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This item is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.News & Notes
The New Zealand poet, novelist and critic C.K. STEAD has been awarded first prize in the inaugural 2010 International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine. The £5,000 prize was presented at an international symposium on Poetry and Medicine at the University of Warwick in March. The judges included broadcaster James Naughtie, NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh and poet-physician Dannie Abse. Accepting his prize via video link, Stead discussed his winning poem, ‘Ischaemia’, written in the voice of Catullus and inspired by the poet’s suffering a stroke five years ago. ‘Over many years I have written poems in the persona of Catullus, so the Roman poet has become as much a fictional as an historical character, one to whom I have ready recourse in my writing,’ explained Stead. ‘I decided therefore that Catullus would suffer the stroke I suffered, with the same effects, and that he would recover in the same way. I’m happy the judges felt the experiment worked, and enormously grateful for this generous award.’ Podcasts of the symposium lectures and of Stead reading his winning poem can be viewed on the Hippocrates Prize section of www.warwick.ac.uk.
Archetypal ‘angry young man’ JOHN OSBORNE will be celebrated at 1pm on Saturday 8 May with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque at the playwright’s former residence. Actress Dame Maggie Smith and playwright David Hare will preside at 2 Crook Hamn Road, Fulham, London (nearest tube: Parsons Green). The event marks the fifty-fourth anniversary of the first performance of Look Back in AngerPrix Italial-winning film and theatre director Tony Palmer. Palmer filmed many of Osborne plays and produced the one authorized film-biography of him; he also worked with Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and Leonard Cohen.
TED HUGHES will join Chaucer and Shakespeare with a plaque commemorating him in Poets’ Corner, twelve years after his death. The memorial for Hughes, Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998, will be set in the south transept of Westminster Abbey, near monuments for William Blake, T.S. Eliot and Sir John Betjeman, the last poet so honoured, in 1984. The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said that while not every Poet Laureate was granted the honour, the decision had been made due to ‘overwhelming’ support from writers including Seamus Heaney and Sir Andrew Motion. Judith Palmer, director of the Poetry Society, praised the ‘exciting and brave decision’ to memorialise the poet so soon after his death. It bodes well for the canonisation of that other poet, Pope John Paul XXIII.
Staying with laureates, a new website, www.cday-lewis.co.uk, has been launched to promote the poetry of CECIL DAY-LEWIS, Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972. Day-Lewis made his name during the 1930s, and his advocates included John Betjeman, who wrote of his work: ‘I am absolutely sure Cecil’s poetry is underrated. He persists in the mind. I only rattle on the ears.’ The site features critical articles and recordings of some of Day-Lewis’s best-known poems, read by his widow Jill Balcon.
Previously unpublished recordings of TED HUGHES and SYLVIA PLATH have been made available on a new CD by the British Library. The release brings together for the first time all of the surviving BBC broadcasts featuring Plath, revealing a bright and vivacious side to the poet. It also includes a joint interview from the BBC radio programme Two of a Kind, in which Hughes and Plath discuss what it is like being a married couple with the same vocation. They describe their first encounter in 1956 at the launch party for the Cambridge student poetry journal Saint Botolph’s Review, as well as their day to day life together after marriage, surviving on a meagre income with a baby in a tiny north London flat. The British Library’s Richard Fairman, who produced the CD, said many Plath scholars had been surprised at the happy tone of the recordings, which include Plath’s observations on the eccentricities of life in her adopted country. ‘These are two people who were in love and looking forward to a great future together. There is nothing negative or depressing in any of the recordings because you catch them at a time when everything was going well.’
What exactly is the point of poetry reviews? That was the question posed by CRAIG TEICHER recently in the US journal Publishers Weekly (29 March 2010). Teicher’s query may alarm readers, given that he is the regular poetry reviewer for Time Out New York, the Boston Review and Publishers Weekly itself, among other publications. Happily, Teicher is being provocative, yet he has a serious point to make: ‘In almost any conversation on the topic of poetry reviews, one question comes up: what’s the point? Do they help readers?’ he asks. ‘Do they help sell books? Do they keep the art form in line? Do they spur writers into creating better poetry or kick bad writers out of the halls of Parnassus?’ As a reviewer, Teicher continually asks himself these questions. He even hosted a panel on behalf of the National Book Critics’ Circle on ‘The Practice and Purpose of Poetry Reviewing’ at this year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. Rather than tracing any inverse correlation between the decreasing review space for poetry in the broadsheets and cultural journals and the increasing ‘irrelevance’ of poetry to public discourse, Teicher takes heart from the twentieth century’s long tradition of engaged poetry criticism, from T.S. Eliot and Randall Jarrell to Helen Vendler and Stephen Burt. He interprets the hundreds of little magazines and literary blogs currently publishing in the United States as evidence of the rude health of contemporary poetry reviewing. He concludes with a whimper, not a bang, however: the critic’s task is, he maintains, ambassadorial, encouraging interested readers and booksellers to buy or stock poetry and enriching their reading experience. Eliot, Jarrell, Vendler and Burt might demur. Visit www.publishersweekly.com to weigh in on the debate.
Mayakovsky: Russian Poet, a life of the futurist of the Revolution by his lover, the novelist ELSA TRIOLET, has been published by Hearing Eye Press. The memoir was written in 1939, nine years after the poet’s suicide at the age of 36, and later destroyed by the Gestapo. Mayakovsky was Triolet’s first love, before he met her sister Lili Brik, with whom he lived from 1915 until his death. The book contains extracts of Mayakovsky’s work - some which has never before appeared in English - in new translations by Susan de Muth. Mayakovsky: Russian Poet is available from www.hearingeye.org or by writing to Hearing Eye Press, 99 Torriano Avenue, London NW5 2RX.
An Israeli novel and a Russian poetry collection received Best Translated Book Awards from the translation organisation Three Percent in New York. GAIL HAREVEN'S novel The Confessions of Noa Weber (Melville House Press), written in Hebrew and translated by Dalya Bilu, won the Best Translated Book Award for fiction. The poetry prize went to ELENA FANAILOVA'S collection The Russian Version (Ugly Duckling Presse), translated by Genya Turovskaya and Stephanie Sandler. The awards were founded by Three Percent, a translation initiative based at the University of Rochester, New York. Launched in 2007 to promote modern and contemporary international literature, Three Percent takes its name from the unsettling statistic that only 3% of books published in the United States are works in translation. Visit www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent for more information.
ELENA SHVARTS (1948-2010), one of the outstanding Russian poets of her generation, died in March after a short struggle with cancer. Her Selected Poems (1993) and a volume of her later poems translated by Sasha Dugdale, Birdsong on a Seabed (2009), are both published by Bloodaxe. A full obituary will appear in the next issue of PNR.
The 2010 National Poetry Competition is open for entries. Organised by the Poetry Society, it has developed over three decades into one of the world’s leading poetry competitions. Past winners include Carol Ann Duffy, Ian Duhig, Philip Gross and Jo Shapcott. This year’s judges are George Szirtes, Deryn Rees-Jones and Sinéad Morrissey. The winning entries will be published in the Poetry Society’s journal, Poetry Review.
Visit www.poetrysociety.org.uk for more information or to enter online by 31 October.
This item is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.