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This item is taken from PN Review 90, Volume 19 Number 4, March - April 1993.

News & Notes
We could all breathe easy again. But not for long. When EC pressure to impose VAT on books had eased and the government made categorical statements before the election that 'there are no plans to impose VAT in this area' - books, magazines, newspapers - the recession is making Whitehall think again. Annual revenue from books might amount to £250 million, a not quite negligible sum. The effect of such an imposition on education, libraries and the reading public (and on publishers, authors and booksellers) has not been appraised. Once again, as in 1984 when the obese spectre from Brussels haunted our literary culture, a campaign is being mounted. A rise of 20% in book prices, followed some believe by the abolition of the Net Book Agreement, would have a radical impact on the printed word which itself has taken damage during the recession. It is worth lobbying MPs and speaking out for the continued zero-rating of books - as well as food and children's clothing.

Libraries continue to decline. At least library borrowings do. The latest Public Lending Right figures show a further fall - down from 650 million in 1981 to 563 million in the year to February 1992. The Registrar for PLR, Dr James Parker, notes: 'our impression is that the decline is beginning to bottom out'. Such language is generally used to sweeten the bitter pill of unemployment statistics. One reason for the steep decline must be the reduction in budgets and the poor provision of new books and periodicals in many parts of the network. Curtailed opening hours, especially at weekends, has also taken a toll. Libraries offer a 'greater variety of services' than before, to be sure. But at the expense of primary services: even were library spending restored to a proper level, there is no likelihood that the system can make good a decade's neglect. The Library Association, with the Arts Council, has published Reading the Future: A Place for Literature in Public Libraries, with an introduction by Baroness James and contributions from A.S. Byatt, Tim Waterstone and others. It is a valuable and stimulating publication, but at £20 it will be beyond the reach of many libraries.

The distinguished New Zealand quarterly Landfall is about to cease publication. Founded in 1947 by the Caxton Press, it was edited for its first twenty years by the poet Charles Brasch. Some found him too conservative, but he maintained a balance between new and established writers, probed at current issues, featured art reproductions and gave space to attentive reviewing with the elusive 'general reader' in mind. It was rather like a focused version of the London Magazine and in its heyday had 1800 subscribers. After Brasch's retirement it's had a succession of editors and latterly an editorial collective, with guest editors for special issues, and lost its way and its readers. A university press may come to the rescue. Certainly the loss of Landfall's review section would be lamentable: no other New Zealand journal performs that necessary function.

Luis Rosales Camacho, the Spanish poet, teacher and critic, died in Madrid in October 1992 at the age of 82. He was one of the few remaining figures connected with the brilliant, ill-fated generation of 1936. A friend and collaborator of Lorca's, he fought on Franco's side in the Civil War and was implicated by some - including Cernuda - in Lorca's death. The episode - whose complex nature was explored in Ian Gibson's biography of Lorca - cast a shadow on his own life and on his subsequent reputation as a writer for many years. His Collected Poems appeared in 1981.

Ivar Ivask, the poet and one-time editor of World Literature Today, died in Ireland in September 1992. He was 65. Born in Riga, Estonia, he learned Estonian, Latvian and German as a child, emigrated to America and wrote his doctoral thesis on the literary criticism of Hugo von Hoffmansthal. His tenure of the editorship of World Literature Today (formerly Books Abroad) exploited his extraordinarily broad literary knowledge, and the special issues on the literature of specific nations were highly influential. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Neustadt Prize, one of the recommended steps on the route to Stockholm. He was also a poet of moment in the Estonian language, his last volume having been published 'miraculously' in Estonia itself. 'It is in Estonian I still count my annual rings,' he wrote in one of his elegies.

The bodies of 21 French soldiers - including that of Alain-Fournier - were reburied in the military cemetery of Saint-Remy-la-Calonne, near Verdun, on 11 November 1992. A nearby stele will mark the original spot where they fell on 22 September 1914 and were rediscovered in 1991. D.A.

A special issue of the Durham University Journal to be published in March 1995 will be devoted to Basil Bunting on the 95th anniversary of his birth. The Bunting Centre is responsible for the issue which will contain new essays, poetry, photographs, reviews and Bunting items from the University archive. The themes are 'Basil Bunting and his Contemporaries' and 'Basil Bunting - New Approaches'. Abstracts and inquiries are invited by 1 June 1993. (The Directors, Basil Bunting Poetry Centre, Durham University Library, Palace Green, Durham DHl 3RN.)

The University of Plymouth is to house the collection of manuscripts, journals, paintings and sketches by the poet, playwright and librettist Ronald Duncan, much of whose life was spent in Devon. Best remembered as the librettist for Britten's Rape of Lucretia, he was also a journalist and a poet who assaulted the major forms, as in his epic poem Man.

The Autumn Book Awards from the Scottish Arts Council, without much fanfare, sneaked into the season of prizes. Cheques for £1000 went to three novelists: George Mackay Brown, Shena Mackay and Jeff Torrington; the poet Kathleen Jamie for her travel book The Golden Peak and three to poets for their verse: Stewart Conn, Derick Thomson and lain Crichton Smith. Smith - whose Collected Poems were published last year - was also shortlisted for the McVitie's Prize and awarded the most prestigious Scottish prize of all, the Saltire, for his Collected Poems.

The Open University Poetry Competition has been announced. Details are available from Jenny Hamlett, competition organizer, East Cottage, Harvestgate, Stocks Lane, Meonstoke, Southampton S03 1NQ.

This item is taken from PN Review 90, Volume 19 Number 4, March - April 1993.

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