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This item is taken from PN Review 191, Volume 36 Number 3, January - February 2010.News & Notes
The Shakespeare Quartos Archive (www.quartos.org) was launched recently, reuniting all 75 pre-1642 quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays into a single online collection. A joint initiative led by the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, the new resource includes a complete digital archive of rare early editions of Hamlet. For the first time, all 32 existing quarto copies of the play held by UK and US institutions are freely available in one place. Now scholars can compare these versions of Hamlet on screen by exploring high-quality reproductions and fully searchable text. At present, this interactive technology has been applied to the Hamlet quartos only; however, there are plans to extend it to all the plays in quarto.
Our American correspondent David Ward, curator of a recent WALT WHITMAN exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, reports an unlikely appearance by the poet in a series of TV adverts for Levi’s jeans. The campaign (viewable on YouTube) shows young, denim-clad Americans frolicking to the soundtrack of some of Whitman’s patriotic poems, under the slogan Go forth. One advert features the wax cylinder recording of Whitman reading ‘America’; in another, an actor reads ‘Pioneers! O Pioneers!’ Traditionalists fear that Walt is turning in his grave at having his verse recycled in this manner; others admire the logic of matching a quintessentially American poet with a quintessentially American product (established in 1853, Levi’s is one of the few remaining American brands which existed during Whitman’s lifetime). By employing Whitman’s verse, Levi’s evoke a proud history and a forward-looking present - the American mindset the poet captured and that Levi’s hopes to embody: ‘Centre of equal daughters, equal sons, / All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old, / Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich, / Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love, / A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother, / Chair’d in the adamant of Time.’
Thirty-one-year-old Scottish poet JO MORGAN has won the Jerwood Aldeburgh first collection prize for a seventy-page narrative poem about childhood on the Isle of Skye. Natural Mechanical was chosen unanimously by David Constantine, Mimi Khalvati and Michael Laskey from a shortlist which also included Sian Hughes and Philip Rush. The book is published by CB Editions, founded in 2007 by Charles Boyle, who publishes four books a year across a range of genres.
Poet in the City will host a special Mexican poetry evening at the British Museum on Friday 5 February to coincide with the current exhibition Revolution on paper: Mexican prints 1910-1960. The event will feature poetry and songs from the first half of the twentieth century, including the turbulent years of the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath. It takes place at 7 pm in the BP Lecture Theatre at the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG. Telephone 0207 323 8181 or visit www.britishmuseum.org for more information.
Poetry is not a subject one would expect to crop up in an article about the late Tiffany (described upon her death in one of the popular papers as ‘Tiff the Stiff’) from Eastenders; however, it was mentioned in an interview with former soap actress Martine McCutcheon (Guardian, 9 November 2009) about publication of her first novel, The Mistress (Pan Macmillan). According to McCutcheon’s interviewer, Stephen Moss, the star has been unfairly criticised for ‘taking the bread from the mouths of real writers, as if one might pick up The Mistress instead of, say, some finely wrought verse by a manic-depressive northern poet in a slim volume published by Carcanet’. Himself a novice poet, Moss has announced his decision to stand in the delayed Oxford Professor of Poetry election when it is rerun late in 2010.
The Academy of American Poets is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary with an online exhibition of photos and clippings from its extensive archive. The selection includes pictures of Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks and Allen Ginsberg, a letter from Marianne Moore and a petition for Octavio Paz, among other items. Browse photos from historic readings and documents from the Academy’s archive at www.poets.org/imagearchive..
Meanwhile, over on the Poetry Foundation website, the writer, librarian and sometime bartender ROSIE SCHAAP goes in search of the perfect Auden Martini. ‘Auden took the martini seriously,’ writes Schaap; seriously enough for him to celebrate his favourite drink in the poem ‘Symmetries and Asymmetries’ (‘Could any tiger / Drink martinis, smoke cigars, / And last as we do?’). Speculating on the poet’s cocktail preferences, Schaap cites a 1993 interview with the poet Richard Wilbur in which he recounted a conversation with the elder poet: ‘Auden had ordered a martini and I had ordered a martini, and we talked about martinis, and we discussed the fact that if you are devoted to martinis, it’s very hard to get a good one away from home,’ Wilbur recalled. But what sort of martini did Auden prepare at home? If Tarquin Winot, the epicurean protagonist of John Lanchester’s novel The Debt to Pleasure, is to be believed, his recipe was as follows: ‘I borrowed W.H. Auden’s technique of mixing the vermouth and gin at lunchtime (though the great poet himself used vodka) and leaving the mixture in the freezer to attain that wonderful jellified texture of alcohol chilled to below the point at which water freezes. The absence of ice means that the Auden martini is not diluted in any way, and thus truly earns the drink its sobriquet “the silver bullet”.’ Schaap dismisses Winot as a perverse and unreliable witness, however: ‘It’s charming - sort of to imagine W.H. Auden, with his lined, noble countenance, inventing the progenitor of the jello shot, but it seems questionable that an Englishman of Auden’s generation would abide, much less favour, a martini made with vodka instead of gin.’ A martini purist herself, Schaap concludes that ‘life is too short to forgo the pleasure of the real martini, a drink that at its best is beautiful, and humanizing, and very, very good’.
The judges of the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize have issued a call for entries. Organised by a triumvirate of Oxford University colleges, St Anne’s, New College and The Queen’s College, the £2000 prize recognises translations into English from any living European language. The deadline for submissions is 31 January and the prize will be awarded at a dinner in Oxford in June. Poet, editor and translator Patrick McGuinness will chair the judging panel of academics and translators. Recent winners include Michael Hofmann for Durs Grünbein’s Ashes for Breakfast (Faber), Len Rix for Magda Szabó’s The Door (Harvill Secker) and Margaret Jull Costa for Eça de Queiroz’s The Maias (Dedalus). Enquiries should be addressed to email@example.com or Awards Administrator, Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize, St Anne’s College, Oxford OX2 6HS.
The American poet HAROLD NORSE (1916-2009) has died. Of Lithuanian and German-Jewish descent, Norse studied at Brooklyn College in the late 1930s and had a romantic entanglement with Chester Kallman, later the companion of W.H. Auden. While completing his master’s degree at New York University he met William Carlos Williams; Auden and Williams were to become major influences in Norse’s early work. In 1953 he moved to Italy where he encountered the work of the nineteenth-century Roman dialect poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli. His translations of Belli were made, he said, ‘with a dictionary in one hand and a Roman in the other’ and were published in 1960 as Roman Sonnets, with a preface by Williams. That same year, Norse moved to Paris to live with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso in a seedy Left-Bank establishment which became the subject of Norse’s novel, Beat Hotel. He later settled in California where he met and befriended Charles Bukowski, who admired Norse’s work. He is remembered as an outrageous figure who knew many of the famous people of his day - James Baldwin, to whom he dedicated his memoir, Bastard Angel; Tennessee Williams; Jack Kerouac; Frank O’Hara; Anaïs Nin. In 2003 he remarked, ‘People expect, as I did, the famous writers and poets to be just open and wonderfully giving, and they were not. They all wanted to go to bed with me.’ Norse’s books include In the Hub of the Fiery Force: Collected Poems 1934-2003 (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003).
Poet Peter Riley remembers Anna Mendelssohn: The poet ANNA MENDELSSOHN, who also published under the name Grace Lake, has died in Cambridge at the age of 61. She was never ambitious for publication, but through the efforts of others there is one book, Implacable Art (Salt Modern Poets, 2000), and four booklets published locally by Equipage and Involution between 1993 and 1997. Anna was a child of the 1960s who had a remarkable life of adventure and misadventure in many fields. After a disastrous involvement in political action in the 1970s she settled in Cambridge, where she devoted herself to poetry with fierce determination as, increasingly, an entire inhabitable sphere. She based major judgements and the small decisions of daily life on her vision of poetry, through it proclaiming the unique value of art and denouncing the ‘infections’ of society and ideology. She was not connected to any local poetical coterie: she hated Pound, and took little interest in modern poetry in English but centred her attention mainly on foreign poets, with an emphasis on the female and Jewish and those who tore through the everyday by sheer verbal ecstasis: Celan, Sachs, Tsvetaeva, Neruda, Prassinos (whom she translated), Lorca. The poetry is passionate within a wide range of manners: there is complaint and anger both personal and principled, but also a strong ludic quality in which words echo each other and disport themselves in a terpsichorean extravaganza. Having been trained in elocution in her youth, she was a most elegant reader of her own work. Anna was in appearance and manner the image of her art. Tall and striking with her plentiful dark hair and strong facial features showing her Russian and Jewish ancestry, she will long be remembered sweeping through the streets of Cambridge in carefully chosen flamboyant, often dark, clothing, usually on her way to or from the University Library, which became her second home. Her final publication, a set of 27 acrostics on the word ‘poetry’ entitle PY, was recently published by Oystercatcher Press.
PNR would like to clarify a detail in Paul McLoughlin’s obituary of Brian Jones (PNR 190). The report that Jones attended Ealing Grammar School and shared his 11+ grammar school education with ‘contemporaries including Tony Harrison and Douglas Dunn’ unintentionally implied that all three poets went to the same school (this would have been difficult, with Dunn studying in Renfrewshire and Harrison in Leeds); it meant, rather, that they all passed their 11+ and had grammar school educations.
This item is taken from PN Review 191, Volume 36 Number 3, January - February 2010.