak English?'

BOB COBBING, a radical spirit who, in the 1960s and 1970s helped to organise the small literary presses and who was for a time Britain's best-known 'sound poet' and an experimenter in concrete, visual and other 'plastic' poetic modes, died in October at the age of 82. His own publishing enterprise, which published many of his performance scores, was Writers' Forum (with over 1000 publications to its credit), with its workshops. In the Guardian (7 October 2002) Robert Shepherd wrote a valuable encomium: 'Aesthetically uncompromising, and repellent to some, Cobbing's language experiments could also be fun - as his work with schoolchildren testified. He remained alert to the weird linguistic detritus he found everywhere. A late text plays changes upon Liz Lockhead's contention that "A good fuck makes me feel like custard". Who could resist Cobbing's rejoinders that "a good screw makes me feel like wet blancmange" or "a little lechery makes me feel like spotted dick"?'

Another valuable eccentric, the 'poet of the streets' MADGE HERRON, died in September at the age of 86. In the 1970s and 1980s she was a presence on the London scene. She was careless of appearances, sometimes fooling passers-by into imagining that she was a bag-lady. In a sense she was, accompanying herself wherever she went with literary possessions and a little herd of dogs: an urban shepherdess. She was, like Stevie Smith, interested in God; unlike Stevie Smith she was also interested, in a far from oblique way, in copulation. Her poems were disorderly, but when she performed they held together with remarkable force.

This item is taken from PN Review 148, Volume 29 Number 2, November - December 2002.

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