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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

News & Notes
Less than two months after the death of Nikos Karouzos (obituary P·N·R 77) Greek literature suffered a greater loss. In November Athens mourned Yannis Ritsos, author of over 50 volumes of verse, twice nominated for the Nobel prize. Despite his international reputation, he was a uniquely national poet: kiosks and shop-fronts were boarded up. Born in Laconia in 1909, Ritsos started publishing early: Tractor, a highly political collection, appeared in 1930. His social concerns came to passionate fruition in Epitaphios, his most famous single poem, which expresses outrage at the massacre of striking tobacco workers during the Metaxas dictatorship. This work engaged the collective imagination in ways which no poem of the British 'Thirties generation' managed to do. The price of this success was a series of book burnings and arrests. Much of the work from Ritsos's most prolific period, the 1950s, survived in bottles buried at the prison camp on the island of Makronisos. There is no doubt that Ritsos will survive not only as a legend but also as one of Greece's major modern poets.

Lawrence Durrell, poet, playwright and novelist, died in November. Born in India in 1912, Durrell's 'nursery-rhyme' childhood was interrupted by an English public school education. It was unexpectedly resumed at the age of 23 when his family emigrated to Corfu, a setting in which he claimed to have been reborn. His first serious novel, The Black Book, was an exuberant post-mortem on 'the English Death', described by T.S. Eliot as 'the first piece of work by a new English writer to give me any hope for the future of prose fiction'. At the same time Durrell established links with Henry Miller, who urged him not to compromise with the censors over an English edition of The Black Book. It was not until 1957 with the publication of Justine that he gained wider public acceptance. Subsequent volumes of The Alexandria Quartet - Balthazar and Mountolive in 1958, Clea in 1960 - brought approbation and financial independence. Durrell wrote touchingly to Miller, 'I am deafened by the magnitude of my own achievement!' Such extravagance, with its defensive undertow, continued to have a place in Durrell's emphatically un-English oeuvre. His most ambitious novel sequence The Avignon Quintet (1974-85) has been better received on the continent than by English critics who, one suspects, will be relieved at not having to deal with further bewildering expansions. The epigraph to Quinx evokes the authority of an English poet Laureate: '... must itself create the taste by which it is to be judged ... Wordsworth dixit'.

Eric Heller, teacher and critic, died in November at the age of 79. The austere climate of post-war Britain was an unpropitious setting for a flamboyant critic of modern German literature. His success was in his ability to reveal at once the splendour and peril of his national literature. An admirer of Kraus, Heller appreciated the irony of his situation. His work is notable for the way it reconciles the Germanic taste for profundities with a sardonic sense of proportion. A study of Thomas Mann called The Ironic German (1958) is perhaps his most characteristic volume. His less successful writing veers between the playful and the verbose. This criticism is sometimes levelled at his account of Hegel, The Artist's Journey into the Interior (1965) - aptly titled since it exposes the risks inherent in his swashbuckling methods of self-projection. Nevertheless, Heller's final awareness of Kraus's ideal fusion of the ethical and the aesthetic makes him remarkable in his, and our own, literature.

Félix Pita Rodríguez, one of Cuba's leading intellectuals, died in Havana in October. Born in 1909, his early years were nomadic, including travel in Mexico, Central America and Morocco. 1937 found him in Spain as part of a Cuban deputation supporting the embattled Republican government. Following the defeat of the Republican forces he moved to Paris where, for a time, he edited the exile newspaper La Voz de Madrid. Heaped with literary prizes at home, he maintained his voluntary exile, working throughout the 1940s as a broadcaster in Argentina and Venezuela. Castro's overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in 1959 prompted his final return. The new Cuba provided Félix Pita with a harsh stability which he spent the rest of his life consolidating. Long after the first surge of egalitarian ardour, he advocated and practised a 'poetry of desperate commitment' in a culturally implausible context.

Adolfo Bioy Casares is the 1990 winner of Spain's most important literary prize, the Premio Cervantes, worth 12 million pesetas (approximately £60,000). The 76-year old Argentinian writer was chosen from a group of five finalists, which also included Juan Benet, Camilo José Celá, Miguel Delibes and Juan Goytisolo. La Invención de Morel (1940) and El sueño de los héroes (1954) are probably the best known works of Bioy Casares. Both have English versions: the former, translated by Ruth Simms, was published by the University of Texas Press in 1940 as The Invention of Morel and Other Stories; while the latter, translated as The Dream of the Hero by Diana Thorold, was published by Quartet in 1987. Adolfo Bioy Casares was a friend of Jorge Luis Borges, with whom he sometimes collaborated; three of their joint works have been translated into English: Extraordinary Tales (Souvenir Press, 1973) translated by Anthony Kerrigan; Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi (Allen Lane, 1981) translated by Norman Thomaso di Giovanni; and, with the same translator, Chronicles of Bustos Domecq (Allen Lane, 1982).

The McVitie's Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year was packaged in 1990 as a race, since Ladbroke's had opened a book on it. Indeed, the dinner menu went so far as to print the odds on the authors. How exactly they rated the diversity of the authors and works concerned is a mystery. The line-up was Allan Massie (novel: A Question of Loyalties); Ronald Ferguson (biography: George MacLeod - founder of the Iona Community); Sorley MacLean (collected poems: From Wood to Ridge); Hugh Scott (children's novel: Why Weeps the Brogan?); Robert Crawford (poems: A Scottish Assembly); and Alan Spence (novel: The Magic Flute). More than one guest was irritated by this gimmickry, but none was surprised that the winner of the £5000 Prize was the Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean - the chief of whose clan, incidentally, presented the cheque.

The European Association for the Promotion of Poetry is to establish a 'European Dialogue Centre between Eastern and Western Europe'. Current president and founder member, 'poet-immunologist' Miroslav Holub, states that the aims of the Association include: a drive to expand the poetry collection at the European Poetry Library; publishing more bi-lingual editions and volumes; and 'organizing colloquia on literary and cultural relations'. Their first publication is entitled Freiheit, and is dedicated to contemporary Central and Eastern European Poetry, (Address: European Association for the Promotion of Poetry, Blijde Inkomstraat 9, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.)

Another restrictive press law contributes to the tightening torc around the throat of free speech in Singapore. The new law instructs that every foreign publication selling more than 300 copies in the country that makes 'any remarks, observations or comments, pertaining to the politics and current affairs of any country in South-East Asia' will have to apply for a government permit before it can be distributed. No worries for P·N·R, then, but disturbing nonetheless.

The well-known Laforgue expert Jean-Louis Debauve has just brought out a volume of unpublished letters by the Marquis de Sade (Editions Ramsay, 190 frs.). It contains many pages of astonishing beauty and only one letter (out of 300) that could possibly be described as erotic. But this does not stop a famous pornographic bookshop giving it pride of place in the window, alongside bottles of Marquis de Sade champagne and Marquis de Sade perfume. (The latter brandmarks were produced, with the family's approval, to cash in on de Sade's 250th anniversary.)

A new annual serial, Translation and Literature, will be launched by Edinburgh University Press in 1991. It will publish articles, notes and reviews on literary translation of all kinds and periods, but focusing 'on English Literature in its foreign relations'. Submissions, as well as readers, are warmly welcomed. (Dr. Stuart Gillespie, Dept. of English, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ)

The British Haiku Society was formally inaugurated on 20 October 1990 in Cambridge. There are already 80 members and James Kirkup has been installed as first President of the Society. All things that could be contained within 17 syllables were discussed. (Contact: David Cobb, The British Haiku Society, Sindon, Shalford, Braintree, Essex CM7 5HN)

The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, founded on the bequest of a tobacco merchant in 1874, is said to be Europe's largest public reference library: admission is free, and no card is required. Its open-shelf range is vast, and some of its hidden treasures were displayed in the recent excellent exhibition Pages and Pictures. We were interested to note that in 1744 the printer Robert Foulis hung up proof sheets of Horace's Works in College and offered a reward of £50 for any errors pointed out. Even so, a handful remained undetected - an example and a consolation to P·N·R?

On 19 October 1990 a plaque was unveiled in Madrid in remembrance of the five English and Irish writers who were killed in the Spanish Civil War: Julian Bell, Christopher Caudwell, John Cornford, Charles Donnelly and Ralph Fox. These names are now inscribed on a wall of the Residencia de Estudiantes, Calle de Pinar, the legend using a line from John Cornford's poem 'Full Moon at Tierz: Before the Storming of Huesca': 'Swear that our dead fought not in vain.'

The Residencia de Estudiantes is an excellent choice for this memorial; for it was here that García Lorca, another victim of the War, had lived for many years and helped to make it the centre of intellectual and artistic life in the Spanish capital in the twenties and thirties. The guestbook and speakers' list reads like a roll call of the major European thinkers between the wars: Bergson, Curie, Einstein, Keynes, Piaget, Unamuno, to name but a few. Here, too, Lorca received Alberti, Buñel and Dalí.

Some eminent visitors had arrived from Britain to attend the ceremony, including the historians Hugh Thomas and Raymond Carr, novelist Iris Murdoch and TUC representative David Lee. Tom Cornford, the poet's grandson, read 'A Letter from Aragon' and David Gascoyne recited George Barker's 'Elegy on Spain'. Jorge Semprún, the Spanish Minister of Culture, was at the last moment prevented from attending, as was, for health reasons, Stephen Spender, who first mooted the memorial. But Lorca's sister was present.

The event was covered by local television and all the Madrid newspapers, most of them carrying a photo of the plaque looked over by David Gascoyne, who in 1936 had travelled to Spain to help the Republic. He made English broadcasts for Barcelona Radio.

For the occasion the British Council in conjunction with the Universidad Complutense of Madrid organized a seminar on the English poetry emanating from the Spanish Civil War. The proceedings were held in the Philosophy and Letters Building, which like all the rest of the Ciudad Universitaria had been the scene of heavy fighting during the War. More than one paper conjured up the spirits of John Cornford and John Sommerfield who, barricaded behind bulletproof 19th-century volumes of German philosophy, had resisted the fascist attacks in that very building.

The British speakers, all from Oxford, including Robert Pring-Mill, who used original recordings for his talk on Pablo Neruda's Civil War poetry, and John Stallworthy, who traced the poetic legacies of Spain in World War II poetry. Valentine Cunningham, the conference convener, dealt movingly with the commemorative, elegiac quality of the poetry, while the present writer looked at some neglected Celtic versions of Spanish Civil War verse with special emphasis on Donnelly.

Ever since the publication of the praiseworthy bilingual anthology Poesia Anglo-Norteamericana de la Guerra Civil Española (Salamanca: Junta de Castilla y Leon, 1986), edited by Román López Rodriguez and Ramón López Ortega, Spanish readers could form an idea of the range and quality of the English poetry of the War. To this has now been added, also in bilingual format, Cinco Escritores Británicos: Five British Writers (Madrid: Turner, 1990), which is prefaced by Stephen Spender and introduced with his usual verve by Valentine Cunningham. This contains selections from the work of Bell, Caudwell, Cornford, Donnelly and Fox.
(H. GUSTAV KLAUS)

This item is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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