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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 60, Volume 14 Number 4, March - April 1988.

News & Notes
The poet and editor Pierre Seghers died in Créteil in November, aged 81. His distinguished career began in 1939 when he established a review for poets-in-arms, and until 1944 he published the poets of the Resistance -notably Aragon and Eluard - who also became his friends. Eluard was the first subject in his series 'Poètes d'aujourd'hui', which consist in brief biographical and critical studies, followed by a selection of poems. Seghers' own poems may be found in no. 164 of the series, which now includes some 250 poets. He was the first publisher in France of Pessoa, Ritsos, Neruda and Jabès, among others; he was Vice-President of the Maison de la Poésie in Paris for many years; and at 69 he submitted his doctoral thesis to the University of Paris-X, on 'La poésie en France et la culture populaire'. He also loved to write songs, and Juliette Greco recorded many of the best of those. Seghers wrote that 'each poet is a Magellan who hopes to open up to others, as well as to himself, vast and alien territories; an explorer who voyages within, to bring to light the beauty, the truth, the life, the immensity of the world'. With his passionate devotion to poetry, he made this voyage possible for thousands of readers.

The New Yorker noted in its issue of 5 October the death of Howard Moss, who had been the magazine's poetry editor since 1950. His editing was meticulous; he accepted poems by Brodsky (this year's Nobel Prize winner) and Milosz well before their prize-winning days. Moss's critical writings include a fine essay on 'The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust', and he published twelve collections of poems.
 
José Donoso, who in 1981 chose to return from Spain to his native Chile, was visiting the UK in November. His most recently published novel here is A House in the Country (1986); his best known is perhaps The Obscene Bird of Night. In a seminar at the University of Glasgow, he said that none in Europe wanted to discuss literature with him, but only politics - 'This is what Pinochet has done for us' - and so it proved. Donoso once said that 'the hack chooses his subject, the novelist is chosen by his subject': he admitted that the only subject possible under the present conditions was political. Until recently there has been little direct censorship of books or the theatre - as the regime considers the arts unimportant - though Donoso's latest novel was no. 1 on the best-seller list of one newspaper for a year, and never mentioned on the list in the government-controlled daily. He remarked that Latin American culture is 'not something picturesque for the delight of the Europeans'; each country in its literature, in an un-European way, seeks a national identity: what is it to be Chilean? This stems from a fear of not really existing, which makes Chile - for example - want to differentiate itself sharply from the 'arrogant Argentinians' or the 'primitive Colombians'. 'I don't think humour belongs to the genius of Latin America; where it exists, it is derogatory'. José Donoso, instancing the thesis topics his fiction provides, had a sense of humour that appealed to a British academic audience, at least!

Dewey, Whitehead, Moore, Bultmann, Arendt have delivered previous series of the Gifford Lectures. For 1990 the suggested subject is that of poetics and theology, the word and the Logos, and the subject is to be addressed by George Steiner. Official response in the USSR to the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to poet Joseph Brodsky has been muted. A foreign ministry spokesman told a press conference in Moscow soon after the award was announced that the choices for the awards were 'somewhat strange at times'. He was no doubt alluding also to the past Nobel awards to Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Boris Pasternak, both of which invoked the fury of Soviet officialdom which saw them as a political rather than literary act.

The official attitude to Brodsky's works in the USSR will now become something of an acid text for Gorbachev's policy of glasnost. So far the literary thaw has concentrated on the publication of works by dead (previously maligned) writers; with Brodsky's award there will now be a greater impetus to deal with the living. Indeed, responding to Brodsky's award, the Soviet spokesman also said that he had been told of plans by the journal Novy mir to publish some of Brodsky's work. Novy mir was a flagship in previous cultural thaws (it published Solzhenitsyn's A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) and is scheduled to publish Pasternak's Dr. Zhivagonext year.

Speaking after the news of the award in a radio interview, Brodsky said himself that he thought a consequence of the Nobel prize would be that his work would become available in the USSR. Brodsky was apparently in touch with the poetry editor of Novy mir some months ago, before the Nobel award was announced. There is said, however, to be some disagreement over which poems Novy mir might publish. Brodsky certainly has one supporter in Soviet literary circles. The leading poetess, Bella Akhmadulina, has been quoted as saying during a recent visit to London that Brodsky is Russia's 'greatest living poet'.

Brodsky's award has coincided with an acrimonious exchange of correspondence in the Times Literary Supplement between Valentina Polukhina, an authority on Brodsky's work and a Lecturer in Russian at the University of Keele, and Michael Horovitz concerning the moral position of Russian writers in exile and those still inside the USSR. The exchange has concerned in part the role of poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (who has played the Soviet system well and is now flourishing under glasnost) in Brodsky's exile from the USSR in 1972. The issue is whether Yevtushenko supported Brodsky's expulsion out of malice or whether he was trying to make things easier for him. Truth can sometimes inhabit a very grey area. How Yevtushenko feels about Brodsky's award has not yet been reported. But, judging by Yevtushenko's comment to the BBC Russian Service that the gap between writers inside the USSR and those in exile will be bridged when those exiled approach those in the USSR 'with a clear conscience and clean hands', it is not expected that he will be too ecstatic. With the recent flood of British radio and TV spectaculars on glasnost, Yevtushenko has been appearing with some frequency; perhaps it is now opportune to give some air time to the talents of Joseph Brodsky. (R.C.)

Birthday celebrations this year in Australia for A D Hope, who is eighty this year, included a special issue of the new magazine The Phoenix Review, a festive anthology by fifty contributors from three continents, while Quadrant gave a dinner to honour him. His first full-length play is in press, and he is completing a collection of translations from Camoens, encompassing the erotic and religious lyrics as well as the better known work. He is working once again at rendering Catullus in a free English line, a new volume of his own verse is being assembled, and a book of his reminiscences and recollections has been commissioned.

The new issue, volume 15, of the magazine Aquarius is edited by A T Tolley, author of Poetry of the Forties in Britain (1985). What gives the issue its particular interest is the number of reflections and recollections about that period by writers whose own careers were being established then, as well as poems and reviews from the period. The compilation offers the shifting perspectives, for instance, of poems from the 'forties by Michael Hamburger and poems about the period by Gavin Ewart. There is an interview with J F Hendry two years before his death and one with John Heath-Stubbs last year. Aquarius is available from Eddie Linden, Flat 3, 114 Sutherland Avenue, London W9.

The debate about the 'two cultures' was conducted by Leavis and Snow in what now seems, and to some seemed then, more earnest than enlightening. There was a set of values known as 'culture' which had difficulty in engaging with or assimilating another 'culture', that of science and technology; then there was a more comprehensive framework - 'culture' in yet another sense - within which both had to be related if the debate were to be understood. Collapsing the terms in a rather knock-down way gives the title to a new quarterly: Science as Culture. Starting with the view that our culture is a scientific one, and that this defines what we take to be rational or 'natural', the magazine offers to explore the ways in which science shapes contending values in society. Another view would insist that our culture is shaped less by science than by the political, ideological forms which deploy and accommodate science itself. The magazine includes essays on Humphrey Jennings's Pandaemonium and Christine Brooke-Rose's Xorandor. Whether it can develop discussion of literature in this context is yet to be seen and perhaps to be welcomed. It is published by Free Association Books.

A recent issue of PNR referred to Zbigniev Batko's Backwards or Fatal Results of Improper Reading. It seems this is not a cautionary tract for deconstructionists after all, but assembles archetypes from fairy tales 'with elements à la Makuszynski and Sienkiewicz as well as contemporary SF' besides excursions into philosophy, classical literature and mass culture as well as an indebtedness to Saint-Exupéry, Mickiewicz, Villon, Swift and Defoe, with allusions to Galczynski 'to mention only those that come immediately to mind'.

To celebrate the 25th Jubilee of the Commonwealth Institute and the 15th anniversary of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the Institute hosted a day's conference on Commonwealth Poetry, with workshops on individual countries. Quandaries emerged from all sessions: the difficulty of introducing Aborigine or Maori poetry into the accepted mainstream of Australian or New Zealand verse; the related claims of an oral tradition - African, West Indian - against the written (room here for cassettes from some enterprising publisher?); the seeming impossibility of making non-Anglo-Saxon Commonwealth voices heard in Britain (echoes of Michael Hulse). And the publishing forum - all but one of the 'Poetry Live' publishers absent - revealed willing publishers and a ready audience, both frustrated by booksellers and narrow reviewing policies. But in the end it was a celebratory day, as a large audience revelled in Vicki Raymond's Brechtian cabaret style, saluted Chinua Achebe (introduced by Fred d'Aguiar as 'too good for the Booker'), were spell-bound by Lorna Goodison, and finally convulsed by Gavin Ewart's owl-detective. The Commonwealth Poetry Prize was awarded this year to Philip Salom (Australia) for Sky Poems; area winners were Tanua Ogaide (Nigeria); Keki Darawalla (India); Edward Kamau Brathwaite (Caribbean); George Barker (UK); the award for a first collection went to the New Zealander Dinah Hawken's It has no sound and is blue.

The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis (Faber) by Adam Mars-Jones and Edmund White is a book of great seriousness, dignity and restraint. The occasion-'The Aids crisis' as the blurb with pardonable but misleading simplicity calls it - has modified the style and technique of each writer. The wildly subversive exuberance of Mars-Jones' Lantern Lecture here gives way to a matter-of-factness; despite the occasional over-explanatory intrusion, the stories achieve a kind of monochrome cinematic fidelity which properly leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions. With Edmund White, the change from his earlier style is wholly beneficial: 'Palace Days' in particular is a beautifully elegant addition to the great tradition of American-in-Europe literature. The Darker Proof is essentially a book about living with HIV rather than dying of AIDS - a crucial double distinction which even the Sun and the Star may eventually grasp. (N.P.)

The international Festschrift from Carl Hanser Verlag to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Elias Canetti in 1985 and the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Auto da Fé has now emerged in an English version by Michael Hulse and published by Andre Deutsch. After a series of essays, whose variety reaches from John Bayley to Susan Sontag and Salman Rushdie, there is an overview of the reception of Auto da Fé as it was published across Europe.

Peter Robinson, one of the editors of Numbers, reminds us that the magazine has reached its first anniversary with its third issue which includes translations of Franco Fortini and Yves Bonnefoy; Robert Wells's distinguished translations of Theocritus - familiar already to PNR readers, and due from Penguin next year; and characteristically inventive, energetic versions of Leopardi into Scots by Edwin Morgan, whose new collection will be published by Carcanet in 1988. Little magazines come and, characteristically, go. After the withdrawal of its Scottish Arts Council grant, The Glasgow Review has ceased publication on its seventh issue. The magazine was a valuable adjunct to the current literary revival in Glasgow, encouraging work by a good many of Scotland's best younger writers like James Kelman, Liz Lochhead and Brian McCabe as well as printing work by Edwin Morgan, Gael Turnbull and Iain Crichton Smith and some crisp review columns. Some back issues are still available from Mariscat Press, 3 Mariscat Road, Glasgow G41 4ND. The Mariscat Press itself survives, with a list that includes Edwin Morgan's Sonnets from Scotland. Morgan's influence and example is important to another magazine with a Scottish provenance, Verse: besides the Scots writing there is an international flavour with special features on French, Scandinavian and Chinese poetry, and translations ranging from Gaelic to Vietnamese. The first six issues have been distinguished by substantial interviews with Les Murray, Miroslav Holub, Alasdair Gray, Douglas Dunn and John Montague. Its enterprise is international: it has gained support from the South Carolina Arts Commission. One of Verse's editors, Robert Crawford, is the co-author with W. N. Herbert of a recent pamphlet of verse in Scots, Sterts & Stobies which, like the magazine, is available from St Hugh's College, Oxford.

Catherine Reilly - editor of two anthologies of women's poetry of the First and the Second World War, Scars upon my Heart (1981) and Chaos of the Night (1984) - has been awarded the Library Association's Besterman medal for her bibliography English Poetry of the Second World War (Mansell). Another recent bibliography published by Mansell has such celebratory entries as 'Bound in purple boards, impressed to resemble cloth. Spine round, stamped in silver PROFESSING / POETRY / JOHN WAIN . . . .' This is, of course, merely the bibliographical convention, not a critical trope.

Zola studies, germinating seasonally, are the matter of an international colloquium at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, from March 24th to 26th. The doyen of such studies in the UK, Professor F W J Hemmings is to give the key-note lecture on 'Zola and the craft of fiction'.

Literature is to be given a higher priority in the British Council's work, after being edged to the margins by the increase in the Council's language teaching.

In his review The British Council and the Arts, Richard Hoggart argued that the council should set up an advisory committee on literature. There is now such a committee, whose objectives are to support the study of British literature in university departments overseas, to promote contemporary British and Commonwealth literature overseas (in the original languages and in translation), and to improve the quality of literature teaching overseas. There is also the concern that English language teaching should be rooted in a cultural context, with due regard to literature. To give form and purpose to these unsurprising aims, the committee has recruited Andrew Rutherford (Goldsmiths College), Malcolm Bradbury (University of East Anglia), Christopher Brumfit (University of Southampton), Liz Calder (Bloomsbury Publishing), Walter Cairns (Director of Literature, Scottish Arts Council), Ronald Carter (University of Nottingham), Margaret Drabble, Mathew Evans (Faber & Faber), Martyn Goff (The Book Trust), Terence Hawkes (University College, Cardiff), Mark Le Fanu (Society of Authors), Alastair Niven (Director of Literature, Arts Council), Michael Shaw (Curtis Brown, Literary Agents), Elizabeth Thomas, Anthony Thwaite, and Ann Warnford Davis (Deborah Rogers, Literary Agents).

This item is taken from PN Review 60, Volume 14 Number 4, March - April 1988.



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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