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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 159, Volume 31 Number 1, September - October 2004.

News & Notes
Chile has begun to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, better known as PABLO NERUDA, his nom de plume adopted when he became a poet. The Chilean President, perhaps remembering that the poet died shortly after his predecessor President Allende was expelled from power, made little of the poet's Communism and stressed other aspects of his life, and of his writing, holding him up in sanitised form as an example for modern Chilean youth. In Britain his centenary has been marked by a brilliant new critical biography, Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life by Adam Feinstein (Bloomsbury, £25). Reviewing the book in the Guardian, the poet laureate said that it is `fuelled by an infectious enthusiasm for the poems: this is its greatest strength. But it also has an admirable patience with the dizzying detail of his life. It's difficult to think of a 20th-century poet who did more than Neruda. He wrote a huge number of books, he travelled like a man possessed, he whirled himself round in the life of his times, he loved and lost a large number of women, he collected a small army of famous friends. Some of these things are grist to the biographer's mill: Feinstein's account is crammed with adventure stories, narrow scrapes, passionate encounters.' Feinstein's approach to Neruda's Memoirs, a book which, in its respect for Stalin and in its strange lacunae, did the poet little credit, is healthily sceptical. The anniversary is an occasion for reapparaisal. The poet's own voice is now readily available via Amazon in one of the wonderful Knopf recordings.


John Kerry is making use of poetry in his campaign for the American presidency. In particular, he has adopted LANGSTON HUGHES. The semiology could hardly be more eloquent, or obvious: `Langston Hughes was a poet, a black man and a poor man. And he wrote in the 1930s powerful words that apply to all of us today. He said "Let America be America again. Let it be the dream that it used to be for those whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, for those whose hand at the foundry - something Pittsburgh knows about - for those whose plough in the rain must bring back our mighty dream again."' Kennedy used Robert Frost and Clinton, less resonantly, Maya Angelou. It remains to be seen whether Kerry's poetic risk will pay off. Poetry certainly did not pay off for Mrs Bush, whose genuine commitment led her to invite some poets to tea while her husband was devising the Iraq war. The press have already pointed out that Hughes was, for a time, a communist sympathiser. There is much more about Hughes that makes him at once deeply problematic for Kerry, and yet wonderfully symbolic of many of the irresolutions that the Democratic Party are pledged to address. Chris Bigsby, Professor of American Literature at UEA, told the New York Times: `Kerry has embraced a legitimate American hero, one who speaks out for those who feel excluded. For all his scepticism about America's failures, Langston Hughes, with his emphasis on inclusion, is closer to the American Dream than President Bush has ever been.'


The National Endowment for the Arts has decided that it is important to effect a rapprochement between the American military and the arts of literature, or at least creative writing. Soldiers, sailors and airmen should be encouraged to set down their experiences of war, in particular the war in Iraq. Novelists and poets are being sent to military camps to run workshops. `I think the program is stupendous,' Major General Douglas V. O'Dell, commanding general of the Marines' antiterrorist brigade, told the press. He admitted to writing poetry himself, though he didn't volunteer to recite any. `It's extremely valuable for its cathartic possibilities, and I hope it will give a voice to what's going to be, in my opinion, a greater generation than the one Tom Brokaw wrote about.' So far the response has been politic and positive. Sergeant Steven Sparks, set to depart for Iraq for a second tour of duty, described a sensation of time travel, the strangeness of crossing a biblical plain in a twenty-first-century military vehicle. `It was so ancient, so old,' he said. Speech is the mother of writing, and perhaps this and other vivid juxtapositions, reminiscent perhaps of Keith Douglas's sense of an earlier desert war, will end up in stories and verse. The NEA will involve a range of writers in the programme. They started with the novelist Bobbie Ann Mason, speaking to a small audience of Marines and their families at Camp Lejeune. `Let's start with the sand... I've been thinking about the sand. I'm wondering, how do you describe that sand?' The programme has a name: `Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience'. Service personnel are reminded that there is a long tradition of war writing by participants, starting well before Ulysses S. Grant, and not all the work is anti-war. The aim is to preserve the stories from `the battlegrounds' of Iraq and Afghanistan. Less seems to be made of the negative capability one might have hoped for, the development of a sense of the countries in which the battles were fought. Writers who will participate are quite diverse: Jeff Shaara and Tom Clancy, but also Tobias Wolff and Richard Bausch.


HAROLD PINTER has received the Wilfred Owen Prize for his poems expressing opposition to the Iraq war, it was announced on 4 August. The poems in the collection War (2003) had hitherto been less than warmly received by friends and foes. The book included a speech, one poem from the 1991 encounter, and seven poems written before military action began. The chairman of the Wilfred Owen Association, Michael Grayer, declared that the award recognised Pinter's poems but also his life-long contribution to literature. The previous award went to Seamus Heaney. There is little `pity' in Pinter's poems: they are forthright, robust and rhetorical. Their effect depends on the absence of nuance. The poetry is in the anger, not the pity. As C.H. Sisson remarked of Owen's famous manifesto, if there is poetry, it should be in the poetry.

Arrested by the Gestapo in February 1944, then transferred to the prison camp at Drancy, MAX JACOB died of double pneumonia in March of that year. For the whole of the year 2004 Quimper, Jacob's native town, has organised events to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of his death. Information is available from the municipal offices (02-98-98-89-00) or by e-mail from culture@Mairie-Quimper.fr. Two books have appeared to mark this anniversary, both published by éditions de la Différence: an essay by Lina Lachgar, Arrestation et mort de Max Jacob (146 p., <15), and Maxi- Maxou (96 p., <8) by Bernard Duvert, founder of the Fraternité Max Jacob, which attempts to recover the playful and facetious spirit of the poet who wrote the Cornet à dés (this masterpiece was recently reissued, edited by Etienne-Alain Hubert, by Poésie/Gallimard).


Is the 1991 Nobel Prize laureate NADINE GORDIMER practising personal censorship in connection with her own biography? It was to be the `authorised biography', but having read a draft of it she withdrew her authority. The biographer, Trinidad-born Ronald Suresh Roberts, spent seven years collaborating with the writer; he has been told that neither Bloomsbury not Farrar, Straus & Giroux can publish the book. Gordimer objects, he claims, to passages which evoke her occasional tartness and bitterness in relations with colleagues. Originally, both Bloomsbury and Farrar, Straus praised the book but reminded Roberts that publication required the subject's approval. His relationship with Gordimer must have been close for a time: she permitted extended interviews and full access to archival sources. The Guardian contacted Gordimer in Johannesburg and she commented, `I really can't comment on it. I've nothing to say. It's a private matter.' Not for Roberts it's not, nor for her readers, nor for her record.


The shortlists for the thirteenth Forward Prize, `designed to raise the profile of contemporary poetry', have been announced. The judges were Lavina Greenlaw (chair), Patience Agbabi, the radio producer Tim Dee, Ruth Fainlight and W.N. Herbert. The shortlist for the best collection includes Kate Clanchy's Newborn, Kathleen Jamie's The Tree House, August Kleinzahler's The Strange Hours, Michael Longley's Snow Water and Michael Symmons Roberts' Corpus. Shortlisted for the best first collec- tion are Leontia Flynn's These Days, Kathryn Gray's The Never-Never, Matthew Hollis' Ground Water, Carola Luther's Walking the Animals and Jacob Polley's The Brink. Poems by David Constantine, Vona Groarke, Robert Minhinnick (`The Castaway', published in PNR), Daljit Nagra and Mario Susko were shortlisted for the best single poem category.


LALO DELGADO (Abelardo `Lalo' Barrientos Delgado), the Mexican-born Chicano writer who `gave Mexican-Americans a voice', died in July at the age of 73. He may indeed have invented the term Chicano. He was the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, written in three languages, English, Spanish, and that curious mixture of the two which is known derogatorily as `Spanglish', but which is a language spoken by several million Americans. He lived to see his culture recognised by the publishing establishment and gain wide acceptance in the academic world. Many Chicano writers found his public recitals enabling. Inevitably, and properly, his work entailed a long commitment to political activism.


CARL RAKOSI, the last surviving protégé of Ezra Pound, an Objectivist in the 1930s who took a three decades leave of absence from poetry in order to forge a career as a psychotherapist, working as a psychotherapist with disturbed children in St Louis, Cleveland, and Minneapolis, died in June, having lived for a round century. He was part of a group which is still coming into its own among British and American readers (though his own work was put back on the map largely thanks to the advocacy of Andrew Crozier, beginning in the mid-1960s), a group that includes George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff and Louis Zukofsky. They took the work of Ezra Pound as given and went on from there. Their politics and their ethnicity distanced them from the most aberrant elements in Pound's programme.

`Some people fade out of life, but Carl had a huge fight with death,' his partner Marilyn Kane declared. She is a former nun who fell for an `intelligent man, a giant in life'. John Felstiner's favourite Rakosi poem is `Israel' and includes the line: `I have stumbled on the ancient voice of honesty and tremble at the voice of my people.' `Rakosi was this voice of honesty,' Felstiner told the San Francisco Chronicle. `With Carl's death, this leaves Stanley Kunitz, who was born in 1905 and lives in New York, as the oldest living, well-known published American poet."


The American poet DONALD JUSTICE died in Iowa City in August at the age of seventy-eight. He was born in Miami in 1925 graduated from the University of Miami, and attended the universities of North Carolina, Stanford, and Iowa. He published many books of poetry, including a New and Selected Poems (Knopf, 1995). There is also A Donald Justice Reader (1991). For his earlier, 1979 Selected Poems he won a Pulitzer Prize. His vocation and avocation was teaching. He worked at Syracuse University, the University of California at Irvine, Princeton, the University of Virginia, and the University of Iowa, and from 1982 until his retirement in 1992, he taught at the University of Florida, Gainesville. He won a variety of awards and served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003. In a tribute, Mark Strand declared: `The poems have a sweet and measured gravity that engages us on a level more profound than the one we usually find ourselves on ... Reading Justice, one feels keenly that a poem is an act of retrieval - that, as it memorializes, so it revives ... Memory and rapture are so closely intertwined that they become a single gesture of sustained regard.'


Ruth Fainlight writes: SOPHIA DE MELLO BREYNER, the great Portuguese poet who died on 2 July in Lisbon, was born into an upper class family in Oporto in 1919. She had written since childhood, and the quality of her poetry was soon recognised. Her first collection was published in 1944. As well as receiving numerous prizes for her work, after the death of Salazar and the change of regime, she acted as a Deputy in the Portuguese Constitutional Assembly in 1975-6 and was one of the founders of the National Commission to Aid Political Prisoners.

I was fortunate enough to meet Sophia in those years, and to read with her in England and the USA. When possible, we worked together directly on my translations of her poems for the first volume of her work to appear in English: `Marine Rose', published in 1988 by Black Swan Books in the USA. In my Introduction I wrote:

`Sophia de Mello Breyner writes from a world of white beaches and glittering light reflecting both from the Atlantic Ocean that washes the shores of Portugal and the sea surrounding the Greek islands. Portugal and Greece: the open Atlantic, the closed Aegean - the two geographic extremes of Europe. Unified by the light and the sea wind, territory of birds, trees, and the moon, it is a world inhabited more by elements and angels and gods than by humans. ... The Ancient Greek world, the past glories of the Portuguese navigators, the life and work of the great twentieth century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa - all resonate through her poetry.'

SOUNION
Light's nakedness (in which outside is inside)
Wind's nakedness (surrounding itself)
The nakedness of sea (duplicated by salt)


And Kenneth Krabbenhoft of New York University, in his Afterword to the book, wrote: `The shadow of Pessoa ... inevitably falls across the contemporary scene, and Sophia de Mello Breyner does indeed invoke him in one of her longest poems. For her he was above all the poet of exile and absence:

And you had many faces
So that being no one you could say everything
You travelled the reverse the inverse the adverse

                                                                         (Cyclades)

But this invocation is one craftsman's homage to another very different sort of writer, since what stands out in a comparison of the two is the self-assured homogeneity of her voice...'


Robyn Marsack writes: The death of GAEL TURNBULL on 2 July has removed from Scotland perhaps her most benign poet, a constantly inventive, encouraging and engaged presence here since his return to Edinburgh fifteen years ago. Son of a Scottish minister and his American wife (of Swedish descent), Gael criss-crossed between Britain and North America in a way that confounded attempts to categorise him, although I believe he felt truly at home in Scotland during his latter years, with his second wife, Jill, and in a community of poets who held him in affectionate esteem. Having read Natural Science at Cambridge and trained as an MD at the University of Pennsylvania, in 1952 he joined a medical practice in a logging community in Northern Ontario. Moving on to Ventura, California, in 1957, where he worked as an anaesthetist, he founded the Migrant Press, characterised by Roy Fisher as `eclectic, had open door, wasn't reputationist, was ramshackle...'. In the 1960s its publications included small collections by Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ed Dorn, Ed Morgan, Roy Fisher and Turnbull's own Twenty Words Twenty Days (1966).

Anvil Press's A Gathering of Poems 1950-1980 (1983) was the most `formal' and complete of Gael's collections, but represents an interim report: the Etruscan Selected, due out next year, should give us a sense of his whole career. The SPL is currently compiling anthologies of several kinds, and Gael is represented in each of them, quite differently: in Handfast (poems for weddings) by two short lyrics of classical simplicity and grace; in Intimate Expanses, where each of the last 25 years is represented by a single poem, `There are words' marks 1995, reflecting his delight in language and its possibilities in long-breathed lines; for Best Scottish Poems, an annual selection which will go up on the website in November, the editor Hamish Whyite had chosen Gael's rondeau on death, after the French; and for the Royal College of Surgeon's quincentenary volume, to be published in 2005, Gael's commissioned poem arose from looking at an early chloroform dropper and reading about its inventor: `I call it "texturalist", in that [such poems] make a fresh pattern or texture out of previously existing texts... a way of exploring possibilities beyond my own unaided invention.'

Gael's unassuming manner belied his great range of knowledge, skills, and abiding curiosity. His walking prowess was famous, as was his morris-dancing - that the latter was taken up as rehabilitation for adult polio was something learned at his funeral. His modesty, and a tendency to melancholy, were balanced by a relish for performance, displayed in his poetry busking during the Edinburgh Festival. Passers-by would be encouraged to help compose or reveal a poem from a supply of lines carefully constructed to make (poetic) sense whichever way they were combined - and people did, surprised and charmed by the effect. Gael produced a bilingual version for use during a weekend of poetry at the Institut Français. The Mobius strip poem that sits in a cane lattice-work box (he scoured Glasgow's Oxfam shops for those boxes) is just one example of the domestic-size constructions that gave him such pleasure (and effort) to make and his readers such pleasure to unfold - and librarians such trouble to catalogue. My lasting memory of him is his strolling into the SPL with a rucksack containing the latest kinetic poems, coming to unpack and road-test them on whichever of us was ready to sit down and watch. His ability to improvise with materials was remarkable, as was his patient ingenuity of construction, of objects and of poems.

He was always approachable and courteous; happy to share recollections of, say, Cid Corman - a living link with an earlier generation - but himself still developing, still experimenting, absolutely tenacious in his devotion to his art.

This item is taken from PN Review 159, Volume 31 Number 1, September - October 2004.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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