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This item is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.News & Notes
Poet and novelist CHINUA ACHEBE received the second International Man Booker Prize on 28 June at Christ Church College, Oxford. £60,000 is awarded every two years to a living author who has contributed significantly to world literature. It was awarded to Ismail Kadaré in 2005. Achebe is best known for his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), and Anthills of the Savannah, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1987. He is regarded as the father of modern African literature. Achebe commented, 'It was fifty years ago this year that I began writing my first novel, Things Fall Apart. It is wonderful to hear that my peers have looked at the body of work I have put together in the last fifty years and judged it deserving of this important recognition.'
GEORGE STEINER' s Ten Possible Reasons for the Sadness of Thought (PNR 167) was published as a book in Germany where, in May, sales had topped 21,000 copies. It is also proving a bestseller in Italy, a happy if an unusual fate for a PNR contribution.
The archive of JOHN GOODLAND , founder with Dorian Cooke of the Apocalyptic Movement, is now permanently located in Cambridge University Library (CUL MS Add. 9704). It includes the annotated typescript (the only extant copy) of the original Apocalyptic manifesto, dating from December 1938. The document came to light only recently, when Goodland's son Giles, himself a poet, took a closer look at his father's papers (the latter gave an account of his discovery in PNR 154). John Wells summarises Goodland's role in the movement and his subsequent career in the annual Bulletin of the Friends of Cambridge University Library (No. 26, pp.1 1- 13). The archive includes a 'jaunty and subversive' short fiction, ironically entitled Of No Security Interest, which chronicles the adventures of a Field Security unit that 'the Army nearly forgot' in the towns and bars of liberated France ('Voulez-vous acheter un camion pour deux cognacs?'). Despite rejection by Charles Madge's Pilot Press in 1945, its literary interest is considerable. Posted to the Hamburg Intelligence Office, Goodland was engaged in the complex process of de-Nazification. Wells identifies one of his correspondents as Hiltgunt Zassenhaus, future Nobel Peace Prize nominee and author of Walls, a celebrated account of resistance to the Nazis. 'John Goodland is an elusive character, eccentric, irreverent and self-effacing, but his papers afford glimpses of a fascinating life and an appealing personality'. Quite so.
DON M C KAY was awarded the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize for Strike/Slip, his eleventh book of poetry, in a ceremony in Toronto on 6 June. McKay, considered by some to be Canada's premiere nature poet, was praised by judges for the 'patience, courage, and quiet eloquence' of his work. American Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Wright won Best International Book of Poetry for his collection Scar Tissue. The winners receive C$50,000 each.
A new biography of Stalin reveals that the Great Leader possessed a surprising talent for romantic poetry in his youth. While poetry and dictatorship may strike readers as an unlikely combination, Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore describes how in 1895 a seventeen-year-old Stalin, then studying for the priesthood in Georgia, showed his adolescent scribblings to the country's most famous editor and national hero, Prince Ilya Chavchavadze, who published five of Stalin's poems in Iveria, the fashionable and prestigious literary journal. They later appeared anonymously in several anthologies and were memorised by school children into the 1970s. Stalin was no Georgian Pushkin, however: 'the poems' romantic imagery is derivative, but their beauty lies in the rhythm and language', writes Montefiore. Poetry remained important to Stalin throughout his life; he knew Nekrasov and Pushkin by heart, read Goethe and Shakespeare in translation, and could recite Walt Whitman, as well as the Georgian poets of his childhood. Yet his poetic career did not continue into adulthood; he later told a friend: 'I lost interest in writing poetry because it requires one's entire attention.' And those poets who were not comfortable with his tyranny found themselves corrected and erased.
Filming for a new biopic about the ill-fated three-year romance between Keats and Fanny Brawne, cut short by Keats's death in 1821, will begin later this year. Bright Star is written and directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jane Campion, whose previous films include The Piano and The Portrait of a Lady. The English poet will be played by Ben Whishaw, best known for his lead role in Trevor Nunn's 2004 young-cast production of Hamlet at the Old Vic. Keats's engagement to Brawne (1800- 65) was kept secret from all but their closest friends, as the young poet could not afford to support a wife. In fact, it was not made public until 1878, when his copious letters to her were finally published. Keats also wrote Brawne several haunting sonnets, including the eponymous 'Bright Star'. The realisation that he would never be able to marry Brawne due to his failing health caused Keats great distress. He last saw her in September 1820, shortly before he set sail for Italy, where he would eventu ally die from tuberculosis at the age of 25. Brawne went on to marry in 1833, had three children, and died at the age of 65.
TOM RAWORTH was awarded Italy's prestigious Antonio Delfini Poetry Prize for lifetime's achievement in a ceremony in Modena on 23 June. An illustrated limited edition of Raworth poems has been published to mark the occasion. The only previous Anglophone poet to receive the prize is Robert Creeley. Raworth is associated with the British Poetry Revival, a modernist-inspired reaction to the Movement's approach to British poetry, led by Roy Fisher, Gael Turnbull, Edwin Morgan, Lee Harwood, Christopher Logue and others during the 1960s and 1970s. Born in London in 1938, the poet and visual artist has published over forty books of poetry and prose during his career.
MARTIN AMIS was courting easy controversy as usual at the June Hay Literature Festival, declaring, 'poetry is dead [...] The obituary has already been written,' he asserted. 'It has a ghoulish afterlife in readings and poetry slams, [but] not many people curl up of an evening with a book of poetry... Reading a poem involves self-examination [...] we don't have the time or the inclination.' Josephine Hart disputed Amis's claim in the Guardian of 9 June. 'Who wrote the obituary?' She counters Amis's claim that people no longer read poetry, declaring implausibly that poetry sales are up on last year, and (even more implausibly) that there are more mainstream publishers of poetry collections than ever before. Amis's stance is paradoxical, given that he has recently became Professor of Creative Writing at Manchester University, in a department with a strong poetry-writing programme.
To mark GILLIAN CLARKE's seventieth birthday, Barry Wood offered seven haiku, one for each decade:
rooted in blaen cwrt
a great tree and ancient well
promise shade and drink
love and nourishment
grow in poetry music
red for wales, red hair
like an acer in full leaf
broadcasting its joy
leaping into a blue moon
syllables of light
sing out for home and hearthstone
blackbird against snow
the moon the huge smooth pebble
contains its city
years rising, falling, rising,
as the hare leaps on
Irish poet and philosopher JOHN MORIARTY has died at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer. Moriarty was born in north Kerry in 1938 and educated at University College Dublin. He taught English literature in Canada for six years, returning to Ireland in 1971, where he set up home at the foot of Mangerton Mountain near Killarney and worked as a lecturer, broadcaster and gardener. He published eight books of poetry over thirteen years, the first of which, Dreamtime, appeared in 1994 from The Lilliput Press. His most recent collection, Nostros, was published in 2001.
Daniel Weissbort writes:
MICHAEL HAMBURGER was one of the first advisory-editors of Modern Poetry in Translation. Ted Hughes proposed him, among others, including Christopher Middleton, with whom Hamburger initially collaborated on a comprehensive anthology of German poetry of the last century [German Poetry 1910- 1975, Carcanet). What Hughes admired in particular were Michael's translations of Goethe, a selection of which are available, attractively published by Anvil (Goethe: Poems and Epigrams, 1983). Michael Hamburger is the major translator of German poetry, historical and modern, his work ranging from classical figures to contemporaries, mostly friends. His most important achievements were perhaps his translations of Friedrich Hölderlin and of his friend Paul Celan, ongoing projects to which he added as he found himself able to translate additional poems. As a critic, of course, his work is best exemplified in his major study, The Truth of Poetry (first published 1969; Anvil, 1996) as well as in numerous essays and introductions.
I knew Michael primarily as an exemplary translator and an independent authority and sage who took little part in the debates that preoccupied many translators, including myself. His remarks on translation tended to be commonsensical and were eloquently, which is to say lucidly, expressed although he was not given to disquisitions on the art, limiting himself to occasional paragraphs and interviews. It is worth recording that he took exception to the notion that every translator is inevitably influenced by Ezra Pound; if he himself was a post-Poundian, it was only in the chronological sense, EP's example, if anything, being one to be wary of. Michael rarely translated from languages with which he was not personally familiar, telling me once that he needed direct contact with the source text. In fact, he translated mostly from German, his first language, introducing us to almost the entire corpus of contemporary German poetry, East and West, including not only senior figures like Sachs, Benn, and Huchel, but also contemporaries such as Enzensberger, Heissenbütel, and the expatriate writer and founder of the translation centre at the University of East Anglia, the late Max Sebald, as well as to major classical figures of German literature.
I first became aware of Hölderlin when I was a judge for a poetry-translation award offered by the Arts Council, my fellow judge being the late Roy Fuller. I asked for Hamburger's ultimately prize-winning Hölderlin to be submitted, by far the most important translation published in that period. Having recommended the collection, I read it! For the first time, I was impressed by a translation of poetry which added something quite new to English literature. In an essay on Hölderlin (Reason and Energy, Studies in German Literature, 1957), Hamburger had written: 'The beauty of a work of art is inseparable from it peculiar logic.' By means of scrupulous fidelity, he achieved the stylistic feat of rendering Hölderlin's 'logic' in English.
Sometimes irascible, Hamburger was that rarest of creatures in the literary or any world, a selfless individual. He was also beyond the reach of what he once called 'the crass and shameless money dictator-ship', for which he had nothing but contempt. He exemplified a number of virtues which have to do with self-denial, being an old-fashioned, humanistic socialist, again of a rare kind. He was deeply disturbed by the heartlessness of modern society. As it happens, we both went to the same prep-school, the Hall, Hampstead - a decade or so apart. I recall Michael's unsentimental view of the India-hand Victorian gent who founded the school and was still headmaster in Michael's and my days there, though, as a fellow Jew, I had little in common with Michael, who stemmed from the assimilated German-Jewish high-bourgeoisie whereas my own origins were more lowly.
Michael belonged to my older brother's generation and I had heard about him and others, like Jon Silkin, Bernard Kops, Dannie Abse, many years before becoming personally acquainted with them. I recall visiting him in his home, near Swiss Cottage, in a street, blitzed during the war and after the war demolished; also in Half-Moon Street, in south east London, where he inhabited a double-fronted Victorian or Edwardian villa, and in his Suffolk home where I was royally entertained by him and his wife, the poet Ann Beresford. In all these places, Michael gardened with religious fervour. A naturalist-conservationist, knowledgeable and discriminating, he always seemed to have a garden and the garden always seemed to have Michael, in that it overran him as well as itself. His attitude was lovingly indulgent. I cherish the memory of trudging around his large plot in Suffolk, making our way through dense thickets which Michael beat severely aside with a handy branch picked off the ground. He seemed on intimate terms with every section of this wilderness or Eden, familiar with every plant. He once visited me in Iowa, where I directed a translation programme at the University, and I took him for a walk in Kent State Park, a well-groomed stretch of rural terrain. A delighted Michael discovered there, in an area of dense undergrowth I had never entered, an unusual plant which he gently wrapped in a piece of tissue paper to transport back to England. What remains in my mind is both Michael's delight and his tenderness, as he cupped the tiny plant in his hand.
The stereotype of urban Jewish intellectual does not fit him, though he was one of that distinguished company of Central European Jews who greatly enriched English artistic and intellectual life. He was gloomy about humankind's prospects and was aware that he had a reputation for so being. His later booklets of political and satirical poems were written by a persona called 'Mr Littlejoy', but Michael was a man who joyed greatly in the natural world, refusing, superstitiously perhaps, to make too much of it. It was a privilege to know this lugubriously, stubbornly sane and kind man.
This item is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.