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

Letters from Meva Maron, Seija Paddon, Michael Hamburger, Michael Hulse, Herbert Lomas, Bill Turner, David Craig and Jillian Mounter


Frank O'Connor thought Giolla Bríde Mac Conmhidhe (as he called him) was a man. See, for instance, 'The Backward Look' (1967). 'A Biographical Dictionary of Irish Writers' (Ann Brady & Brian Cleeve, 1985) agrees. And my Irish dictionary suggests the name means Brigid's boy. The 'Snoring Bedmate' (0 Tauma & Kinsella, 'An Duanaire/Poems of the Dispossessed') is anonymous, but has always seemed to me a man's work. If feminist criticism has recently disproved or disputed these claims, as Angela Bourke in the latest 'Graph' argues that the Lament for Art O'Leary was keened, not written ('The Oral Tradition' - Boland), then Ann Stevenson (P·N·R 83) should give references to help other enthusiastic amateurs like me.

As Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill in translation has not been widely reviewed, it might also help to say that she and Máire Mhac an tSaoi write in Irish - as does &Amacron;ine Ní Ghlinn, whom I would add to the list.

Bracknell, Berkshire



John Pilling's review of Paavo Haavikko's Selected Poems, translated by Anselm Hollo and published by Carcanet (P·N·R 83) compels me to respond. The oft-quoted saying that modernism had practically run its course in Scandinavia and Finland before Ezra Pound (literally) brought the word to England may, or may not stand close scrutiny. However, in reading critiques such as the one by Mr Pilling, it would seem that postrnodernism is still waiting for the appropriate messenger to carry the word to the ears and minds of Mr Pilling and the like; more importantly, one is obliged to wonder whether its arrival would make the least bit of difference.

Mr Pilling begins his not 'autistic stutter' (the extraordinary words he chooses to apply to Haavikko's earlier work), but rather his vacuous stutter with the erroneous statement that Herbert Lomas's anthology spared Haavikko the fate of being a lone representative of Finnish poetry. In overlooking, for example, Kirsti Simonsuuri's anthology of modern women poets in Finland (Enchanting Beasts, Forest Books, 1990), Mr Pilling is either guilty of overt sexism, ignorance of facts, or both. More importantly, however, in finding Mr Lomas to be his saviour in a task clearly beyond Mr Pilling's theoretical and critical scope, the reader is witnessing the blind leading the blind. Here I wish to emphasize that my concern is not Mr Lomas, the poet/translator, but Mr Lomas, the literary critic who has yet to master the elementary distinction between the poet and the textual subject of a poetic discourse. His working hypothesis rests on a Disneylandish search for the autonomous, authoritative intentions of poets. When Mr Pilling's critique, at long last, shifts from the 'enterprising' and 'profitable' in Mr Lomas's view to a critical stance of its own, it does so only to lament in Haavikko's poetry the absence of 'stability at the centre', or 'cores around which clusters might form', the phenomena of 'dispersal and erosion' and concludes, incredulously, by presuming to know where Haavikko is or is not most tranquilly 'himself'. Even a cursory look at Haavikko's work with its emphasis on discontinuities (subjective, historical, and other) places it in the postmodern vein which doesn't profess to recognize concepts such as centre or core. The depiction of 'dispersal' and 'fragmentation' in a fragmented world is precisely the point. Most importantly, one doesn't approach Haavikko's poetry in search of what it means as much as how it means. In failing to understand from the start that in Haavikko's poetry form is inseparably part of the content, Mr Pilling is hopelessly lost and the succession of inanities which follow merely complete a review which not only does Haavikko's work injustice, but also injustice to Hollo's intelligent and commendable translation.

Toronto, Canada



In his review of Pigeons and Moles, Selected Writings of Gunter Eich, Michael Hulse raises the question why I did not mention that poet's brief membership of the National Socialist Party and his few publications during the Third Reich. I knew of the biographical researches from the article by Fritz Raddatz of 1979, mentioned by Hulse, but could attach no importance to them for the following reasons:

They are irrelevant to the work represented in my book, all of which belongs to the post-war period; and they are even irrelevant to such juvenile work of Eich's as I have read, since Nazi ideology did not enter into them.

The biographical data I found it necessary to provide were minimal. The raking-up of discrediting facts or imputations about prominent writers - usually political in Germany, more often sexual or psychological elsewhere is part of the sensation-mongering that tends to replace a real interest in writing. Similar exercises have been devoted to Günter Eich's associate and friend Peter Huchel, and I have ignored them for the same reasons - because they were and are irrelevant to the work I have translated, as Gottfried Benn's brief love affair with Nazism was not irrelevant to the work that came before and after.

As for moral judgement, I believe that martyrdom is a special vocation which critics - and especially critics who have been spared the same choices have no right to expect of anyone. A more active or explicit resistance to Nazism on Günter Eich's part - or Huchel's and many of the 'inner emigrants', including Benn during the war - would have amounted to martyrdom. Let those throw stones who have risked their lives or at least their liberty in such resistance. For me, not one of them, it's enough that Eich had to serve as a solder in that war, and pay for it with disillusionment, disgust, and internment as a prisoner of war - circumstances I did mention, because they are relevant to the work in the book.

I am grateful to Michael Hulse for his correction about the number of radio plays written by Eich. The new edition of his collected works had not appeared when I wrote my Introduction, and I have not seen it yet. Reviews as well-informed as Michael Hulse's have become very rare.

Saxmundham, Suffolk



I'm terribly terribly sorry that I gave Gavin Ewart a fair hearing on his own terms in my review (P·N·R 82). In future I shall try to emulate the ex cathedra condemnation of the reviewer James Keery hoses down with molasses in his letter to P·N·R 84.

K&ounl;ln, Germany


I too had intended to shut up about metre, but thanking Mr Keery for his interest in the discussion, which is perhaps important and could go on for ever, prompts me to say that my argument was never intended to regulate individual nuances of emphasis in reading aloud. That was Mr Harris's red herring. Every performance of a nocturne not only can but should be different, but the notation remains the same.

Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Less nit-picking than blooming
one grows weary
of James Keery.




At a press conference yesterday in the G-Mex Centre, the Minister for Literature, the Rt. Hon. C.H. Sisson, unveiled his Readers' Charter, Backwards into the 21st Century. His plan for relieving voters from what he has called 'the monstrous regiment of poets' included the following points:

1. The market share achieved by poetry remains extremely disappointing, in spite of recent promotional drives by the Open College of the Arts and other purportedly 'democratic' bodies. It is time poets realized that 'There is no such thing as a free launch.' During a recession it is questionable whether poetry's contribution to the GNP (currently standing at .0000003%) justifies its allocation from the national stock of paper, computer time, and warehouse space.

2. The same doubts must attach to the place of poetry in colleges and universities. Now that the National Curriculum in Higher Education is in place, the time is ripe to extend to campuses the regulations in force in schools. In the spirit of Ezra Pound's dictum 'Poetry must be as well written as prose,' we propose that correctness should be a major goal of 'creative' writing. The National Assessment Code drawn up by the Davié Committee will be implemented. Spelling, handwriting, and metre will in future count for not less than 65% of marks. There should be an end to the practice of awarding marks for originality, imagery, and accuracy of psychological and social observation since, as Davie remarks, 'Any Tom, Dick or Harry can lay claim to those; they are not susceptible of exact definition and are in any case no substitute for strenuous and disciplined craftsmanship.'

3. Terminology. The language used in discussing the arts should be brought into line with actual consumer practice and all customers, whether in retail outlets, hospitals, or educational institutions, should be clearly told what product is on offer. Accordingly we suggest that in future 'poetry' should be known as 'verse' and the word 'creative' should be dropped entirely. The Cabinet has debated whether 'writing' should be retained. On the one hand it stresses the continuing importance of good handwriting (still top of the parental demand list); on the other hand it obscures the fact that most student customers now buying places in schools and colleges work mainly on computers. We therefore propose that 'Text Production' should be substituted for 'Writing'. This will also help towards uniformity throughout the system since criticism can appropriately be renamed 'text analysis' and drama, video, and film can become 'text realization'.

4. To reduce the excess output of poets - or as they will now be, versifiers - the borrowing of verse texts from publicly funded libraries will be restricted to customers who pass a test in spelling, grammar, and syntax. New technology makes it simple to administer this at borrowing-points throughout the country. The anticipated fall of verse-borrowing to near-zero, and the consequent minimization of payments to verisifiers under the Public Lending Right scheme, should persuade them that their productivity should be deployed into commercially more realistic media.

Before leaving for the Tokyo Book Fair the Minister said, 'The Opposition calls our ideas "negative". We believe that voters will accept them as common sense. The next few years will see a leaner, more competitive literature taking its place in Europe as an earner of which we can all be proud.'




In your editorial (P·N·R 84) you ask 'Where will western liberals find the conscience-salving writers with "real experience" against whom to measure their compatriots?'

I do not know how British writers will fare because 'a prophet hath no honour in his own country'. Writers 'from Heav'n derive their light', so they are, to some extent, prophets. But the other western writers will undoubtedly be able to measure themselves and their fellows by the British writers. They will not be affected themselves because only those who are European will belong to the EEC, and I believe that the Community is a good thing for continental Europe. However, it is not and never was a good thing for this country. Our trade deficit is entirely due to the Community; last autumn it was said that, taking only our trade with the rest of the world, we have a surplus. Our sovereignty, our monarchy, our culture, our weights and measures: everything is being eroded by those people who are trying to .steam-roller us into accepting that we should and, indeed, must, join a federated Europe. Why, if we did that our Parliament would be relegated to the position of a county council and we should lose our freedom of speech. That process has already started. It must have, or else why are the newspapers so silent on the subject?

So, in answer to your question, if Britain takes the final plunge into a federated EEC this year, it is the British under Big Brother who will be the other writers' yardstick.

Somerton, Somerset

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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