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This item is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

News & Notes
Vasko Popa, who died in Belgrade in January, was one of the most distinguished modern Yugoslavian poets and certainly the most widely translated. Born in Grebenats, Banat in 1922, his education - at the universities of Belgrade, Vienna and Bucharest - was interrupted and shaped by the war. Together with fellow poet Miodrag Pavloviche he espoused an uncompromising commitment to the autonomy of art - first in the face of Socialist Realism and then the longer, perhaps more debilitating epoch of post-war Communist orthodoxy. He drew his inspiration from Serbian history and mythology, seen through the filter of French surrealism. His sparse, short poems, achieving extent through arrangement into complex cycles, testify to a disillusionment with ideals and systems. Popa's Collected Poems constitutes a kind of provisional epic. The bald folk images - wolves, birds, fish, moon, starts - are shuffled into disconcerting and often ironic combinations: 'A transparent dove in the head / In the dove a clay coffer / In the coffer a dead sea / In the sea a blessed moon ('A Dove in the Head'). In 1974 Daniel Weissbort described Popa as 'a poet of the first importance ... upon [whom, together with] others like him ... the survival of Western literary culture ultimately depends'.

Edmond Jabès, who died in January, was a central figure in European Jewish letters. Born in Cairo in 1912 he was forced, as a Jew, to leave Egypt during the Suez crisis of 1956. Together with his wife and family he moved to Paris, an affordable city of exile, where he was well acquainted with the work of the surrealists. During this period he produced several volumes of poetry (collected in 1959 as Je bâtis ma demeure&;#41 revolving the themes of exile and the millenarian Jewish consciousness - 'Judaism and writing are but the same waiting, the same hope, the same wearing out', he wrote. These preoccupations were to be embodied in Jabès virtually unclassifiable masterpiece, Le Livre des questions (1963-74), where a story of lovers separated during the Nazi deporations is extended through the Talmudic explications of a group of imaginary rabbis. The work has attracted a diverse company of admirers, ranging from Levinas and Herschel to Derrida and Celan, and remains the definitive formulation of 'Judaism after God'.

Maria Tvardovskaya, wife and editor of the Russian poet Alexander Tvardovsky, died on the last day of January. She was born in Smolensk in 1910 where she met and married her husband, then working as a reporter for local newspapers. By 1935 the pair had moved to Moscow, Tvardovsky enrolling as a student at the Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History. From this time she became the primary reader, critic and editor of his poems. When Tvardovsky was fired from his position as editor of the liberal literary magazine Novi Mir in 1954 she supported him through ensuing depression and the first bout of the alchoholism which would eventually destroy him. Reinstated four years later Tvardovsky enjoyed a period of limited influence as a candidate member of the Politburo; it was reputedly Maria Tvardovskaya who persuaded him to see Khrushchev about the publication of a manuscript by an unknown ex-Gulag prisoner, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. On her advice too, Tvardovsky published his bitter critique of Stalinism, Vasili Terkin Na Tom Svete, under the editorship of the General Secretary's son-in-law. By 1970 the Brezhnev regime had outsted him from Novi Mir for a second time and he died the following year. Maria Tvardovskaya set up an archive for her husband, gathering together correspondence and unpublished poems. Her last tribute, Sketches and Drafts of Alexander Tvardovsky was published in the June issue of Novi Mir - appearing eight months late because of a paper shortage.

Although the political climate of Panama has turned against the country's former military ruler, General Omar Torrijos, writers of all ideological persuasions joined in mourning the death of his articulate admirer, the soldier-poet Jose de Jesus Martinez. Born in Nicaragua in 1929, he maintained close links with the Sandinista guerilla leaders who were to rule that country until their election defeat last year. Martinez published poems, academic works (Lessons of Logic, The Theory of Flight) and the Casa de las Americas prize-winning My General Torrijos. Although officially only a sergeant in the National Guard he became Torrijos's most trusted advisor and acted as his translator and intermediary with Graham Greene - their three-way friendship is recorded in Greene's Getting to Know the General. According to Greene, Martinez's stringent Marxism ('the general's belief in social democracy ... must have seemed like a cup of very lukewarm tea') remained secondary to his personal fidelity. 'He was a good and a kind man with a human wisdom much greater than my own.'

Muses Co./Aleph Press are to publish At the Door at Evening, a bi-lingual (Slovian-English) selection of poems by Edvard Kocbek. Kocbek has been described by Martin Seymour-Smith as a 'left-wing Catholic expressionist ... who has provoked both the church and the government'. The translator, Tom Lazar, hopes the poems evoke 'the land they grew out of: a dewy countryside beyond a foggy capital'. (The Muses Co., 51 Rue de l'Eglise, Dorian, Quebec, Canada, J7V 1W5).

Prizes for the Scottish Book of the Year and Scottish First Book of the Year are awarded by the Saltire Society, without any of the razzmatazz associated with the McVitie's Prize, but in 1991 with equal funding (STV has joined the Scotsman as sponsor). From a short list of six, almost the only author actually to be living in Scotland emerged as the winner: Sorley McLean, no more accustomed to speechifying in Edinburgh than in Glasgow a few months previously, when he received the McVitie's Prize - also for his Collected Poems (Carcanet). The prize for first book went to Harry Tait for his historical novel The Ballad of Sawney Bain (Polygon).

Chapman, 'Scotland's quality literary magazine', has reached its 63rd issue and is further evidence to those south of the border of Scotland's continuing Renaissance. Of especial interest in this edition is Alasdair Gray's essay on the development of the English language, and Dorothy Porter's review of Glasgow fiction, 'Imagining a City'. Not as partisan as some, this journal also includes new poetry from Ireland, Wales, England and Hungary and a substantial number of women figure in the fiction section. (Chapman, 4 Broughton Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3RX.)

Seren Books have announced a new 'publishing venture'; a series of introductory biographies on the lives of writers, artists and musicians who have a strong association with the border country of England and Wales. The Border Lines series, under the editorship of John Powell Ward, aims to publish three or four books a year. Titles projected for 1991 include A.E. Housman, Raymond Williams, Eric Gill and David Jones. (Seren Books, Andmor House, Trewsfield Industrial Estate, Tondu Road, Bridgend, Mid-Glam. CF31 4LJ.)

Following such past recipients as Donald Hall and John Ashbery, Amy Gerstler collected her National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry in March. Her book, Bitter Angel (North Point Press), was characterized as 'outstanding in its wit, brio and vigor'.

The damburst of European poetry in translation continues to pour through. Forest Books, those prize winning specialists in international literature, inaugurate their new series of poets from Eastern Europe, with Young Poets From A New Bulgaria. It presents the work of 22 writers, amongst whom is Lyobomir Nikolov, a recent Poet of the Month on BBC Radio 4. Edited by Belin Tonchev, with an informative introduction by Sebastian Barker (Chairman of the Poetry Society), it costs £8.95. (Forest Books, 20 Forest View, Chingford, London, E4 7AY.)
Coupled to this, Iron Press present The Poetry of Perestroika (£4.99), in which '35 poets write against the backdrop of the newly liberalised climate'. Translated, and with forewords by Carol Rumens and Richard McKane, the collection has that seemingly essential mix of famed (Brodsky, Yevtushenko, Voznesensky), unpublished and tyro. The range of styles is wide. Get it before Glasnost goes out the window. (Iron Press, 5 Marden Terrace, Cullercoats, North Shields, Tyne & Wear, NE30 4PD.)

Plays have always been the most popularly received of Walloon dialect literature in Belgium and during the past decade some 15 drama groups have concentrated on presenting this alone. This year pride of place was given to Albert Maquet 's'Li Harloucrale', an adaptation of Nicolo Machiavelli's La Mandragola, which itself exploited Florentine dialect. Maquet's work received the Province of Liège's Prix biennal de littérature dramatique reservé aux adaptations wallonnes for 1989, the culmination of several successes for the author, who retired from his professorship in Italian at Liège University in 1987. An earlier adaptation of Gogol's short story The Cloak, 'Li Paletot', was awarded the province's Prix de concours de littérature dramatique in 1985 and the year previously his original plays gained him the Prix biennal de la communauté française. One of these, Califice, was presented at the 20th Gala Wallon in 1987 and televised. Albert Maquet is also a dialect poet particularly interested in experiment; for his verse until then (comprising six collections, another six have followed since) he was awarded Liège's Prix biennal de littérature wallonne in 1985.

More news about the British Haiku Society, whose inauguration was recorded in P·N·R 78. They are proud to announce, in association with Iron Press and Japan Airlines, an English Haiku Event. The 100 best entries will be printed in a special edition of Iron Magazine, and all the contributors/winners will be paid. The closing date is 30 November 1991, so there's plenty of time for reflection. (Details from: BHS, Sinodun, Shalford, Braintree, Essex, CM7 5HN.)

Alain-Fournier's nephew Alain Rivière has just unearthed a letter written to A-F by a young cousin André Feur on 3 December 1913: 'Le Grand Meaulnes isn't bad but the trouble with you, Henri, is you're too English: the plot's unbelievable. Please forgive me for being so frank.' Out of the mouths of children ...

In P·N·R 77, the price of Adalbert Stifter's Brigitta (Angel Books) was wrongly given as £9.95. The correct price is £6.95.

This item is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

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