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This item is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

News & Notes
While Europe and North America focussed on Iraq, in Cuba four score of critics of the Castro government went on trial in the most concerted assault on dissidents for a long time. Behind closed doors the hearings began, the charge: working to subvert the government. The international media and foreign observers were barred. Some of the accused face life imprisonment. The government is saying very little, apart from confirming the actions. The accused include Marta Beatriz Roque, a well-known economist who led a hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners. She was arrested with Raul Rivero, an independent journalist working outside the state-controlled media. Hector Palacios, an organiser of reform efforts known as the Varela Project, may also have been arrested. Raul Rivero's wife declared, `He is only a man who writes, he is not a politician... He knew they would come for him in this wave of repression.' Another writer accused is Ricardo Gonzalez. Cuba chose the moment because of the Iraq campaign. This crack-down began when Cuba accused the chief American diplomat on the island, James Cason, of encouraging the overthrow of the government. Mr Cason had been actively networking, meeting opponents of the government and giving press conferences. There was `provocation of a kind'. Wayne Smith wrote to the New York Times that the arrests followed from `the blundering tactics of the Bush administration' in encouraging Cason to hold critical press conferences.

The Palestinian House of Poetry condemned the arrest of the poet MURAD AL-SUDANI by Israeli authorities. Al-Sudani is managing editor of Al-Shu'ara Magazine. At the time of the report, 14 March, the Israelis had given no reason for the poet's detention. The Palestinian House of Poetry has itself been shelled `a number of times' over the last two years.

In Britain, local council budget cuts used to result in cuts in Library budgets, when those budgets were big enough to make a difference. In some of the United States, the arts themselves suffer. In Arizona last year, for example, funding was reduced, and this year it appears other states will follow suit. Arizona proposes to stop funding the arts altogether, along with the endowment programme, releasing $13,000,000 or so to be spent on other priorities. New Jersey has a $5 billion deficit. The governor plans to cut the whole arts budget and the trust fund support (`a drop in the ocean', critics say). Missouri, too, is kissing the arts goodbye. Last year California cut its support by 41%, Massachusetts by 62%. Many arts councils and nonprofit cultural groups will lose matching funds from private donors and the federal government.

The quondam business man and poet DANA GIOIA, fifty-two, has been confirmed as the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, the most visible arts bureaucrat in the United States, head of a $116 million-a-year federal agency. A graduate of Stanford and Harvard, he claims to dislike elitism. A Republican, he espouses a gut populism. Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot, he routinely reminds his interlocutors, were both businessmen and poets before him. `Anyone who leads the N.E.A.,' said the Washington Post, `will grab some words more than others from the rhetorical black bag of platitudes: humanity, opportunity, diversity, empowerment. Gioia consistently comes up with "excellence" and "access," and he doesn't consider them platitudes at all.' He says of himself, `I am a working-class kid from L.A.' He rubs in his antecedents, as though they give him a special kind of bona fides. His devotion to the New Formalists, defined as `poets who aren't afraid of being called retrograde when they spin out perfect iambic pentameter' (`perfect' here meaning `regular'), his hostility to American modernism and post-Modernism, hardly bodes well for a literature which, he never tires of reminding us, has been swallowed by the academy. He seems hostile to innovation and to prefer an art that can be argued for in front of a democratic, uninformed audience which knows in advance what it doesn't like. The N.E.A. is, for the current political administration, in safe hands. `Gioia doesn't believe that the N.E.A. has lost touch with serious art lovers,' the Washington Post reassures its readers, `and he doesn't give any sense that he is going to radically change the kinds of art that the N.E.A. has helped foster.'

Over three hundred undiscovered poems by HUGH MACDIARMID have been found in the vast archive of MacDiarmid papers held at the National Library of Scotland. Not all of them will delight his admirers. During the Blitz he expressed himself quite content that London should be hit. His poems on the American bombing in Vietnam are differently engaged. The new material is described as `wonderful' by Dr Alan Riach, general editor of the Complete Works of Hugh MacDiarmid and head of the Scottish Literature department at Glasgow University. For such a trove of forgotten material to come to light a quarter of a century after the voluminous poet's death is remarkable. It will be included in the new three-volume edition of MacDiarmid's complete poems due out over the next three years.

PAUL MULDOON has been awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his new collection Moy Sand and Gravel. It was a popular choice, and a timely reminder that poetry can be, indeed perhaps must be, intelligent, inventive, engaging, puzzling and deeply felt. County Armagh's first Pulitzer laureate is a tenured professor at Princeton University.

The poet RICHARD CADDEL, whose invaluable work of scholarship and advocacy widened and sharpened interest in Basil Bunting, died suddenly in March. He was Co-Director of the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre for Durham University Library and editor of Pig Press from 1972 to 2001. He was also on the Editorial Board of the journal Sagetrieb. Together with Peter Quartermain, he edited the anthology Other: British and Irish Poetry since 1970. He retired from full-time work in Durham University Library at Easter 2000. The author of several books of poems, his Magpie Words: Selected Poems 1970-2000 was published by West House Books, 40 Crescent Road, Nether Edge, Sheffield S7 1HN UK, in April 2002.

JOHN COTTON, poet, editor and headmaster, died in London in March at the age of 78. He was a victim of the Chatto Phoenix Poets list, suddenly dropped after two collections, both of which `did well'. His reputation as a poet never quite recovered and his later work appeared from small presses. As the Oracle at Delphi told him in a poem, `Push off, Cotton,... You've had your future.' With Ted Walker he edited the elaborately roneoed magazine Priapus, to which the artist Rigby Graham memorably contributed; he established Priapus Press, learning to print in the process, and became editor of The Private Library. He worked patiently with the Poetry Society during its most turbulent years and was a sometimes unaccountably cheerful Chairman. Service as a Royal Navy Commando in the World War II best prepared him for what was, at the time, a thankless task.

This item is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

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