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This item is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

News & Notes
On 16 January NORMAN MAILER, who turned 80 on 30 January, was interviewed by Julie Salamon of the New York Times. In connection with Mr Bush's plans for Iraq, he declared: `September 11 was the "open sesame" to the path to world empire. It doesn't matter for Bush if things turn out well or badly in Iraq. If they turn out well, they can start to think of the next step. If they turn out badly, that's still good for him because of American patriotism. Who's going to be against George W. Bush when he's mourning the deaths of our boys? Either way he won't have to face the increasing problems here with the American economy and the scandals, with the breakdown in belief in two huge systems: corporate leadership and the priesthood.' About American opposition, which has gathered force since 16 January, he commented: `Two things numb a protest movement. One is 9/11. That moved Americans to thinking that something has to be done about this. The second thing is Saddam Hussein himself. You have to go back to melodramas in the 1850s where a villain with a great big moustache leaped onto the stage to defile the maiden before you get someone as good as Saddam Hussein as an enemy. Ho Chi Minh had that wonderful saintly look that made life much easier for a good protest movement.'

Out of a short-list including new books by Simon Armitage, John Burnside, Paul Farley, David Harsent, Geoffrey Hill, E.A. Markham, Sinéad Morrissey, Paul Muldoon and Ruth Padel, ALICE OSWALD was awarded the T.S. Eliot prize by the poet's widow for her book Dart, published by Faber.

After a period of inactivity - the last collection was David Sutton's The Planet Happiness in 1997 - Anthony Baker's Gruffyground Press (Ladram, Sidcot, Winscombe, Somerset BS25 1PW) is back in action. The Story of Sigurd is a sixteen page booklet containing nine poems by Alison Brackenbury, with a frontispiece
wood engraving by Jane Lydbury. The Trees are Down is a new edition of Charlotte Mew's poem, with a title-page engraving by Linda Holmes. The first, limited to 130 signed copies, is priced at £32, the second, limited to 125 copies, at £12. Both were designed and printed by Sebastian Carter at the Rampant Lions Press in Cambridgeshire. Next will be Extra Time, nine new poems by Vernon Scannell. Thirteen earlier titles remain in print, including collections by Anthony Thwaite, John Mole and Lawrence Sail.

On 10 January the lead article in the Bookseller was entitled `Call for innovation in 2003'. Retailers were disappointed with what publishers offered in 2002, especially at Christmas: `a flat UK consumer book market in 2002'. The new year looked bleak. What kind of innovation are retailers looking for? `The challenge for retailers and publishers alike is to make books "sexy" again by creating product that customers have to buy and are happy to spend more money on,' said a W.H. Smith spokesman: `the whole market is becoming more commodified.' Certainly the language has gone that way. No wonder that poetry publishing is finding it hard to reach its readership. It is expected to address a market, dressing the `product' in a `sexy' way. Is this analysis of the situation correct? Or are the perceived imperatives of the retail trade, the narrowing of stock range and the pursuit of market leaders, damaging not only to the independent poetry publishing base, but readership as well?

The Literary Editor of Gay Times and Commissioning Editor of Gay Men's Press, PETER BURTON, has been made redundant by the titles' owners. For twenty years in Gay Times - and before that in Gay News - he bravely sustained a serious literary presence in the magazine. The future of the books pages in Gay Times, and of the GMP list, must now be in some doubt.


One of the great twentieth-century ironists and explorers of irony, D(ennis) J(oseph) ENRIGHT, died in London in December 2002. He was 82. Few of the obituarists of this inexhaustibly wry and instructive writer laid much emphasis on his work as an anthologist. His Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse 1945-1980 (1980) remains a great and influential anthology. It revived interest in several poets and introduced others for the first time to a wide British readership. Enright did not much like national borders, and his sense of the contemporary was enriched by Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Caribbean and other voices from beyond the Anglo-American pale. His selections of A.D. Hope, C.H. Sisson, James K. Baxter, A.K. Ramanujan and others may seem eccentric at first, tending perhaps (at times) to the scatological and satirical, but the anthology makes a comprehensible shape, and it is prefaced by a characteristically droll and elegant introduction: `Much as he might prefer to, it is hardly permissible for an anthologist to evade all mention of the principles on which his choice of poets or poems is based. I am obliged to admit that I have chosen poets whom I esteem...' The advocate of European, and especially German, literature, declares: `the Commonwealth still strikes me as meaning more culturally than `'Europe'' ever will'. Enright is another one of those great, generous and calmly eloquent English writers whose work is grossly undervalued. He was certainly not a child of privilege, and he took nothing for granted. He received a scholarship to Downing College, Cambridge, and survived Leavis. He had to go abroad to find employment, to Alexandria in 1947. He earned his PhD there, writing a thesis on Goethe which he defended in a French viva before a panel of Egyptian professors. He taught then in Birmingham, in Kobe in Japan, in Berlin, Thailand and Singapore. There in 1960 he got in trouble with the authorities with an inaugural lecture on Robert Graves calling for greater cultural freedom. After ten years he returned to England, helping to edit Encounter until its C.I.A. funding sources came to light. After that he wrote: poetry, essays, memoirs.

Out of the ordinariness of spoken language and a rich and varied experience he made a body of poetry and prose which is radical in political terms, aware at every moment of human disparity and the infrequency of grace, aware too that humour and understatement are sharp instruments of effective analysis, of the kind that adjusts the reader's views sharply and for good. Among Movement writers he has, with Donald Davie, the most appealing and wide-ranging critical imagination. And it is precisely critical imaginations which, as one obituarist remarked, we most lack today.

WILLIAM COOKSON, for four decades editor of Agenda and a passionate advocate of the work of Ezra Pound, died in January at the age of 63. Cookson was a poet who wrote brief, well-turned lyrics (`ankles, not legs', one critic said). He was an explicator and editor of Pound, and his editorial advocacy of David Jones, Basil Bunting, Hugh MacDiarmid, Geoffrey Hill and others was unconditional, challenging a complacent establishment and actually affecting reading and teaching habits. He was also in love with the classics and a sponsor of new translations. Unfortunately Agenda, which at its best had the texture and aspect of a subversive literary magazine, given over to text and not drawn to the aesthetics of marketing which fill other little magazines with illustrations and blank spaces, and which was rather tentative in its taste for contemporary verse, preferring the post-imagist and the small-scale to anything more vigorous and challenging, lost its Arts Council support in 1994 after twenty-eight years, and while the generosity and commitment of various benefactors kept it alive through the lean years, it was a continual struggle to which, in the end, the doughty editor proved unequal. He tried to accommodate the criticism of the funding bodies by redesigning the journal. He also pursued an ambitious course in book publication. The contemporary poets to whom he was most dedicated include Michael Hamburger, Anne Beresford, Kathleen Raine and Peter Dale. Indeed, Dale was his touchstone for many years and for a time co-editor of Agenda. The example of Agenda, as of Peter Jay's New Directions, was a starting point for Poetry Nation, ten years its junior. Cookson was a friend of this new venture, as of Carcanet, and his presence and quirky constancy will be much missed.

PETER RUSSELL died in January at the age of 83. In recent years he was familiar to English editors and a handful of readers through his impressive letters which included new writing, translations, appraisals of his own work, and offered the chance to acquire earlier books and to help out materially a life rigorously devoted to poetry. After an early life of complications, including appalling military service in Europe and the Far East, he returned to England and in the late 1940s fell under the spell of Pound, starting a Poundian magazine and publishing house, a place of many discoveries including Borges and Pasternak. He was at heart too devoted to reading and writing to be a businessman, and he gave up formal publishing and bookselling, taught sporadically, but spent the last four decades of his life in Italy. Agenda dedicated an issue to him. He will be remembered in particular for his fictional Roman poet Quintilius, though the vastness of his output and the disorder of his archive suggest that it will be many years before his work is made properly available in Britain.

HARIVANSHRAI BACHCHAN, the Hindi poet and the first Indian to do a PhD at Cambridge, died in January at the house of his Bollywood star son Amitabh Bachchan. He was 96. His lyrical writing has appealed to four generations of Hindi-speakers. His literary career spanned much of the last century: he published some thirty collections of poems and an autobiography which is considered a masterpiece. His poetry praises hedonism and takes a great deal of pleasure from strong drink. Harivanshrai also translated works into Hindi from English, Urdu and Sanskrit, taught at Allahabad University, was a radio producer and worked for the Foreign Ministry.

JOSÉ HIERRO REAL, one of Spain's best- loved poets, died in December at the age of eighty. Madrileño by birth, he lived most of his early life in Santander on the northern coast. Something of a prodigy, his first poems were in print before he reached the age of sixteen. The Civil War ended when he was seventeen and he found himself spending five years in prison for political offences (working with a group helping political prisoners). There poetry took him seriously in hand. He emerged as an editor, and his first two books appeared in 1947, and he began to collect the prizes and the wider readership of his fellow countrymen. In the middle of his life came a 27-year silence, and it was during this period that critics and readers evaluated his remarkable work to date. In 1991 his Muse re-started, and he wrote collections that were new in manner and tone. In 1998 he received the highest accolade, the Cervantes Prize. His work as a radio and print journalist brought him into contact with artists, and one of his achievements was in integrating the world of letters with that of the arts. Few poets are best-sellers: Hierro was, commanding popular and critical esteem.

This item is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

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