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This item is taken from PN Review 85, Volume 18 Number 5, May - June 1992.

News & Notes
Index on Censorship is 20 years old. The world has changed since this doughty journal was launched in 1972, and those of us who have read it down the years can be forgiven for imagining that it has had some impact on those changes, with its resolute attention to censorship and the issues it raises, as well as its concern for writers suffering under different kinds and colours of regime. It would be a mistake to assume that its work is done: each issue still carries a country by country catalogue of persecution, imprisonment, exile and subtler forms of attrition. If at times - in numbers devoted to the market and literature, or ethnicity, or feminism - it has seemed to import ogres, this does not diminish its service to our general sense of the vulnerable word. During its 20th anniversary it is running reflective articles by some of its chief protagonists: Louis Blom-Cooper in the March issue, Arthur Miller and Sir Stephen Spender in February and Pavel Litvinov in the January number. Miller seems optimistic 20 years on. But those of us who share Britain with Salman Rushdie may experience increasingly a sense of the impotence of solidarity among writers. Litvinov's piece begins ominously: 'At the time I am writing this, my oid homeland sinks deeper into chaos. The outcome will possibly be some form of dictatorship.' He concludes a fascinating account of the last 20 years of Index's work with a toast we meekly echo: 'Let us drink to the success of our hopeless endeavour!'

To mark the Index anniversary, Skoob Books is promoting an international poetry competition to be judged by Ruth Fainlight, Ted Hughes, Lucien Jenkins and Alan Ross. The first prize is a £1000 'Skoob book token', and second prize an all expenses paid holiday in Romania as guest of the Romanian Writers' Union. There are sundry other prizes of books, subscriptions and the like: awards in kind. For details write to The Skoob/lndex Competition, 15 Sicilian Avenue, Southampton Row, Holborn, London WC1A 2QH.

During March another anniversary was celebrated: the 40th birthday of Stand magazine. A series of readings at the Morden Tower, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, highlighted some of Stand's crucial contributors down the years, preeminently Michael Hamburger, Iain Crichton Smith, Rodney Pybus and Jon Glover, and the magazine's editors Lorna Tracy and John Silkin. The poster for the events declares that 'life begins at forty'. That seems a harsh judgement by the organizers - or an inordinately long gestation.

In Cuba, a group of writers' attempt to advocate multi-party politics has been brutally punished. Maria Elena Cruz Varela, an award-winning author, and nine others wrote an open letter to Fidel Castro suggesting a national debate on the one-party system in force there. The letter was circulated to foreign journalists. Then Cruz's forthcoming book of poems was suspended; she was accused of working for the CIA and expelled from the Writers' Union. She was then subjected to continual harassment. In November a mob broke into her flat, dragged her out by the hair, beat her up and forced documents she had written into her mouth. Cruz was arrested and accused of 'defamation', 'insult' to Cuban heroes, and 'unlawful association'. She is now serving a two-year sentence where psychotropic drugs are being administered to her. Six other members of her human rights group have also suffered. The extremity of the official response to what Index calls 'a minuscule pocket of non-violent resistance' is a measure of the regime's sense of vulnerability, and further evidence of its institutional brutality.

Writers have been petitioning the Egyptian authorities after the sentencing of writer Alaa Hamed, his publisher and the printer of his book A Distance in a Man's Mind, to prison. The book was seen by the Martial State Security Court as a threat to 'national unity' and 'social peace'. Sentence was passed before the defence could put its case (a form of judicial ecology). This is the first time that modern Egypt has imprisoned a novelist for his writings. The book, which circulated quietly - indeed hardly noticed by the Egyptian literary community - for two years before its was confiscated and the author punished, contained 'subversive opinions about religion in general, and Islam in particular'.

Arts 2000 has declared Swansea the capital of the 1995 Year of Literature, an Arts Council initiative which has also singled out Manchester for Theatre in 1994, East Midlands for Dance in 1993, and so on. Swansea was in competition with Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire for the literature laurels and there was some ill feeling - inevitably - among the unsuccessful bidders, who claimed that geographical criteria were playing as great a part in the decisions as artistic ones. The Arts Council strenuously denied the charge.

The Shelley bicentennial is being marked not only in Horsham, Sussex, but also at the University of South Africa, Pretoria, where a major international conference is being staged. Details from Professor Alan Weinberg, Department of English, University of South Africa, P.O. Box 392, Pretoria 0001.

Save Hugh MacDiarmid's Cottage

Open Poetry Competition, in aid of the Brownsbank Cottage Preservation Fund, has been announced. There are prizes of various sizes and a special prize for the best Scots poem and the best 'poem by a School Pupil'. The entry fee is modest and the cause a good one. Details are available from Ann Hornal, Biggar Museum Trust, Biggar ML12 6BY, Lanarkshire.

Hugh MacDiarmid's centenary will be marked by many events 'on the ground' and in the media, and by a major new publishing project, under the editorship of Alan Riach and the supervision of the poet's son Michael Grieve; a twelve volume Collected Works, beginning with a new Selected Poelns and Selected Prose this August and continuing with volumes that will bring together collected, uncollected and previously unpublished material - poetry, fiction, letters, essays and polemics. The MacDiarmid 2000 project is among the most ambitious 'Collecteds' of a Scottish writer this century. The publisher is Carcanet, with strong Scottish interests: in Edwin Morgan, Sorley MacLean, lain Crichton Smith, Burns Singer, Robert Garioch, Frank Kuppner and others.

Jules Laforgue's flat on the Unter den Linden has gone up-market since the reunification of Berlin. It was a rundown cafe. Now it's become a 'cocktailbar' with a piano for 'Live Musik'. The Chateau de Monchy, near Compeigne, where Stendhal hid to surprise his lover Clementine Curial, has become a golf-course. (D.A.)

John Ashbery was awarded the DM30,000 Horst Bienek Prize, sponsored by the Bavarian Academy in Munich.

A wry and generous friend of P·N·R, George MacBeth, poet and novelist and - as anthologist and radio producer - one of the most influential popularizers of poetry since the war, died in February at the age of 60. Even those who found the formal variety and excess of his poems daunting could enjoy his performances. He was a man of many faces. Twenty-five years ago he appeared a dapper, balding young man, not unlike Kipling in his bearing, reciting sound poems and other 'public' works. Five years later he was a hirsute, if elegant (always elegant) hippy. I remember taking him to record the late Elizabeth Daryush at her home on Boars Hill. After the recording, Mr Daryush, then a very old man, took George by the wrist and said: 'Tell me, Mr MacBeth: where are your beads?'

He gave many poets their first radio audience on Poetry Now and taught them how to speak their verse. In later years he was a dauntless and generous host, forcing harmony on warring factions and spreading an infectious enthusiasm which always savoured of the more cheerful aspects of the 1960s. (M.S.)
'The kingdoms fall in sequence, like the waves
  on the shore.
All save divine and desparate hopes go down,
  they are no more.
Solitary is our place, the castle in the sea,
And I muse on those I have loved, and on
  those who have loved me.'

Ruth Pitter, C Litt, CBE, died in February at the age of 95. Her first poem, according to Peter Dickinson's Independent obituary, was written in 1898, when she was 5. Seven years later she was a published poet. Her last collection of new work appeared in 1975. Her Collected Poenzs was published in 1990 by Enitharmon, with a preface by Elizabeth Jennings, redressing a little the neglect she had suffered.

Robert Gittings, poet, biographer, playwright, professor, distinguished radio producer, died in February at the age of 81. It is probably for his biographies of Hardy that he will be best remembered, and it is Hardy rather than Keats (whose biography he also wrote) whose spirit stalks the poems: civilized, contained: at best austere and insistently English.

The monk and poet Dom Sylvester Houdard died in January. He was 68. He enjoyed his greatest celebrity as a poet in the 1960s as a leading avant-garde writer, working in concrete and kinetic poetry. He used his portable Olivetti as a kind of palette, eliciting patterns and strange graphic rhythms from it. His religious vocation harmonized wonderfully with his creative work. He was a generous correspondent and, in an oblique and humble way, a fine teacher, insatiably curious, generous and attentive.

Irakly Abashidze, poet and editor, died in Tbilisi in January at the age of 83. He was given a state funeral even as Georgia teetered on the brink of civil war. He started his career under the wing of the Symbolists, survived purges and became a functionary in the Union of Soviet Writers of Georgia, with all that this entailed of propaganda: his 'Hymn to the Communist Party' glorified Stalin and Beria. Later he signed the petition for Pasternak's expulsion from the Soviet Union. His biography would be a fascinating story of survival at all costs. None of the obituaries made many claims for his poetry.

The American translator and critic William Arrowsmith died in February, aged 68. He was an influential editor (Hudson Review, Chimera, Delos), and his translations of Aristophanes and Euripedes are outstanding.

Two of the great European publishers of the century died in February, Heinrich Ledig-Rowohlt and Valentino Bompiani. Both created major publishing houses and both lived to see their work 'assimilated' into giant conglomerates. The Rowohlt and Bompiani lists, in their vintage years, characterized the literary tastes of Germany and Italy.

A bookseller and enthusiast who did much to promote poetry at festivals and in the trade, Alan Hancox, died in January aged 72.

East Midlands Arts is encouraging novelists in its catchment area to submit work before 29 May for the Heinemann Fiction Award. The Literature Officer declares: T know that there is a wealth of writing talent in the East Midlands …' Details from East Midlands Arts Board, Mountfields House, Forest Road, Loughborough LE11 3HU.

The West Sussex Writers' Club announces the 1992 Poetry and Short Story Competition. Details from Competition Secretary, 2 Cumberland Court, Wallace Avenue, Worthing, West Sussex.

This item is taken from PN Review 85, Volume 18 Number 5, May - June 1992.

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