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This report is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.

Reading George Oppen Anthony Rudolf

In May 1981, I asked my friends Carl Rakosi and George Oppen to compose messages for a symposium which I had proposed to the founder and organiser of the Cambridge Poetry Festival, my old friend and comrade Richard Burns. The symposium, clumsily entitled after Hölderlin 'While Rome Burns: What Use is Poetry in a Time of Jeopardy?', was on the venerable theme of poetry and politics, but in the immediate context of nuclear weapons, a huge issue in Europe at the time, and centring on the controversial deployment of American cruise missiles. My quondam position could, with a little exaggeration, have been summed up as follows: 'Poetry is what matters most in the world but there has to be a world which poetry matters most in.'

Carl's message, as I recall, denounced the concept and was too long to read out; I later arranged for it to appear in Stand magazine. To my dismay, a message from George had not arrived by the time I left London for Cambridge on Monday morning 3 June. I asked my next door neighbour to check my mail every day until Saturday 8 June, the last postal delivery before the conference on Sunday. On Friday my daily phone call was at last rewarded with the arrival of the message. Bless Oppen. Four speakers were on the panel: Adrian Mitchell, George Steiner, the astronomer poet Michael Rowan Robinson and myself, and the meeting was chaired by the philosopher ...

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