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This item is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

News & Notes
John Ashbery writes: The American poet GERRIT HENRY died suddenly on 1 May, aged 52. Born and raised on suburban Long Island, he attended Columbia University, where he studied poetry with Kenneth Koch. While still an undergraduate, he began writing art criticism for ArtNews, where he worked later as an editor. He was a contributor to many art journals, including Art in America, Art International, and The New Republic. He also published with Burton & Skira a book on the realist painter Janet Fish (1987).

He published one collection of poetry, The Mirrored Clubs of Hell (Little Brown, 1991), and two pamphlets, The Lecturer's Aria (Groundwater Press, 1989) and Couplets and Ballades (privately printed, 1998). A posthumous collection is scheduled to appear with Groundwater.

In his youth he wrote and performed cabaret songs with a friend, Jack Cannon, and a major influence on his work (besides Auden) was the lyrics of Cole Porter (one of his poems is titled `Son of Cole'), Lorenz Hart, and Stephen Sondheim.

Here is the end of his poem `Four Quatrains':

I look fondly back, and keep on going.
Since the pillow-fight in my sleep, feathers have been snowing
Down from the ceiling, collecting at my feet,
As if time were good and losing all, sweet.

People walk in the rain, smoking cigarettes.
The first to love you is the last who forgets
Your earlier transgressions - what made you you.
There's so much to catch up on, so little to do.

The novelist and poet MOHAMMED DIB, born in Algeria and long exiled from it, was one of the finest Francophone writers of his time. He died in La Celle-Saint-Cloud in May at the age of 82. Le Monde reports that he was suffering from diabetes. Dib is regarded as a French rather than an Algerian writer, having spent most of his adult life in Europe and being a close friend of many leading French and American writers. He won several of the great French awards for his work. As well as novelist and poet (and versenovelist), he was an impressive essayist.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, the historian of seventeenth-century England and sometime contributor to PN Review, who illuminated the radical tradition, and who understood Milton with unusual clarity, died at the age of 91. He was master of Balliol College from 1965 to 1978. Long before that he had been an active Marxist, a critic whose sense of social conflict never drove out his respect for the individual engaging with ideas and events. Although he never repudiated Marxism, much of his best work was done after he left the British Communist Party in protest over the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

The poet DONALD WARD, born in 1909, died on 15 February. Few modern poets have been as wedded to a single place (Kent) and a single mode of vision as he was. He left school at the age of fourteen, worked for the Post Office, became an active pacifist, a conscientious objector and a lay preacher. He died on the day of the largest anti-war march in London. His Collected Poems appeared in 1995, his Selected two years later from University of Salzburg Press. His final volume, Adonis Blue, will be published by Anvil.

THEODORE WEISS, a poet most at home with narrative, a distinguished teacher and critic, and an important editor (with his wife) for almost sixty years of the Quarterly Review of Literature , has died at Princeton at the age of 86. He published important work by William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, E. E. Cummings and Ezra Pound; he also discovered new writers and tried in imaginative ways to address the issue of circulation. He was an editor of great generosity and discernment, for whom the making and transmission of writing was a collaborative act.

The Beat poet TED JOANS died in Vancouver in April. He was 74. A graphic, or graffito, artist as well as a poet, he was a great lover of jazz (a practising trumpeter). He was part of the Ginsberg-Kerouac-Corso axis in Greenwich Village in the 1950s. He was African-American and is regarded, too, as part of the Harlem Renaissance. By vocation or fate a kind of nomad, he made his way by performing his poems and pursued a richly irregular life throughout the world. In Canada to make a little money, George Bowering, the poet laureate of Canada, says, `He used to rent himself out as a beatnik... He was very comic.'

WALY SALOMÃO, the Brazilian poet, died in Rio in May at the age of 59. His fame was based initially on his song writing, connected with the Tropicalista movement and bringing together strains from American rock with traditional Brazilian rhythms.

The 2003 WEIDENFELD PRIZE FOR LITERARY TRANSLATION was awarded in Oxford (St Anne's College) on 8 June to Ciaran Carson for his translation of Dante's Inferno.

The 2003 ATHENS BOOK FAIR, the twenty-sixth, withdrew the invitation to the United Kingdom to participate as the Guest of Honour at the May event. This was in protest against the role of the British in the war against Iraq. Le Monde quotes the Athens communiqué as speaking of `l'invasion illégale de l'Irak', collaboration with the United States which `modifie la nature du Salon'. The Book Fair is dedicated to peace. Greece held the presidency of the European Union.

It is now emerging that the American forces occupying Iraq were not as unprepared for the cultural consequences of the invasion as their failure to react to the looting and arson of the museums and libraries might seem to suggest. First, there were the public statements. On 10 April, the day the sacking of the National Museum in Baghdad started, George W. Bush told Iraqi people via TV: `you are the heirs of a great civilization that contributes to all humanity'. On 10 April, `by happy coincidence', the New York Times wryly reported, the United States announced that soon Iraqis would enjoy nightly newscasts from Dan Rather, Jim Lehrer and Brit Hume on their liberated TV and that $62 million would be sought in order to mount a twenty-four-hour TV network for the Middle East, bringing dubbed versions of `prime-time network programming'. The Times reports:

The Pentagon was repeatedly warned of the possibility of this catastrophe in advance of the war, and some of its officials were on the case. But at the highest levels at the White House, the Pentagon and central command - where the real clout is - no one cared. Just how little they cared was given away by our leaders' own self-incriminating statements after disaster struck. Rather than immediately admit to error or concede the gravity of what had happened on their watch, they all tried to trivialize the significance of the looting. Once that gambit failed, they tried to shirk any responsibility for it. `What you are seeing is a reaction to oppression,' said Ari Fleischer on April 11, arguing that looting, however deplorable, is a way station to `liberty and freedom'.... `Stuff happens!' said Donald Rumsfeld, who likened the looting to the aftermath of soccer games and joked to the press that the scale of the crime was a trompe l'oeil effect foisted by a TV loop showing `over and over and over . . . the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase'.

The Pentagon had conducted a meeting in January, whose work continued, establishing priorities for defence and preservation of cultural treasures. The Washington Times revealed that on 26 March the Pentagon issued a memo to the coalition command specifying in order of priority sixteen sites to be protected. The Museum was number two. `By protecting Iraq's oil but not its cultural motherlode,' the Times commentator concluded, `we echo the values of no one more than Saddam, who in 1995 cut off funds to the Baghdad museum, pleading the impact of sanctions, yet nonetheless found plenty of money to pour into his own palaces and their opulent hordes of kitsch. We may have been unable to protect tablets containing missing pieces of the Gilgamesh epic. But somehow we did manage to secure the lavish homes of Saddam's hierarchy, where the cultural gems ranged from videos of old James Bond movies to the collected novels of Danielle Steel.'

The Edinburgh Park Public Art Programme held a ceremony in late June to celebrate the unveiling of the EDINBURGH PARK HERMS. Four Scottish sculptors depicted four poets in bronze, Liz Lochead, Edwin Morgan, Hugh MacDiarmid and Iain Crichton Smith, evoking the spirit of the ancient Greek herms dedicated to Hermes. Now four further poets are being added: Tom Leonard, Hamish Henderson, Douglas Dunn and Sorley MacLean. In the same business park visitors can also find `the national award winning poetry bus shelter'.

The Poetry Society appointed a new director in April to succeed Christina Patterson. The American JULES MANN has been working with the Poetry Society for two years, as Web and Strategic Development Manager. She transformed the Poetry Society website into an up-to-date and lively information point. She has been a successful fund-raiser and has previous experience in publishing and book design and wine industry marketing. She writes poetry and has close contacts with American writers through her involvement the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Poetry Benefit readings in San Francisco.

The lives and loves of ROBERT GRAVES continue to attract attention. A biopic film entitled Poetic Unreason and starring James Purefoy and Leslie Manville Graves and his wife Nancy Nicolson is being directed by William Nunez, who wrote the screenplay. It will tell the story of Laura Riding's arrival in their lives. The press release does not say which actress will play Laura Riding.

The American POETS LAUREATE, who feature frequently in these pages, convened in late April in the town of Manchester, New Hampshire. `Welcome unacknowledged
legislators of the world!' declared Maxine Kumin; suddenly Shelley's words took on an unexpected irony. This was nothing less than a convention of `state poets laureate', the first ever, at the Highlander Inn situated conveniently near the airport. The laureates and `state writers', invited by the New Hampshire Writers' Project, came to talk about `Poetry and Politics'. Fourteen came, along with two emerituses (Kumin being one). Two hundred teachers, librarians and other poets provided the audience. The New York Times identified some of the participants. `There was Larry Woiwode, poet laureate of North Dakota, who is also an acclaimed novelist, and Jim Irons, poet laureate of Idaho, a former fire-fighter and former sportswriter for The Idaho Statesman who has never published a book, though his poetry has been in anthologies. There was Ellen Kort, Wisconsin's poet laureate, who carries glow-in-the-dark chalk so she can write poems on sidewalks; Marie Harris of New Hampshire, who said she believed in being seen taking out the garbage so that others would understand that poets are ordinary people, too; and Maggi Vaughn of Tennessee, a determined populist with a booming voice. "They want a poet of the people," she said of the position, "someone who can go to the crossroads and big cities, and people will understand."' Amiri Baraka, the serious New Jersey laureate whose views have been reported in these pages, was deliberately absent. `There was an aura of self-congratulation about the conference, with many of the poets extolling what they said was poetry's newfound power', the Times reported. There was still satisfaction about the cancelled Laura Bush poetry teaparty which led to Sam Hamill's web-site protest. The climax of the convention was a gala dinner at the Holiday Inn where the chief speaker was Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. He did not talk about politics, the theme of the evening. He refused to comment on direct questions about the cancellation of Laura Bush's poetry event. He was adamant that poetry was a growth industry. There are more producers than ever in the history of mankind. He did not say whether he regarded this as a good or a bad thing; he did not comment on the decline in poetry's readership. He is from Northern California, where `you cannot swing a cat without encountering a poet laureate'.

This item is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

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