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This item is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.News & Notes
Tens of thousands gathered in the Ethiopian capital in March for the funeral of the country's Poet Laureate, TSEGAYE GABREMEDHIN, who died in New York in February aged sixty-nine. Born in 1936 in the small mountain town of Boda, near Ambo, Tsegaye became one of his country's most prominent literary figures and an ambassador for Ethiopian culture. A prolific poet of war and peace, history and mythology, Tsegaye took inspiration from Ethiopia's past as an ancient kingdom with a tradition of independence from colonial powers: 'In order to bring about a better future, one must learn from the past,' he commented in 1993. He also wrote more than thirty plays, most in Amharic, Ethiopia's official language, and translated many Western works into Amharic, including those of Shakespeare, Brecht and Molière. Having studied experimental theatre at the Royal Court in London and the Comédie-Française in Paris, he became artistic director of the Ethiopian National Theater (1961-71). His plays were later banned by the country's military junta, the Derg, one of the numerous African regimes to censor his work.
In 1998, Tsegaye went to the United States to receive treatment for kidney disease, but remained a prolific writer. His poem 'Proud to be African' was adopted as the anthem of the African union in 2002.
The Russian avant-garde poet GENNADY AYGI died in Moscow on 21 February at the age of seventy-one. One of the outstanding Russian poets of the twentieth century, Aygi was a close friend of Boris Pasternak and became 'People's Poet' of the Chuvashia region of central Russia. Born in Chuvashia in 1934, Aygi was expelled from Moscow's Gorky Literature Institute in 1958 for writing poems deemed 'hostile' to the state. He found allies among 'underground' writers, artists and musicians at work in 1960s Moscow. Deeply influenced by Baudelaire and the French symbolist movement, Aygi's poetry is simple and almost incantatory in expression, embracing the pastoral landscapes and oral traditions of his native culture. Controversial for its use of free verse, still unusual in Russian poetry, Aygi's work remained virtually unpublished in the Soviet Union until the 1980s. By this time his poems had been translated in more than twenty countries worldwide. Of Aygi's six volumes available in English, the most important is his bilingual Selected Poems 1954-94 (Angel Books, 1997). The poet was awarded the French government's highest decoration, the Knight of Légion d'Honneur, and was several times tipped for a Nobel Prize.
HILDE DOMIN, one of the most important figures in contemporary German literature, died on 21 February at the age of ninety-seven. From the publication of her first collection, Nureine Rose als Stütze (Only a Rose for Support), in 1959, she received almost every German literary and cultural award, including the Rilke, Nelly Sachs and Hölderlin prizes. Born in Cologne in 1909, she spent twenty-two years in exile in Italy, England, and the Dominican Republic before returning to her native Germany in 1954. A lively critic of contemporary literature with an appetite for public debate, Hilde Domin toured and lectured across Europe, giving poetry readings into her ninety-sixth year. Her work earned a warm reception in her native country for its simplicity and optimism; Hans-Georg Gadamer described her as the 'poet of homecoming'. She been translated into twenty-one languages.
The Scottish poet and patron IAN HAMILTON FINLAY died in Edinburgh on 26 March, at the age of eighty. Finlay became famous for the controversies and feuds which he staged, and which marked the last four decades of his career. His past he shrouded in mystery. It would seem that he was born in the Bahamas in 1925, grew up in Scotland and studied briefly at Glasgow School of Art before serving in the Royal Army Service Corps during the Second World War. Despite an experimental period as a shepherd in Orkney, Finlay's governing interests were poetry and conflict. He practised Concrete Poetry, though most of his material work was collaborative (he did not develop plastic skills). In 1961 he founded Wild Hawthorn Press to publish his own work.
During the 1960s, his typographical experimentation drew him deeper into the plastic arts. After his first marriage to Marion Fletcher (Hugh MacDiarmid was best man at his wedding), Finlay was bought a derelict farm Lanarkshire, which he com batively dubbed 'Little Sparta'. Here he created a garden of neoclassical inscriptions and landscape installations, based on the view that a garden should be 'an attack, rather than a retreat'. An opponent of the 'vacuousness' of liberal society and the 'meaninglessness' of modern art, he did battle with everyone from French art critics to the Strathclyde local authorities. Long-time readers will remember the PN Review supplement dedicated to the 'Battle of Little Sparta', and the virulent attacks the poet later mounted against the journal and its editor in the Times Literary Supplement and elsewhere. Finlay's installations remain on display at Tate Britain and at the Serpentine Gallery, and his vision and collaborations survive at 'Little Sparta', open to the public during the summer months.
The American poet JACK GILBERT was awarded the National Book Critics' Circle award for poetry at a New York ceremony on 3 March for his collection, Refusing Heaven (Knopf). Pittsburgh-born Gilbert has previously received a Guggenheim Fellowship and has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. The four other short-listed poets were Simon Armitage for The Shout (Harcourt), Blas Manuel de Luna for Bent to the Earth (Carnegie Mellon University Press), Richard Siken for Crush (Yale University Press) and Ron Slate for The Incentive of the Maggot (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner Books). Founded in 1974, the NBCC comprises 700 active book reviewers across America. The NBCC awards recognise the finest books and reviews published each year across six cate gories: fiction, non-fiction, biography, auto-biography, criticism and poetry.
The British Library has launched a fund-raising campaign to secure the family archive of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) for its collections. The Library has held Coleridge's notebooks and some family correspondence since a bequest from the Pilgrim Trust in 1951. It has now been offered the opportunity to purchase the remainder of the archive, which contains a wealth of material previously unavailable to scholars, including information about the poet's adolescence, his social milieu, his relationship with Wordsworth and the Lakes circle, his children and extended family. The several thousand documents, including diaries, correspondence, literary manuscripts and legal notebooks, date from between the mid-eighteenth and early twentieth centuries. The British Library requires £710,000 to purchase the archive for the nation and save it from being sold overseas; to make a donation visit www.bl.uk/about/cooperation/supporters. html or contact the Appeals Manager Lucy Abbott at the Development Office, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB.
On the subject of the Lakes poets, a website has been set up by the Lake District National Park Authority to monitor the blossoming of daffodils in the Lake District. The Petal Peek bulb watch (www.lake-district.gov.uk/txtonly/index/enjoying/petalpeek.htmis) has been created so that visitors from around the world can observe the flowers that inspired William Wordsworth and others as they appear. The site also tracks the progress of snowdrops, aconites, crocuses and tulips. News for 4 April: 'After the recent cold spell, the daffodils are finally coming out! The hellebores are appearing and the chaenomeles (Japanese flowering quince) is now out in bloom on the top terrace.'
Anthony Astbury, founder of The Greville Press, invites you to celebrate the unveiling of a new plaque marking the Cornish home of the poet W.S. Graham, at 3pm on 2 June. Revellers are asked to gather at Graham's old pub, the King William in Madron, from 1pm; all are welcome. Born in Greenock in 1918, William Sydney Graham lived at 4 Mountview Cottages, Madron, Penzance, for many years, and had a long association with Cornwall. It was there that he wrote the poems featured all those years ago in Poetry Nation, including 'Imagine a Forest' and 'To My Wife at Midnight'. He died in 1986. Astbury confesses to being a plaque enthusiast: previous campaigns include erecting memorials for George Barker and Fulke Greville, the Elizabethan namesake of the press.
The shortlist for the 2006 Griffin Poetry Prize was announced on 5 April. The three Canadian collections shortlisted are An Oak Hunch by Phil Hall, Nerve Squall by Sylvia Legris and Little Theatres by Erín Moure; the four international collections are Born to Slow Horses by Kamau Brathwaite, Ashes for Breakfast: Selected Poems by Durs Grünbein (translated by Michael Hofmann), Company of Moths by Michael Palmer and The War Works Hard by Dunya Mikhail (translated by Elizabeth Winslow). The prize is the most lucrative international poetry prize in the world, awarded annually for the two best books of poetry, including translations, published in English in the previous year. The seven finalists will be invited to read at the MacMillan Theatre in Toronto on 31 May. Tickets are available from www.griffinpoetryprize.com/tickets or by telephoning Canada 905 565 5993. The winners will be announced on 1 June.
Poetry and politics united on 1 March as National Poet of Wales Gwyneth Lewis led the opening ceremony of the new National Assembly building in Cardiff. She read a bilingual poem specially written for the launch of the new 'Senedd', which was attended by the Queen. Gwyneth Lewis has already documented Wales' sporting achievements in verse, celebrating the Welsh Grand Slam rugby victory and com posing a haka to challenge the All Blacks in the Millennium stadium last year. 'There's no doubt that writing the poem for the opening of the new National Assembly building has been the biggest challenge so far during my time as National Poet,' she said, but, 'a poet should be able to articulate our hopes for this young institution and remind us all of fundamental values that should inform the way language is used in this stunning new building.'
The 2006 Hazlitt Day School will take place at St Catherine's College, Oxford, on 3 June. Organised by Professor Duncan Wu and chaired by Professor John Barnard, speakers will include Tom Paulin, Boyd Tonkin, Gregory Dart, Jon Cook, Philip Davies, Matthew Scott and Sybil Oldfield. Tickets cost £38 (£25 concessions) including lunch and refreshments. Those wishing to attend should contact Caroline Taylor at the Faculty of English Language and Literature, Manor Road, Oxford; email caroline.taylor @ell.ox.ac.uk or telephone 01865 81149.
The exhibition Starting at Zero: Black Mountain College 1933-57, is currently on show at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge. Sponsored by the Arts Council and the Henry Moore Foundation, it features art-works, film and historical documentation demonstrating the significance of the Black Mountain 'school' to American culture. Under the vision of Charles Olson, the last rector of the North Carolina college, it conducted an idealistic experiment in liberal arts education that lasted for almost a quar ter of a century. Its values influenced many significant artists and writers of the post-war period, including Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Robert Creeley and Merce Cunningham.
This item is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.