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This item is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

In recent months poetry has been news in unexpected ways. On a chilly evening in Dublin on 17 June, a capacity audience filled the Gate Theatre to hear several leading Irish writers and critics, among them Eavan Boland, Colm Tóibín, Eilían Ní Chuilleaníin, Dennis O'Driscoll and John F. Deane, celebrate the Irish poet Thomas Kinsella. He was given the Freedom of the City of Dublin and this event brought to a close weeks of celebration in his native city. His fellow writers read poems from every phase of his life, representing the several genres and prosodies he has made uniquely and strangely his own. Kinsella himself came on stage at the end and spoke with characteristic resonance and reticence. This tribute felt to him, he said, almost elegiac; to the audience, who gave him a standing ovation, it seemed long overdue, since Kinsella, for reasons he and some of the speakers explored, has been undervalued in Ireland and Britain for a long time. The record is now being decisively adjusted, and the poetry of Ireland and of Great Britain will be enhanced as his work is restored to the record. When Nightwalker and other poems was published in 1968 Kinsella was the Irish poet everyone in Britain was reading. After the first Peppercanister poem, Butcher's Dozen, was published in 1972, in the wake of the Widgery inquiry into Bloody Sunday, the critical focus changed in ways that defined the gulfs that history can open up within a partly-shared tradition.

A week earlier, in England a celebration in a different spirit and on a different scale occurred. At Langport, Somerset, that most English of contemporary poets C.H. Sisson (1914-- 2003), one-time editor of PN Review, was remembered. The handsome tombstone, designed by Stephen Raw, that marks where he and his wife Nora lie in the Huish Episcopy churchyard, was dedicated, and his poems were read at Moorfield Cottage, the house and garden which provided him with so many of the occasions for his later work. It was clear, as his poems were read by P.J. Kavanagh, Clive Wilmer, Lawrence Sail, Charlie Louth and others, that the record will have to be adjusted for Sisson as well: he is a major writer with a complicated politics and formal debts, like Kinsella's, to those Modernisms which the taste-makers of the day find rebarbative. Clive Wilmer will describe this event in the next issue of PN Review.

Stephen Raw has for more than a decade been the leading calligraphic interpreter of modern and contemporary poetry. His work with texts by Eavan Boland, Carol Ann Duffy, John Ashbery and many others has been widely exhibited. Now that the Royal Festival Hall is restored, the Poetry Library reopens with an exhibition of Raw's work ('Open&Shut&Open') based on poetry published during the period of refurbishment. As with his earlier work, Raw finds appropriate media, colours and letter forms in which to bring poems visually alive; a line or two stand for the whole, but these works are vortices, not sound-bites, and their vigour and vividness are interpretative. The exhibition runs until 30 September.

Even as people were assembling in Dublin to celebrate Thomas Kinsella, at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire poetry was making news in another way. 17 June was the fiftieth birthday of Sir Bernard Lovell's great radio telescope, and to mark the occasion, at the heart of the First Move Festival organized by Erica Wagner to bring literature and science together, a poem was bounced off the moon. 'Phase' by Joanna Clark won the Moon Bounce competition sponsored by The Times and PN Review and judged by three writers and two astronomers. The poet stood by as her poem was beamed up and then, on the rebound, caught in the telescope and transmitted to a crowd of jubilant earthlings.

By the time Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin walked on the moon in 1969, the Cyclopean Lovell eye had been fixed on the heavens for a dozen years. It was the only telescope on earth able to monitor the flight of Sputnik I, the Soviet probe that sped into space in 1957, and its moving gaze followed all the subsequent Sputniks, Lunas and Apollos in their trajectories. For a long time it was the largest eye in the world. Part of astro-history, now it has made literary history as well, performing its first poetic act in collusion with what Philip Larkin sourly called the 'lozenge of love'.

Science and the arts, the 'two cultures', converge. And science sets poetry a formal challenge. The poem goes up, the poem comes down: there is a 2.7-second delay between launch and re-entry, providing the poet with a potential technical challenge, to build in this delay. Radio waves travel at the speed of light, about 300,000 kms per second, so the pulse takes a certain amount of time to travel, the moon being about 385,000 kms away. I speculated that the words might go up in one key and come back in another, transformed by the pocked lunar surface, the way two rackets make a different pop when they exchange a tennis ball, or that the words might come back reversed, as in a mirror, Poe's Raven come back as Nevar, or versa vice. These lunatic notions were corrected within 2.7 seconds by my new astronomer friends.

This item is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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