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This item is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.News & Notes
JOHN ASHBERY's Notes From the Air: Selected Later Poems and robin blaser's The Holy Forest: Collected Poems were respectively the International and Canadian winners of the eighth annual Griffin Poetry Prize in Toronto in June. The C$100,000 Griffin Poetry Prize, the richest prize in the world for a single volume of poetry, is divided between the two winners. 'The pleasure of reading John Ashbery's poetry defies explanation,' commented the judges. 'His is one of the best and most intense poetry productions of the twentieth century.'
The 78 year-old poet GARY SNYDER was awarded the 2008 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in May. Established in 1986 and presented annually by the Poetry Foundation, the lifetime achievement award is one of the most prestigious for American poets, and at $100,000 it is one of the largest literary awards in the United States. Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Snyder began writing in the 1950s and was identified - with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac - as a Beat. He has written more than a dozen books of poetry, essays, and translations. In 1975, for Turtle Island, he received the Pulitzer Prize.
COLIN MACCABE, who succeeded Brian Cox as editor of Critical Quarterly, has published a special double issue of the magazine to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Renowned today for its mix of literary criticism, cultural studies, poetry and fiction, the journal addresses the range of cultural forms, from the traditional literary canon to contemporary audiovisual media, in the context of political and educational debate. Sample articles from the new issue are available online at www.criticalquarterly.com, including an interview with Stuart Hall and a review of Brian Cox's poetry by Frank Kermode, as well as fiction by Hanif Kureishi and poems by Ben Lerner, Wang Ping, Tom Raworth and Denise Riley.
The poet, novelist and short-story writer E.A. (Archie) MARKHAM died in Paris on 23 March 2008. Born on Montserrat in 1939, Markham lived mainly in Britain from 1956. He was educated at St David's University College, Lampeter, and at the Universities of East Anglia and London. He worked variously as a lecturer, a director (of the Caribbean Theatre Workshop, 1970-1), and an editor (of the magazine Artrage, 1985-7). He held a number of writing fellowships, including Writer in Residence at Hull College of Higher Education (1978-9) and at the University of Ulster (1988-91). Until 2005 he was Professor of Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, where he became Professor Emeritus. He published numerous books of poetry, latterly with Anvil Press, his 2002 collection A Rough Climate having been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Most recently Markham published two collections of short stories with Tindal Street Press, Meet Me in Mozambique (2005) and At Home with Miss Vanesa (2006), and Against the Grain: a 1950s Memoir (Peepal Tree, 2007). In 1997 he was awarded the Certificate of Honour by the Government of Montserrat.
Ken Edwards recalls a personal encounter with E.A. Markham: In the mid-1970s I was living in pre-gentrified Notting Hill with an ancient Roneo duplicating machine. My first poetry publishing ventures went under the imprint of Share Publications. Mostly I published poetry by my friends and by me: fugitive, elliptical stuff, ranging from newly discovered open-field gestures to neo-Dada. One day a manuscript came through the post, from one Paul St Vincent. I didn't know who he was, though the persona running through the poems, Lambchops, appeared to have a Caribbean origin, and so, perhaps, might the author. I enjoyed what I read: 'Like a good Presidential hopeful / beaten out of sight, Lambchops finds // embarrassment and empty purses / when he re-emerges to test the loyalty // of his colleagues. He could have gone places, etc, but now he's seen enough // to know the cards are rigged, and / the successful man must learn to mix // an ugly metaphor once in a while...' It was tight, witty, cynical - quite unlike what I had published before - but I liked it, and wrote back offering to publish it. The Roneo was not very well, and the ensuing A5 pamphlet, Lambchops in Disguise, suffered from rather splashy over-inking and show-through; alas, the best I could do at the time. By now, all I knew of Paul St Vincent was the brief biographical note he had sent me, stating that he was born in Antigua in 1944, had lived in Britain since he was eight, and was an experienced sheet-metal-worker and 'round-the-clock' negotiator. His play, Signing On, would be produced in Manchester in the autumn of 1976. But I had not yet met him.
A few months later, I was involved in organising a series of poetry events in the unmemorable upper room of a North London pub. I invited Paul St Vincent to read. On the night, an African-Caribbean man slightly older than me approached, smiling. 'Are you Paul?' I asked. 'I'm sorry,' he replied, 'but I'm Archie Markham. Paul St Vincent asks me to give you his apologies - he can't make it, so I've offered to read his poems for him.' He said this with a twinkle in his eyes, and I understood at once that Lambchops had been in double disguise. I went along with the ruse, and introduced Archie to the small audience as a late stand-in for Paul St Vincent. And he read Paul St Vincent's poems with great verve. I never met Archie again, but I always looked out for his poetry subsequently. I am sorry that I will now never get to meet him without the disguise.
The poet, translator and Japanese literature expert DENNIS KEENE died on 26 February. Keene was born in London in 1934. Whilst studying at Oxford with his friend John Carey, Keene became joint editor of Oxford Poetry, the literary journal whose past editors have included Robert Graves, Graham Greene and John Fuller. After University he became a British Council lecturer in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. In Tokyo he became Professor of English Literature at the Japan Women's University. In 1993 he and his wife returned to Britain. Keene published translations of modern Japanese literature, notably the novels and short stories of Kita Morio and Maruya Saiichi; his translation of the latter's book of four novellas, Rain in the Wind, was given a Special Award by the judges of the first Independent Award for Foreign Fiction in 1991. The author of the monograph Yokomitsu Riichi: modernist, Keene also published two volumes of his own poetry with Carcanet, Surviving (1980) and Universe (1984).
James Sutherland-Smith remembers the Irish poet Robert Greacen: robert g reacen, who died on 13 April this year, was born in Derry in 1920. He was of the generation of Irish poets writing between the death of Yeats and preeminence of the brilliant group that includes Eavan Boland, Seamus Heaney and Thomas Kinsella. Success with an early collection, One Recent Evening (1944), was not sustained, and from 1948 he eked out a living in London by teaching and reviewing. Although he edited a Faber Book of Contemporary Poetry (1949) with Valentin Iremonger, during this period poetry seemed to have given him up. However, he started writing again in his fifties and enjoyed a prolific old age, winning the Irish Times Literature Prize in 1995 for his Collected Poems and being appointed a member of Aosdana, the Irish association of those who have achieved distinction in the arts.
In the late 1970s, before his final move to Dublin, Robert launched a series of readings and hosted an informal workshop for young poets under the name Pembridge Poets. Members of the workshop included Guy Carter, Tim Dooley, Vicki Feaver, Edward Larrissey, Aidan Murphy, Matthew Sweeney and myself. We met in Robert's flat in Pembridge Crescent and brought wine; everybody read a new poem and the others commented. It wasn't quite the Group it its critical rigours, but Robert's encouraging influence continued after he departed for Ireland, with Matthew Sweeney hosting a similar group in Lambs Conduit Street with Ruth Padel, Michael Donaghy, Don Paterson, Maurice Riordan and others. While some of the younger Pembridge poets may have found Robert Greacen a trifle fussy when it came to the courtesies, he was, simply, a kind, old-fashioned gentleman and a good poet.
If you were a bitter college literature professor (played by actor Dennis Quaid) still mourning the long-ago death of his wife, and you finally resolve to do something about it by romancing a nurse (and former student) played by Sex in the City's Sarah Jessica Parker, what book would you reach down for assistance? The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, of course. Eagle-eyed cinema goers spotted New Directions' edition of Williams's poems in the recent Hollywood romantic comedy Smart People. The book has a starring role in a bookshop scene and even features in the trailer, confirming the axiom: Smart People Read Williams.
PNR received a gratifying mention from Nicholas Lezard in the Guardian on 10 May. Reviewing the latest issue of the recently re-launched Granta, Lezard admitted that 'there has always been something forbidding about Granta. It was something, perhaps a little offputtingly, you had to read, and a must-read often becomes an I'll-read-it-later.' Granta only receives attention 'once I've finished reading the latest TLS, London Review of Books, PN Review ...' More happily for Granta, however, Lezard admired the 'stability and durability' of its 101st issue, the first (and apparently last) under new editor Jason Cowley, calling it 'a perfectly acceptable forward defensive of a debut, which will one day go to prop up items of unstable furniture in literary-minded homes throughout the land.'
This item is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.