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This item is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

News & Notes
One of the best-known writers of Eastern Europe, Czech poet MIROSLAV HOLUB, died in Prague in July. He was seventy-four. Holub in an exemplary fashion combined scientific and poetic vocations (he was a distinguished immunologist), devising a deliberately radical idiom which, breaking with the prosodic traditions of his language, was eminently translatable. In English, German or French 'his poems lose little', one critic remarked: 'they are the Esperanto of the post-modern'. The judgment is as kind as it is unkind. Holub wrote to be understood, and his roots are in the resistant surrealism of France, in O'Hara and the Beats, in the 'journalism poetry' of Kunert and Enzensberger, and in the short lines of Williams. What is lacking in the translations, and perhaps from the originals, is a sense of enactive syntax: 'technique' sometimes seems to depend entirely on the enjambement-pause. He began making poems in his thirties and insisted by example that there are not two cultures, that the two culture approach impoverishes both science and literature. His Selected Poems, published by Penguin in 1967, and his subsequent volumes in English which Bloodaxe published, gave him a continuous presence in Britain: the trajectory of his work is fascinating, a series of thematic changes and adjustments always a step ahead of their time. His most memorable title, The Immunology of Nude Mice (1989), belongs not to a book of poems but to one of his scientific works: there is a wise lightheartedness about his writing which resists the rhetorical emphases with which critics including Alvarez, Hughes and Paulin seek to burden it.

'His was a naturally encyclopaedic mind, embedded in a psychological acuteness which showed up most plainly in his poems,' C.H. Sisson writes of the poet, critic and novelist MARTIN SEYMOUR-SMITH who died on 1 July. He was seventy years old. He is best-known for his substantial compilations, reference books in which he reveals polymathic range in his knowledge of literatures in all languages, as though in him the Tower of Babel had at last found its resolution in a single tongue. He is also remembered for his Bluffer's Guide to Literature and How to Succeed in Poetry Without Really Reading or Writing. His biographies, monographs, studies and anthologies are often fresh and uncluttered in an age of specialisms. He was certainly a man of letters, a life-long disciple of Graves and one of his most committed interpreters.

In memory, John Forbes, poet (1950-1998)

Someone is gone from the room, taking
    with them
the vast Australian weather and its
    feathers, trinkets,
any hope of improvement. Where in the
    mind are these things
stored? Born of air, their wet bodies

sand from the beach. Some days you're not
    the only one
who feels like a walking target, awakening
    only to fall asleep
again, enriched, oxygenic, where the
    afternoon goes
fizz, a screeching sky of parrakeets over

the eastern suburb of Australia. Where in
    the world -
on which shelf or balcony? And where in
    the mind
of these things are we stored? Some days
you wake up and feel ancient

egyptian, some days you don't
wake up... Someone has gone from the
with all they have taken from the room,
as a bicycle that is forever slowing but

comes to a stop. Where in the mind that,
    this or
any of the others, the unexceptional details
deployed as birds in a tree awaiting song
or a tree in which song has only just

                                       GREGORY O'BRIEN

'The once-controversial writer PHILIP O'CONNOR, among the last and most colourful survivors of Fitzrovia, died in May. He was 81. His poems are characterised by their candour and formlessness, and it is probable that he will be best remembered for his prose and for his strange and volatile early life.

The Welsh and Welsh-language poet-clergyman J. EIRIAN DAVIES died in Ffairfach, Carmarthenshire, in July. He was eighty.

JOHANI PELTONEN, the Finnish writer and poet, has died. He was fifty seven.

The poet and playwright DENNIS SILK died in Jerusalem at the age of seventy. Born in London, he settled in Israel when he was twenty-seven, and there he invested a witty imagination in evoking and appraising his new and natural landscape and the strange society he found. Saul Bellow regarded him as 'a delicious poet... What he does, in his easy way, is to surround the inexpressible, which is charmed by his siege and surrenders.'

The SORLEY MACLEAN MEMORIAL APPEAL has been organised by the Saltire Society (9 Fountain Close, 22 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TF) with the aim of erecting and maintaining a tangible memorial on the Isle of Skye to the greatest Scots-Gaelic poet of the century, to promote 'the study, appreciation and use of the Gaelic language', to fuel the Gaelic revival with resources and 'to promote all aspects of Gaelic culture and the Highland way of life'. The appeal remains open until 25 November, the second anniversary of the poet's death.

Five poets were among the recipients of the annual £7000 writers' awards of the Arts Council of England this year: Jane Duran, Vicki Feaver, Robin Robertson, Neil Rollinson and Ann Sansom.

A new magazine called Mslexia, styling itself 'the national magazine for woman writers', invites contributions. The closing date for the first issue, on 'erotic writing', has passed; the second issue will concentrate on the theme of death, and there is still time. Submissions must be received before 31 October. Submissions (the envelope labelled 'Death', since 'Sex' is now passed) of up to four poems or up to 4000 words of prose are invited. Address: P.O.Box 656, Newcastle upon Tyne NE99 2XD.

Lines Review concludes its forty-five year run with its 144th issue. The editor Tessa Ransford celebrates the vision, dedication and achievement of that not-sufficientlysung enabler Callum Macdonald, whose contribution to Scottish poetry will eventually be seen for what it is. Ransford herself follows in a line of hard-working and distinguished editors and has enjoyed, as Macdonald did, the good counsel of major Scottish poets. The final issue includes a long appraisal by Mario Relich of Iain Crichton Smith's poem 'Orpheus and Eurydice' and poems by many leading and to-be-leading Scottish writers.

The Hudson Review celebrates its fiftieth anniversary with number 201, American Themes, a remarkable collection of essays, poems, reviews and other material which remind readers how distinctive this journal can be. Frederick Morgan retires - with little editorial fuss - after fifty years as editor. His will be a hard act to follow.

David C. Ward considers the implications of the Tina Brown Affair:


One of the more hair-raising quotes to come out of the Tina Brown-Mirimax deal is her confidence that with this confluence of money and hairstyle she could imprint her new cultural organ with her own DNA. Nor virgin birth here but a rather too literal corporate re-enactment of 'Danae and the Shower of Gold' over which, wincingly, we might all do well to draw a veil. But before we do let's note a couple of things about language, style and power.

Brown's chilly generative image is an adaption of the more common reproductive image used incessantly in American business as a mantra of dominance, namely 'I'm going to fuck him' or 'He fucked me' and with a multiple of variations thereon of which my favourite is 'I'm going to stick it in and break it off.' Indeed, recent reports, mostly admiring, of Brown's editorial style reveal her reliance on the F word in critical discourse, in particular to reject, dismiss, belittle, and dehumanize rather as the Boss Con in prison rapes the new fish. Steeped in an ethos which sees this kind of behaviour as laudable instead of appalling, Brown has tried to mask her power with a sadly off-key reference to motherhood. The very infelicity, the very inhumanity of her metaphor - she's bringing forth a genetic map not a baby - betrays her, barely concealing her desire to whip it out and have at it. And guess who she's going to stick it to? Since businessmen and women always fail upward, it's the rest of us - the cultural 'consumers' of the marketing survey - who get the shaft.

We are finally suffering the full artistic consequences of what the great social critic Christopher Lasch called the 'culture of narcissism' which results from the market invading and destroying even the integrity of the individual. Previously, whatever its attendant hype or overblown claims and however badly individual artists were treated by the market, art required the existence of a product: that painting, this poem. Now, to update Marx, all that was solid, melts into hot air. The hot air of moneymen and domineditrixs' blathering away about synergy and how magazine articles can be turned into movies and books and then 'theme' restaurants fronted by the movie's stars who ghostwrote the books before starring in the sequel in a Mobius strip of heat. But while the blast of hype threatens to deafen us, it is necessary to keep only one thing in mind to defeat it: there is no there there. In a culture that requires ceaseless movement and ceaseless reinvention: stand still.


This item is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

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