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This item is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

News & Notes
The Scottish poet NORMAN MACCAIG died at the age of 86. Among the most various and surprising writers of a hugely distinguished generation, he escaped the shadow of his friend MacDiarmid by means of a wry, thrifty, 'unpindownable' difference. He went through the Protean transformations that W.S. Graham and others did, from Apocalypse (in which he was an ur-Martian) to the distinction of his mature work; though he did not adopt a Scottish idiom, he was in his views and vivid timbre Scots through and through. An appreciation by Marshall Walker will appear in PNR 110.

Russian-born poet JOSEPH BRODSKY, a figure of extreme opinionation and equally astonishing generosity, died in January at the age of 55. Born in Leningrad, he was sent into exile in 1972. Lionised in the United States and elsewhere, he wrote, taught and read, feeding a deep addiction to English-language literature. In 1987 he received the Nobel Prize.

Brodsky was no Conrad. At first he had the benefit of some fine translators, George L. Kline, Daniel Weissbort, Alan Myers and others, but best of all Richard Wilbur: 'Bobò is dead. Wednesday is almost over./on streets which offer you no place to go,/such whiteness lies. Only the night river,/with its black water, does not wear the snow.' Penguin published the Kline versions as Selected Poems in 1973. With his 1977 volume A Part of Speech new translations were presented often as collaborations between author and translator; then the collaborators vanished. Brodsky trusted his own wings in English, a hubris to which older poet-exiles including his adored Milosz never succumqed. His passion for rhyme and traditional form resulted in verse of sporadically eloquent formal awkwardness, high rhetoric hungry for semantic nuance but unable to rise consistently to the Audenesque clarities it aspired to. Brodsky's romantic ambition found in 'my beloved Auden' a friend but a temperamentally remote mentor. Brodsky became a significant mentor and he enabled far-flung English-language poets to meet, to move forward together, as if - however rooted in place a person or that person's language - larger dynamics, those of his chosen language, can liberate the writer as well. Just as David Jones suggested that the values of the Roman Empire survived at the empire's furthest fringes, even after they had decayed in Rome, so Brodsky suggests that the poetic values of the imperium of English today are to be found not in New York or London but in the Caribbean, the Antipodes, Ireland. His essays contain valuable advocacies, memoirs and prerspectives, but at times too insistent a harping on A Part of Speech, the first person pronoun. But then, he was a poet of a special kind. In his Nobel lecture he declared: 'There are, as we know, three modes of cognition: analytical, intuitive, and the mode that was known to the biblical prophets, revelation. What distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature is that it uses all three of them at once (gravitating primarily toward the second and the third). For all three of them are given in the language…' Which is true, and especially true in Brodsky's case in his first language, or the language of his best English translators. Auden in a superb non-sequitur said in 19 73, 'After reading Professor Kline's translations, I have no hesitation in declaring that, in Russian, Joseph Brodsky must be a poet of the first order…'

LYDIA CHUKOVSKAYA, the Finnish-born Russian writer who spoke up for Brodsky, Siniavsky and Daniel, Solzhenitsyn and others during the dark 1960s, died in February at the age of 89. Her most durable work are the two volumes of conversations with and diaries about Anna Akhmatova, another poet she supported. Like her other books, these too were banned in the USSR.

Ezra Pound's doughty companion, the American violinist and musicologist OLGA RUDGE, died in Merano, Italy, a month short of her 10lst birthday.

'… shouldn't I ask to hold to you forever,/body of a dolphin, breast of cloud?' The novelist, story-writer and oblique autobi-ographer LADY Caroline blackwood, who in 1972 became Robert Lowell's third wife, died in February at 65.

The New Zealand poet KENDRICK SMITHYMAN died in December 1995. Michael Hulse's appreciation of his work will appear in PNR 110.

The translator, critic and biographer GIOVANNI PONTIERo died in February in Manchester at the age of 62. His finest works are the award-winning translations of Saramago, Lispector and other Portuguese-language writers to whom he devoted his astounding precision of tone and style. He contributed translations and a fine interview with Saramago to PNR and was a source of advice and counsel. He was also a great teacher, meticulous in preparation, patient with students, and detailed in his response to written work. 'My tastes are simple,' he said: 'Nothing but the best.' Of which he gave, invariably.

The American southern writer ANDREW NELSON lytle, last of the Vanderbilt Agarians (who included Ransom, Tate and Penn Warren), an outstanding editor of Sewanee Review and a major teacher, died in December 1995 at the age of 93. His most durable work is his fiction, in particular The Velvet Horm (1957).

The American writer MARILYN HACKER Ito received the 1996 (judged by 20 Poets' Prize' poets who themselves partly fund the award) for her Selected Poem 1965-1990 (Norton). Hacker's work has long been recognised in America for 'its highly nuanced feminism and inventive formality'.

BLACKSTAFF PRESS, Belfast, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It is the leading Northern Irish publisher of, among other things, poetry, and its catalogue is well worth writing for to 3 Galway Park, Dundonald, Belfast BT16 OAN.

BOOKSHED: London's book emporium opposite Victoria Station has established an outstanding poetry section. The stock range and depth of this vast operation are exemplary.

This item is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

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