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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 136, Volume 27 Number 2, November - December 2000.

News & Notes
On 18 and 19 November at the Chancellor's Hall, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1 a conference entitled Modern Poetry and Prejudice will be held, organised by Dr John Armstrong, Director of the Aesthetics programme at the University of London (John.Armstrong@sas.ac.uk). The poets on whom discussion will focus are Pound, Eliot, Larkin and, to a lesser extent, Auden. The prejudices in question include 'anti- Semitism, xenophobia' and 'elitism', and the organisers say that 'These issues have a strong practical aspect: what is the responsibility of critics to the unacceptable aspects of certain writers; how, if at all, should their work be taught in schools or universities? How is prejudice experienced in the works themselves?' No doubt the questions raised and the terms in which they are raised suggest a range of contemporary prejudices. The list of subjects is partial: Lawrence, Joyce and Yeats are absent, for example; and more contemporary prejudiced writers are not accorded a slot of their own. However, the conference, including as it does contributions from writers as diverse as Gabriel Josipovici, Roger Scruton, Jonathan Keates and Elaine Feinstein guarantees that the discussion will be clearly focussed and perhaps highly contentious.

The poet and editor ROBIN ROBERTSON has written to PN Review in his capacity as a trustee of the Griffin Prize (the others being Margaret Atwood, the eponymous car-parts magnate and poetry lover Scott Griffin, Robert Hass, Michael Ondaatje and David Young), announcing what will be one of the largest poetry awards in the English-speaking world ('the biggest dedicated poetry prize, for a single book'), judged by Carolyn Forché, Dennis Lee and Paul Muldoon. This Canadian initiative will award two $40,000 prizes each year, one to a Canadian book and one to a book from anywhere published in the previous year. Publishers are invited to submit a maximum of three books per annum.

The 2000 Forward Prize for Best Collection has been awarded to MICHAEL DONAGHY for Conjure. The Best First Collection was judged to be ANDREW WATERHOUSE's In and the Best Single Poem was deemed to be 'The Death of Descartes', a creative homework exercise by TESSA BIDDINGTON. The Prizes were announced on National Poetry Day when, The Times reported, 'Gordon Brown is subjecting himself to a reading at No. 11. In the company of Andrew Motion, Alan Yentob and Griff Rhys-Jones, he will today feign interest in the self-styled fire poet Phil Wells.' The phrase 'feign interest', applied to the Chancellor, shows how deep the infection of National Poetry Day has gone.

The Macmillan Press has re-branded its academic publishing programme. The books now appear under the Palgrave imprint. This is the result of American company amalgamations and 'our need to have a single brand for this global business'. The new name pays tribute to that most persistent of anthologies.

Readers have written complaining that News & Notes is too full of death. Their complaint should properly be addressed to the Grim Reaper himself who has again, over the last two months, made a particularly distinguished harvest.

The Israeli poet YEHUDA AMICHAI was due to read at Poetry International on the South Bank and reportedly believed, even three days before he died of cancer, that his remission might make the visit possible. He was 76. In Israel he was a best-seller and passages and phrases he coined have found their way into speech. He was something of a 'national poet', but always too wry and acerbic to allow the laurel to be placed on his brow. His poems have a way of stepping from the literal world to a transfigured one; a world of intimate detail upon which history and legend irrupt. He was much loved outside Israel, a friend and correspondent of many English and American writers, including Ted Hughes whose warm regard for him was well known. He revived Hebrew ('this weary language torn from its sleep in the Bible'), making it supple enough to access its ancient resources without archaising. What has been described as his 'irreverence' emanates from his deep respect for the individual and his unflagging love for the light, the stones, the crouching shadows and all the people of Jerusalem.

The death of Welsh poet RONALD STUART THOMAS was national front page news. At 87 he was the other Thomas, the one who savagely unsentimentalised Dylan Thomas's Wales and wrote a spare and often angry verse, now lyrical, now incendiary. A troubled poet of the spiritual it would be limiting to call him a religious poet he was born in the generation of Dylan Thomas and the Apocalyptics. His readership grew slowly (he never ingratiated himself with it). Joy is rare in the world of his verse: 'One thing I have asked / Of the disposer of the issues / Of life: that truth should defer / To beauty. It was not granted.' Duty and faith clip the wings of desire, curb the tongue when it wishes to sing or lament. Poetry is considered speech, and though he was a prolific poet, his best poems seem to have been wrested from a reluctant language. The starkness of his vision is closer to that of Larkin and Sisson, hovering at the border of the religious and the secular, pulsing with desire and then with despair. Increasingly, he came to see moral in terms of political responsibility. Moral responsibility flows from faith and a love of the beautiful, a desire to find the same order and beauty in man. When he fails, a humane misanthropy comes into play, rejecting the imperfectible. John Wain held Thomas up as an example of how a poet who abandons form damages himself. But Wain was wrong, and Donald Davie pointed out why. What Thomas was learning to use in a verse which, pentameter based, attains remarkable freedom, was the enjambement as a rhythmic principle, not an arbitrary break. Even when end words do not rhyme they fall visually and aurally into relationships which, like rhyme, produce a separate rhythm of sense. At first his new prosody depended entirely on line ending; as time passed and the poet has become confident in the new form, making it his own, he broke ground newer and more fertile to Welsh and other poets than the rhythmic blur and shimmer of Dylan Thomas had been.

MICHAEL MEYER the great translator of Ibsen and Strindberg, has died at the age of 79. At Oxford, where he studied under Edmund Blunden, he and Sidney Keyes edited Eight Oxford Poets and after Keyes died Meyer edited his poems. Meyer began as a poet, but Scandinavia and the theatre claimed him.

The Iranian poet AHMAD SHAMLOU a lucid critic through poems, films and essays of dogmatism and repression in Iran, died in Teheran at the age of 74. He wrote in Persian, and poetry was a vehicle that generally managed to creep in under the censor's gaze. During the last twenty years his poetry was officially suppressed, but earlier volumes circulated sometimes in pirated editions. They were also broadcast into Iran from foreign stations. They do not work well in translation: their apparent vagueness, the evanescence of their occasions and imagery, make them appear insubstantial and unrooted in English. As an intellectual of the left he was a strong opponent of the Shah's regime and, like others of his party, hardly expected that the mullahs would take power as they did after the monarchy fell. Among his legacies, The Times reported, is 'more than a hundred volumes of popular sayings and folklore called The Book of the Street'.

Michael Hamburger writes to correct errors in the note on the late ERNST JANDL published in PN Review 135. He did not live to be 85 but died short of his 75th birthday. Michael Hamburger's own volume of translations of Jandl was never reviewed in PNR. Jandl's love of Britain was not reciprocated in later years Hamburger's translations appeared in Ireland and were hardly distributed in Great Britain at all. For those of us who were fortunate enough to hear Jandl at the Poetry International Festivals and at Sound Poetry events, the experience remains fresh. Jandl made of sound poetry something more than sound.

In memory of the life and work of poet and composer IVOR GURNEY, a stained glass window was installed at St Mary de Lode Church in the city of Gloucester, dedicated by the Dean of Gloucester on 28 October. A new memorial stone has been placed on the poet's grave in the churchyard of St Matthew's Church, Twigworth. The Ivor Gurney Society sponsored both projects. Contributions to the project (still £1500 short) should be sent to the Chairman of the Ivor Gurney Society, Chosen Hay, The Green, Churchdown, Gloucester GL3 2LF.

This item is taken from PN Review 136, Volume 27 Number 2, November - December 2000.



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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