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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 51, Volume 13 Number 1, September - October 1986.

News & Notes
ELIZABETH SMART, poet and novelist, died on 4 March. Born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1913 she travelled widely before coming to England in 1943 to live amongst the group of artists and writers who were part of Bohemian London. Her passionate and stormy relationship with the poet George Barker, to whom she bore four children, was the inspiration for her acclaimed novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. It was judged to be one of the finest pieces of poetic prose written this century. Elizabeth Smart never avoided confronting emotion and incorporating the lyric impulse arising from it into her work. Although her output was small - another novel, The Assumption of the Rogues and Rascals, in 1378 and a book of poems, A Bonus, in 1977 - she is established in the literary history of this country.
(Alison Rimmer)

After many appeals to the Romanian authorities, ROLF BOSSERT was finally allowed to leave Romania on 23 December 1985. He, his wife and two children were housed in a resettlement flat in Frankfurt-Griesheim. In early February Bossert attended a literary conference in Berlin. Later he gave a press conference about the hopeless situation in his country for some Romanian and German-Romanian authors. He was not a political writer: he wanted the space in which to write and publish. His readings of his own work gained him immediate recognition. In his own country he had published two books of poems and two children's books. After 1984 there was no prospect of further publication; he lost his job at a publishing house, and his wife (an academic working in a literary museum) was demoted.

In the early hours of the morning after his return from Berlin, Rolf Bossert threw himself from the window of his flat. He had not complained about his conditions there; there was every indication that he would soon receive better accommodation. He left no letter or clues to explain his suicide. In 1977 he wrote the poem 'from my life':


24 September 1977
i am married and have two children my wife teaches german as a foreign language so do i we live in two rooms in a three-room flat the small room is seven point eight metres square the large room is nine point eight eight metres square the largest room in the flat is fourteen point six nine metres square we do not use it it is locked most of the time it remains empty but in the winter an old couple live in the room by doing so they save wood in their own home in the village at weekends families of strangers often come with children the mountain air is good for the little ones the three room flat is situated in the beautiful health resort bu_teni the kitchen bathroom and loo are used by lots of people only the balcony faces south it belongs to the third room
i am not allowed to go into it
i have written to the housing office
to the council
to the paper
i have called on many friends
now I am writing a poem
i have infinite faith in the power
of poetry


21 december 1977
these lines are unpublished yesterday the old couple were given two rooms in a villa we were given the key to the third room which proves that even unpublished poems can change the reality from which they were hatched
i shall write more poems



JOHN CIARDI, the American poet and translator of Dante, died in March at the age of 69. He was the author of more than 40 books of poetry, criticism and children's verse and taught for many years at Rutgers and at Harvard. For 16 years he edited poetry for The Saturday Review. Many American readers will have been brought up on his textbook How Does a Poem Mean? and on his poems in anthologies.

Professor FRANCIS SCARFE died on 14 March at the age of 75. Peter Jay writes: "It was my good luck to know Frank, if only, alas, during the last two years of his busy life. Having long admired his 1961 Penguin Baudelaire which had disappeared from print, I wrote to suggest a new edition. He responded with typical eagerness, from Oxford where he spent his last years (my letter had pursued him via Glasgow and Paris), and he set to work at once. The book became two books- The Complete Verse and The Poems in Prose - and had he had a few more months, his compilation of Baudelaire's writings and comments on poetry would have made a third volume of Poetics, which seems such a necessary and obvious book, except that only Frank had thought of doing it. We hope that his drafts for this project will prove to be publishable in some form. As it was, I regret that he did not live to see the first volume in print - it appears shortly (from Anvil Press) and will be followed by the prose poems in November. I wish, too, that we had managed more gossipy evenings in pubs; the least stuffy of scholars, and a genuine and discerning advocate of true poetry, he was a gentle and witty companion whose enthusiasm for life and poetry was infectious.

It is a shame that Frank's poetry has been neglected for so long. Many readers will have encountered his poems only through anthologies like Kenneth Allott's Contemporary Verse, or Robin Skelton's 1930s and 1940s Penguin anthologies. He deserved better, but he was modest, un-pushy and easily discouraged by lack of interest, with the result that he published infrequently and obscurely in the last twenty years. His last small collection was Grounds for Conceit (Outposts, 1984). There are many surprises among his papers: poems, translations of Pierre Emmanuel and Tristan Tzara, offprints of articles and reviews (including an assault on Larkin's Oxford anthology in études Anglaise), and a book on the French background in English poetry from 1850-1900, Towards Symbolism, to the introduction of which is appended in his hand the note, 'These essays in comparative literature were all written between 1934-1939, and their previous publication was only hindered by the outbreak of war.' Frank never stopped writing, and his son Bruno's eventual edition of his poems will restore him to his rightful place among the more imaginative poets of our time.'

The future of the ARTS COUNCIL POETRY LIBRARY is 'assured', the according to a Council press release. The Library, one of the most valuable and accessible collections in Britain, has been housed at 105 Piccadilly. The Council wishes to 'disengage from direct management of arts activities where this can be achieved without damage to the activities concerned'. Various rumours have surrounded the future location and shape of the Poetry Library. The press release does nothing to quell them, but it declares unambiguously that in its future location and under its future management it will be maintained and made even more accessible to the public. The Council, according to the Secretary-General, will 'continue to make adequate annual funds available to cover the cost of its present staff, book fund and other activities.'

The Poetry Library librarian Jonathan Barker writes to correct the advertisement for the Library in PNR 49: the hours of opening are: Monday, Tuesday 10am - 5.30pm; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 10am - 6.00pm.

On 8 and 9 July at the University of Reading a RICHARD ALDINGTON SYMPOSIUM will be held, with contributors from America, Russia, Australia, Canada, France, Roumania and Yugoslavia as well as a sizeable British contingent. The Symposium is open to all. Further details from Lionel Kelly. Richard Aldington Symposium, Department of English, University of Reading, P.O. Box 218, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 2AA.

In the summer of 1949, a graduate student on vacation in Ontario, working at a trestle table beneath pines overlooking a lake, typed out, in six weeks, The Poetry of Ezra Pound.

HUGH KENNER's pioneering study, first published in 1951 at a time when Pound was little understood, is now reissued, with a new preface by the author. Its admirable aim was 'to help as many people as possible to read Pound for themselves'. As Kenner acknowledges in his new preface. his study has been superseded in many respects by subsequent scholarship, not least Kenner's own The Pound Era (1971). But it remains a lively, valuable introduction; it has the excitement of that kind of criticism which is a response to new work more than to other critics. It ranges over Pound's early Poetry and translations, Homage to Sextus Propertius, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and the Cantos, and explores Pound's concern with image, vortex, ideogram and Confucian doctrine. It is amply supplied with quotations from Pound's poems and prose, and offers many striking formulations, for instance when it identifies a central Poundian image of art as 'the process of compelling out of otherwise mute particulars, by their electric juxtaposition, traces, intelligible patterns, of an intense, clear, luminous intellective world'. The Poetry of Ezra Pound is published by the University of Nebraska Press at £8.95.
(Nicolas Tredell)

July 14 is the deadline for poets and publishers to submit work for the British Airways COMMONWEALTH POETRY PRIZE, now in its fourteenth year, and one of the most interesting and unpredictable annual awards. Further details are available from the Press Office, Commonwealth Institute, Kensington High Street, London W8 6NQ.

The DYLAN THOMAS AWARD open to short-story writers throughout the United Kingdom will be judged this year by Giles Gordon and David Hughes. The deadline for entries is 25 July. For further details write to the Poetry Society, 21 Earls Court Square, London SW5 9DE.

In September the EUROPEAN GAY REVIEW will be launched as a quarterly cultural and current affairs magazine. The list of contributions - and contributors - is impressive. Each issue will concentrate attention on important European artists and writers as well as addressing wider issues. Further information from the Editor, Salvatore Santagati, BCM Box 8970, London WC1N 3XX.

Evangeline Paterson of the magazine OTHER POETRY writes to correct an error in the 'News & Notes' of PNR 50: 'The editors of Other Poetry were surprised by the statement, made by Paris Leary in the last issue, that the magazine had folded and that no more poems should be submitted. We want to make it clear that this has no foundation in fact. It is true that Paris Leary and the magazine had recently parted company, but, with two managing editors and a panel of consultants, we are not only forging ahead but expanding, and are at present printing issue no. 18.'

Faber & Faber are seeking contributions for Hard Lines 3: 'new young writers' are enjoined to send work to the Publicity Department, 3 Queen Square, London WC1. But only 'new young writers' of a particular kind are wanted: 'a kind of writer largely ignored by mainstream British publishers'; the reviews quoted, to give contributors a flavour of what's expected, speak of sardonic, gawky, surreal work which attests to 'the resilience of the imagination in bad times'; poetry with 'guts and immediacy and bleak truth'. The Press Release comments: 'It is almost impossible for young, unknown writers to get their work into print.' The editors will be Ian Dury and Fanny Dubes, to be 'joined in making the final selections' by Tom Paulin.

The Book of the Month Club in France asked members to vote for books to be given the new GUTENBERG awards, a kind of literary Oscar. 2000 members reponded, and fifteen awards were presented at the Salon du Livre in March. They included: for author and book of the year - Hector Bianciotti, Sans le miséricorde du Christ (Gallimard); editor of the year - Jérôme Lindon of éditions de Minuit; the hope of French literature - Yann Queffelec; the best science-fiction novel, Thierry Breton, Vatican III (Laffont); the best biography - Yves Courrière, Joseph Kessel ou sur la piste du lion (Plon); the best historical study - George Duby, L'Histoire de la vie privée (Seuil); the best translation - Jacques Tournier for his new translation of Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night (Belfond); and the best debut of the year - Dominique Lapierre, La Cité de la Joie (Laffont).

The French writer Simone de Beauvoir died in a Paris hospital on 14 April. She was 78. If many who never knew her will feel a sense of personal loss at her death, this is due, to a significant extent, to her remarkable autobiographies - Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958), The Prime of Life (1960), The Force of Circumstance (1960) and All Said and Done (1972). These range over her struggles against her conventional up-bringing, her student days at the Sorbonne, her lifelong relationship with Sartre, her experiences as a young teacher in Marseilles, the darkening political scene of the 1930s, Paris in the years of war and occupation, her own rise to fame (along with Sartre and Camus) in the heady atmosphere of Left Bank existentialism, the foundation of the journal Les Temps Modernes, the bitter conflicts over the Algerian war, her travels to the USA, Russia, Cuba, China and elsewhere, her friendships with Nelson Algren and Claude Lanzmann, the events of May 1968, the campaign against the Vietnam War, the growth of the feminist movement. The autobiographies can seem artless and anecdotal - this is part of their attraction - but in fact, they are carefully shaped and comprise an incomparable contribution to the cultural and political history of the twentieth century.

Assessment of de Beauvoir's fiction has been complicated by her autobiographical output and by her fame. Her novels have been too easily seen as romans à clef - for instance, her first novel, She Came to Stay (1943) has been taken as a transliteration of the tangled relationship between de Beauvoir, Sartre, and Olga Kosakievicz. She Came to Stay was followed by The Blood of Others (1945) and All Men are Mortal (1946). The Mandarins (1954), which won the Prix Goncourt, is a serious, substantial, consistently absorbing study of the self-questionings and shifting commitments of a group of intellectuals in a France emerging from war. Like George Eliot and Doris Lessing, de Beauvoir is concerned to explore in this novel the relationship between 'private' and 'public' life. Her later fiction includes that telling analysis of consumer society, Les Belles Images (1966) and the unsparing The Woman Destroyed (1968).

Her pioneering, enormously influential study The Second Sex (1949) contends: 'One is not born a woman, one becomes one'. It explores the construction of femininity from a number of perspectives, for instance biological, psychoanalytic, Marxist, literary, historical, sociological. Its importance has been both theoretical and practical: it gave help and support to women struggling for autonomy at a time when, not least on the Left, such aspirations were hardly recognized, and it has continued to do so. De Beauvoir's theoretical positions were staunchly backed up by her way of life, with its rigorous refusal of marriage and motherhood.

While Sartre, in his last years, saw his intellectual influence waning and his political hopes checked, de Beauvoir, though she shared many of his political disillusionments, lived to see feminism become an important movement, to be acknowledged as one of its twentieth-century pioneers, and to commit herself fully to feminist causes. At the end of The Second Sex, she had declared that she was not a feminist and that women's liberation would come about automatically as a result of socialism; but in interviews with Alice Schwarzer (reviewed PNR 43), she affirmed, in 1972: 'I really am a feminist.' She allied herself with the radical Mouvement de la Libération des Femmes, signed the manifesto of the '343 sluts' - women who publicly declared that they had had abortions, at a time when abortion was still banned in France - and took up the MLF slogans of free abortion on demand, free contraception, and free motherhood. She continued to maintain, however, that feminism must link itself with socialist struggle. From some feminist positions, she was to be criticized as too Cartesian and rationalist, and too remote from emotions and instincts. But her approach and example are likely to endure.

De Beauvoir was much possessed by death. The rich enjoyment of life conveyed in her autobiographies is both enhanced and threatened by a strong sense of the void. A Very Easy Death (1964), a lacerating and poignant record of her mother's death from cancer, and Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre, a moving and restrained chronicle of Sartre's last years are twentieth-century ars moriendi, explorations of ways of dying in modern secular culture. With medieval precision, but without the consolations of faith, she bears unflinching witness to the atrocities of dying. But she was also concerned with the problems of longevity; Old Age (1970) is a humane and accessible study of a topic that, with more people living longer, will become increasingly important.

Her achievement and appeal as a writer, and the links between her writing and her feminist and socialist commitments, are well summed up in her remarks in the transcript of the Simone de Beauvoir film (1979) published in PNR 35: 'I just wanted to speak ... to people as if I were whispering in their ear, and to write in a way that made people identify with my heroes and heroines or help them benefit from what I was saying ... I really tried to excise as many things as possible from my own experience, to explain everything which could be explained about it, so that it could be of use to other people.'
N. T.

The day after Simone de Beauvoir's death, Jean Genet died, also in Paris, at the age of 75. Genet's life had the aura of legend: abandoned at birth by his mother, he became a ward of the state and in 1917 was fostered by a peasant family in Le Morvan. There, he started to steal. From 1926 to 1929, he was an inmate at Mettray Reformatory. He joined the Foreign Legion for the enlistment bounty, then deserted. He wandered over France, Germany, Spain, Yugoslavia, Holland; he bummed, begged, smuggled drugs, stole and worked as a prostitute.

In Fresnes prison in 1942, he wrote his first published poem, 'Le Condamné à Mort', and began to write his novel, Our Lady of the Flowers, on sheets of brown paper from which convicts were supposed to make bags. These sheets were confiscated, but he began again in notebooks and completed the work. Our Lady of the Flowers combines the argot of thieves and the slang of proscribed sexual practices with the liturgies and imageries of religion, of royalty and of classical and romantic poetry. To read it is to enter a strange, inverted world, sordid and glittering: the prison, with its 'odor of urine, formaldehyde, and paint' becomes a baroque palace of the mind; pimps and murderers turn, without idealization or redemption, into saints and madonnas; the solitary convict, masturbating on his stained straw mattress, becomes a master of rituals that do not mystify but maintain, even in extreme reverie, a peculiar rigour. As Our Lady puts it: 'Poetry is a vision of the world obtained by an effort, sometimes exhausting, of the taut, buttressed will ... It is not an abandonment, a free and gratuitous entry by the senses; it is not to be confused with sensuality'. The themes and approaches of Our Lady were taken up and varied in Miracle of the Rose (1946), Funeral Rites (1947), Querelle of Brest (1947) and The Thief's Journal (1949).

While his literary fame grew, Genet had been sentenced to life imprisonment. Apparently he had assumed responsibility for a crime committed by a friend killed in the street fighting at the Liberation of Paris. An appeal to the government by Sartre, Cocteau and others led to a free pardon in 1948. Sartre had first met Genet at the Café de Flore in 1944, and, compelled by Genet's life and work, he produced, in 1952, the massive Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr. This is a brilliant, astonishing book that tries to surpass and control Genet's texts even as it acknowledges that they cannot be controlled, that they will always remain unassimilable. According to Sartre, Genet thought the study largely true, but disliked it intensely; later, Genet claimed it was really about Sartre, not himself (see Genet interview, PNR 32). Genet and Sartre's paths diverged as time went on; for instance, Genet was angered by Sartre's relatively measured response to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Genet's resistance to turning crime and sexual deviance into objects of knowledge and patronising compassion, his scepticism of progressive penal reform, and his anarchic inclinations give him some affinities with a later thinker: Michel Foucault.

Genet's concern for ritual, ceremony and role-play had strong theatrical elements. His ballet Adame Miroir was danced to Milhaud's music in 1946. 1947 saw the publication of one play - Deathwatch - and the staging of another - The Maids. His best-known play, The Balcony, was put on in 1957. The Balcony dramatizes an image of society as a brothel, a 'house of illusions' in which clients act out various roles, such as judge, bishop, general; the analyses of the complicity of apparent opposites, and of the dependence of supposedly primary upon supposedly secondary categories, anticipate deconstruction: 'my being a judge is an emanation of your being a thief'. Genet so much disliked the first production of The Balcony, at the Arts Theatre in London, that he tried to climb on to the stage to denounce it. In contrast, he commended Roger Blin's 1959 Paris production of The Blacks as 'of the order of perfection'. The Blacks enacts and explores its themes of colonialism and race hatred through ceremony and role-playing - for example, a black plays the part of a white woman whom another black pretends to murder, the white grotesques who look on reveal themselves, at the end of the play, as black actors. The Blacks can be linked with the political analysis and the endorsement of violence in the work of Fanon. The Screens, which deals with the Algerian war, was mounted in Paris, again by Blin, in 1966, despite demonstrations, violence and bomb threats. These local difficulties apart, it is not an easy play to stage, though some scenes have great potential - for instance, the scene in which, as two colonists talk, one Arab after another enters to draw flames at the foot of painted orange trees.

In later years, Genet lived privately, sometimes emerging to give interviews for money or to lend his support to violent radical groups such as the Black Panthers and the PLO, whose 'criminal' and 'terrorist' aspects doubtless appealed to him. His Poèmes were published in 1966. His life seemed to take on an ascetic quality; he stayed in hotels and had few possessions; he preferred Morocco to France. In an interview on BBC2 late last year, when asked how he now spent his time, his reply echoed St Augustine: 'J'attends la mort'.
N.T.

This item is taken from PN Review 51, Volume 13 Number 1, September - October 1986.



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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