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This item is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.News & Notes
Queen's University Belfast has published The Blackbird's Nest, an anthology of poets associated with the college, from Philip Larkin and Seamus Heaney to Joseph Campbell, a former college security guard. The college has a distinguished literary history: Larkin was a librarian there from 1950 to 1955, before returning to England; and Heaney, who wrote the foreword, studied there in the early 1960s. Other writers fea-tured include Michael Longley, Ciaran Carson, Paul Muldoon, John Hewitt and Carol Rumens. The title of the book refers to the earliest known reference to the Belfast area in poetry, by a ninth century scribe, who drew a blackbird in the margin of the text he was transcribing. 'The blackbird of Belfast lough, as it is sometimes referred to, has become an iconic presence in poetry from the north of Ireland,' says editor Frank Ormsby.
ROBIN ROBERTSON was awarded the 2006 Forward Prize for Poetry in October for his collection Swithering (Picador). He is the first poet to have won both the Best Collection and Best First Collection prizes (the latter in 1997 for A Painted Field). Tishani Doshi won the first collection prize for Countries of the Body, while the prize for Best Single Poem went to Sean O'Brien for 'Fantasia on a theme of James Wright'. The Forward Prizes are the richest annual poetry awards in the UK, with a total prize value of £16,000.
Like two chemical reagents missing the necessary catalyst, it is generally supposed that art and science remain largely polarised. A new anthology of poetry and science writing, Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science (Oxford, £19.99) seeks to demolish that supposition and encourage collaboration between the disciplines. Contributors include Jocelyn Bell Burnell, renowned in the science world for discovering pulsars and a strong admirer of poetry; neuroscientist Kay Redfield Jamieson, who explores the strikingly close relationship between bipolarity and a quasi-poetic heightened verbal and associative state; and the late immunologist and poet Miroslav Holub, unique in this anthology in straddling both disciplines. And while the book's Scottish editor Robert Crawford claims that the Scottish record of poetic-scientific exchange is far superior to the English, both traditions pale beside that of the Italians, from Lucretius (who receives warm treat-ment from Edwin Morgan) through Galileo to Calvino and Primo Levi.
The Wordsworth Trust has produced a striking new CD recording of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, read by Shakespearean actor (and Lord of the Rings' Gandalf) Sir Ian McKellen. Telephone 015394 35888 or visit www.wordsworthshop.co.uk to purchase your copy. The CD accompanies a new exhibition at the Wordsworth Museum beside Dove Cottage, Grasmere. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: the Poem and its Illustrators presents a selection of illustrations inspired by the poem over the past two centuries.
The 2006 Nordic Literature Prize was awarded to the Swedish author GORAN SONNEVI in November for his poetry collection The Ocean. Established in 1962, the prestigious prize was presented alongside the Nordic Council's Film, Music and Nature and Environment awards at a ceremony in Tivoli's Concert Hall.
Finnish poet, novelist, playwright and translator JARKKO LAINE has died at the age of 59. Born in Turku, Finland in 1947, Laine became a leading figure in the 1960s cultural 'underground' movement which introduced elements of American popular culture, music and comic books into Finnish literature. He published his first collection of poems, Muovinen Buddha ('The Plastic Buddha'), in 1967 and wrote lyrics to many songs which have become classics of Finnish popular music. His poetry collections include Elokuvan jälkeen (1986), Pyhä maanantai (1991) and his 2005 book Jumala saalistaa oison ('God hunts at night'); he also published eight novels, two volumes of short stories and a play. Involved in the literature magazine Parnasso from 1969 to 2002, he was its editor-in-chief from 1987 to 2002. He was also the President of the Union of Finnish Writers from 1987 to 2002.
Novelist and poetry promoter JOSEPHINE HART established Gallery Poets during the late 1980s, frustrated by the difficulty of hearing the work of the great, dead poets performed anywhere in London. Since then she has been persuading leading British thespians to give public poetry readings for free, all proceeds going to The Actors Centre. The Josephine Hart Poetry Hour now takes place each month at the British Library (visit www.josephinehart.com/ jhpoetry for information). Inspired by Auden's assertion that 'no poem, which when mastered, is not better heard than read, is good poetry', Hart's latest ambition is to take spoken poetry into every classroom in Britain. She has produced a new CD and accompanying anthology, a copy of which will be sent to every school in the country. Catching Life By The Throat, inspired by Robert Frost's famous line, features Ralph Fiennes reading W.H. Auden, Juliet Stevenson reading Emily Dickinson, Roger Moore reading Rudyard Kipling, Harriet Walter reading Sylvia Plath, and Bob Geldof reading W.B. Yeats, among others.
The Saltire Society is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of its Scottish Book of the Year Award with the publication of a fully illustrated book documenting its history. Past winners of the award, which recognises books by authors of Scottish descent or on a Scottish topic, include poets Edwin Morgan, Tom Leonard, Muriel Spark, Sorley MacLean, Iain Crichton Smith, Liz Lochhead and George Mackay Brown. Visit www.saltiresociety.org.uk or write to Saltire at 9 Fountain Close, 22 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TF for more information.
Tehran will host to the first Fajr International Poetry Festival in January, organised by the Poetry and Music High Council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The festival will feature Persian language poets from Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and elsewhere. Iranian and international poets will compete for the Simorgh, Iran's most prestigious artistic award, which recognises the translation of Persian poetry into other languages. Some critics have expressed concern that a festival organised by a state institution may be subject to artistic restrictions. Iranian poet Mahmoud Motaqedi told Iran Daily that the festival ought to provide opportunities and recognition for all authors and operate independently of governmental interference.
War poet Wilfred Owen was prominent in the news during November, as all his major poems were broadcast on BBC Radio 3. According to that most candid of British army chiefs General Sir Richard Dannatt, the poems chronicling the horror of life and death on the Western Front still speak to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, getting on for a century later. Dannatt, who caused a political storm in October by declaring that British troops should be brought home 'soon' from Iraq and that their presence was 'exacerbating' the situation there, believes that Owen's work retains a powerful immediacy in the early twenty -first century. 'I think Owen's poems do speak to me and my contemporaries as sol -diers because he was a soldier,' he told Radio 3 in an interview to mark Remembrance Sunday. 'He went through very earthy and very gritty experiences. As our young men are finding now in Iraq and particularly in Afghanistan over this [last] summer period, gun battles when people are shooting at you, the adrenaline pumps, and this of course is what Owen knew in spades.' Wilfred Owen (1893918) was killed in action on 4 November 1918, aged 25. Dannatt's comments on poetry and modern warfare may have some resonance with outgoing U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Irreverent news website slate.com published Rummy's Ruminations, the spoof 'collected poems' of Donald Rumsfeld, following the news of his departure in November. Lifting his exact words from official Defence Department transcripts, Slate compiled a fascinating case for Rumsfeld as an abstract, post-post-modern poet for the twenty-first century: 'Until now, the secretary's poetry has found only a small and sceptical audience: the Pentagon press corps... but we should all be listening. His work, with its dedication to the fractured rhythms of the plainspoken vernacular, is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams' ... his gift for offhand, quotidian pronouncements is as entrancing as Frank O'Hara's. A sample 'poem', 'The Unknown', is quoted here, drawn from a Department of Defence news briefing, 12 February 2002. It may be of interest to a publisher keen to please the public:
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know. We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.
This item is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.