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This item is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

News & Notes
The NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), for 25 years the American equivalent to the Arts Council, a government agency which with a small budget has made 85,000 grants, only 20 of which have proven controversial, faces possible abolition as we go to press. Its fate will be determined by Congress in September.

The chief charge against it is that it funded exhibitions of work by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. The galleries in which the exhibitions were shown have lost much of their city and private patronage, but the chief culprit, in the eyes of those who speak for the moral majority, is the NEA itself, and it is unlikely that the NEA will escape unscathed. Even if its work is authorized to continue (it is reviewed every five years), the chances are that a rather different discipline will be applied, either internally or externally, to its activities.

This is a serious blow to the often under-funded organizations whose lifeline has been the NEA; but its wider implications are also pertinent not only in the American context but here in Britain where American experiences are sometimes repeated in the fullness of time.

The pressures applied to the NEA have come, not from an outraged art community (there has long been a place for Mapplethorpe, specialized and strange though his appeal has been), but from organizations and civic bodies whose interest in contemporary art is entirely of a moral - or more precisely - of a political nature. The consequences for any arts organization which depends upon taxpayers' money, however chanelled, may be that the ill-informed taxpayer, suitably galvanized, will protest in the vulnerable areas of culture and education, where in other areas, in which moral questions are perhaps more germane - as for example in defence, or housing, or the environment - they are seldom coherently or consistently raised.

The Argentinian author and screen-writer Manuel Puig died in Mexico in July at the age of 57. Best known for his 1985 film Kiss of the Spiderwoman, he was - perhaps ungenerously - regarded by some as a 'literary lightweight'. His imaginative world was the film-world into which he escaped as a boy from the boredom and paternal violence of the flat provinces in which he grew up. His first passion was film and he trained in Italy and New York. His books are 'filmic' in imagery and device; they contain parody, satire and a more radical element of disruption - not political, since Puig never jumped on that highly successful late 1960s band-wagon that took a number of his contemporaries to American and European celebrity. Yet he found his work banned in Argentina in 1974, moved to New York, then Brazil, and finally to Mexico where he spent the last years of his life.

Mehdi Akhavan Sales, the Iranian poet who wrote under the name of M. Omid, died in August at the age of 72. He was a figure who commanded considerable respect in ruling and in intellectual circles and whose dissidence was tolerated, not least because his debts to modernism and to certain Western authors denied him a wide popular readership, though he was widely loved and respected among the intellectual community. His work remains as a force in Iranian poetry.


My dreams
Watching me said
One to the other
This life has let us down.


This poem accompanied Christopher Barker's portrait of Paul Potts, who died in August at the age of 79, in his book Portrait of Poets. There Potts is represented reclining on a cot, his walking-stick close at hand, like one of the down-and-outs whose cause he, as a life-long socialist, relentlessly championed. Potts, English-born and Canadian-bred, never achieved a strong presence in the British poetry world despite his work as a critic and poet. In a painful and just appraisal of his work in the Independent, George Barker characterized him as 'a poet from whom the Muse, in her appalling perversity, withheld the poems that were his by right'. His best-known work is the autobiographical prose volume Dante Called You Beatrice (1961). Perhaps his flawed but authentic poems will find an audience in the future. Hugh MacDiarmid sponsored his first book, A Poet's Testament (1940) with a generous foreword, and certainly he made a contribution not only to Fitzrovia but to the poetic intelligence of the 1940s and 1950s by his criticism and his poems.

Michael Glenny the noted Russian translator, died in Moscow in August. He was 63. He was a fine linguist, with an impressive collection of European languages at his command, as well as a smattering of Yiddish and Chinese. He may be best known for his Bulgakov versions, but he also translated Dombrovsky, Solzhenitsyn and others, and his work as a translator of modern drama from Russia in particular was radical and invigorating. His last major translation - a work which included an essential editorial intrusion, restructuring and shortening a sprawling tone, was Boris Yeltsin's Against the Grain.

Jean-Marie Benoist died in Paris in August. He was 48. A man of considerable learning and intellectual agility, he spent time in London as French cultural attaché and made many lasting friendships, bringing (and perhaps reporting back) the intellectual news of the moment. Associated with the 'nouvelle philosophs', he included among his more commented books Marx est mort (1970) which seemed to place him on the right in French politics at a time when the right was not the most hospitable of places to be. He was also deeply interested in poetry, French and English.

It is fifty years since Federico Garcia Lorca's famous collection Poeta en Nueva York was published. To mark the occasion, Tabapress Publishers have published an edition including facsimile, notes and drawings by Lorca himself. This is the definitive edition, and with the holograph material a kind of variorum, including other poems of the same period, some of them previously unpublished.

1991 marks the centenary of the death of Arthur Rimbaud. Already in France plans are being made to mark the occasion with celebrations, exhibitions and publications. A committee of 17 individuals, from the worlds of literature, tourism and education, met in March to begin preparations and to co-ordinate activities. So far a number of Colloques, Table-ronds and Exposition-dossiers are scheduled, and at Charleville-Mézières (where he was born) the refurbished Musée Arthur Rimbaud will be opened once more to the public. There will probably also be gatherings of young Francophone poets and other events.

And the magazine Sud (Marseille) will devote its autumn 1991 issue to the poet. Further information can be obtained from the Musée Rimbaud, Ville de Charleville-Mézières.

The American poet Charles Simic has won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize. Simic - born in Yugoslavia in 1938, emigrated to the United States in 1949 - is rather an unusual figure in the American literary landscape. An assimilated American (educated in Illinois, a graduate of the University of Chicago) his verse and prose writings include formal and thematic elements from his earliest years, and he has been a crucial translator of, among others, Lalic and Popa. The Pulitzer is only the latest of the many honours he has received.

In Spain, the National Poetry Prize has been awarded to Carlos Bousoño for his book Metáfora del desafuero. 'I have broken with the tradition of the unified book of poetry,' he said. 'I have allowed various voices to flow together, various books to mingle.' This book he regards as a kind of liberation, coming after a long period of silence. The poet José Hierro was awarded the National Prize for Literature in recognition of his entire oeuvre. He is a writer already burdened with prizes, the first - in 1947 - having been the Premio Adonais. 'Poetry has found me,' he reports, 'when she has wanted to.'

Václav Havel, on behalf of the Czechoslovak Republic, has invited 'the participation of leaders from the publishing, library and bookselling communities from over 40 countries' in Czechoslovakia's first International Book Fair and Writers' Festival in Prague next May. The Festival will run concurrently with the Prague Music Festival, promising a second Prague Spring, and it is doubtful that many hotel rooms will be available if bookings are not made early. This initiative is likely to be as much a celebration of the re-integration of Czechoslovakia into a more liberal Europe as a trade fair; a few publishers, rather ruefully, confess to a hope that it may become annual, grow and eventually supplant sombre Leipzig and hectic Frankfurt as the great annual European publishing event. The prospect is delicious, if unlikely.

The Tenth International Biennal of Humour and Satire will be celebrated in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, beginning on 18 May 1991, just before the Prague International Book Fair. This Biennal includes Fine Arts, Photography and Literature, and includes competitions, sales and - in culmination, a Grand Prix - the Golden Aesop Statuette Prize of the 'Humour of the Peoples' International Foundation. Entries 'should not offend the national dignity of any country in the world, and should not make propaganda for violence and religious fanaticism'. The entry fee is no joke - $35.00 - payable to the House of Humour and Satire account Number 425 111 300 9, Bulgarian Foreign Trade Bank, Sofia. Bulgarian artists may pay in levs. Further information is available from the House of Humour and Satire, PO Box 104, 5300 Gabravo, Bulgaria.

Two new recordings of black poets have been published jointly by Bluefoot Cassetes and the National Sound Archive. Each tape features the work of four writers, most of them with a Carribean background and all currently living in Britain. Dates of birth and arrival are more useful than the rather gauche summaries - 'lyricism and calypso humour feeding the ghost' - which decorate the covers, although they do give an indication of the scope and variety of both collections. Poets overtly committed to performance and oral traditions are served best; Benjamin Zephaniah's 'sound system' rhymes convincingly with 'the lights were dim' and John Agard's refrains, short lines on the page, gain radical lung capacity. Also included are E.A. Markham, David Dabydeen, Amryl Johnson and James Berry. Both tapes are available from the British Library National Sound Archive, 29 Exhibition Road, London SW7 2AS.

David Arkell's visit to Grenoble ('Henry Brulard Alive and Well', P&#middot;NP&#middot;R 75) has had repercussions. Ever since Martineau's authoritative Pléiade edition it has been the custom to spell Henry in Stendhal's Vie de Henry Brulard with a 'y' - as did Arkell himself. True, however, to his reputation as literary sleuth, Arkell noticed at Grenoble in June that the title as written by the author on Volume I of the three-volume manuscript (R 299) was clearly spelt with an 'i'. Martineau failed to mention this, and it is true that Stendhal himself was inconsistent, changing the spelling elsewhere to 'y'. The matter is perhaps academic, but the Grenoble library's Conservateur du Fonds Ancien now regards the 'y' spelling as an error. To Arkell's question as to whether he could believe his own eyes M Yves Jocteur Montrozier replied: 'Vous avez bien vu en ce qui concerne Henri Brulard.'

This item is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.



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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