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This item is taken from PN Review 19, Volume 7 Number 5, May - June 1981.

News & Notes
D. G. BRIDSON, who contributed two articles on his friend Conrad Aiken to PN Review 9, died in London on 19 October, aged 70. In four decades as a prolific and brilliant writer-producer for BBC radio, Bridson avidly promoted the cause of spoken poetry, celebrated through skilful interviews such figures as Pound and Graves, undertook audacious ventures like the production in the 1950s of Wyndham Lewis's The Human Age (making the composition of that book materially possible in the process), pressed through numerous controversial and ambitious documentaries, and generally made the radio feature an art form.

In the 1930s a poet (recognized by Pound) and critic (for the New English Weekly), the young Bridson thrived as part of a vigorous intellectual circle in his native Manchester ('the waning capital of a grimly autonomous Northern republic'). Always proud of this connection, he also formed close ties with America through his many programmes on the politics and culture of that country, and it was appropriate that his funeral service should have ended with 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic'.

Author of a pioneering book on Lewis's politics (though himself a man of the Left) and a spiky account of his crowded BBC years, he was in addition a dedicated world traveller, bibliophile and bon vivant. In his BBC book (Prospero and Ariel, 1971), Bridson conceded that radio was the most fugitive medium for creative expression, but added: 'The only end of living, so far as I am concerned, is the enjoyment of life; and there is no doubt at all that the time I spent in radio has helped me to enjoy mine to the full.' (CJF)

The award of the NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE to the self-exiled Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz (some of whose work was included in PNR 9) was a 'surprise' only to those Stockholm-watchers with vested interests. Certainly The Times was ungenerous, heading its third leader on 10 October 'Immortality for the Elderly', and revealing a sorry ignorance of the world of contemporary letters. W. L. Webb in the Guardian provided an excellent feature article and quoted some of Milosz's poetry. The Sunday 'quality' papers did not rate the award as news at all. By contrast, the American press made known who this distinguished writer was and why he had won the Prize. Though he is a remarkable essayist, translator and novelist (The Issa Valley, his most ambitious novel, will be issued early in 1981 by Carcanet, who publish his verse) the award was made for his poetry. James Atlas provided a full account of his work for readers of the New York Times, and Joseph Brodsky added his testimonial: 'One of the major themes in Mr Milosz's poetry is the unbearable realization that a human being is not able to grasp his experience; and the more time separates him from this experience, the less become his chances of comprehending it. This realization is the main discovery of our century. If a human being is spared from what Mr Milosz calls "the sentence of history", he feels a tremendous guilt over having survived. The poetry of Czeslaw Milosz instructs us in how to handle that guilt. He praises life, however soberly; but the praise that comes from a choked throat can he more eloquent than any bel canto.

'The great strength of Czeslaw Milosz is that he has understood the necessity of the tragic intonation, and the tragedy of the century is that it has provided him the necessary experience to articulate it.' It was Joseph Brodsky, himself an exile, who pronounced the citation in 1978 when Milosz was awarded the Neustadt prize.
Photograph of Czeslaw Milosz

The German press was, by contrast with the British, very quick on the uptake, andGerman readers were not left in doubt about the identity of the poet honoured. However the French were cast into some confusion and the French media awarded the prize to a couple of other Miloszes before landing, thanks to the International Wires, on the right one.

'Made cautious by history,' James Atlas wrote, 'Milosz has acquired a celebrity he never sought.'

Livres de France announced that Gallimard, the Paris publishers, will be issuing a new collection of the poems of Jacques Prévert. 'Prévert est mort (en 1977), vive Prévert!' The book is called Soleil de nuit.

This is indeed an event for Gallimard, since Prévert is among the best-known post-war French poets, and his Paroles have sold and continue to sell thousands. A recent statistic tells us that 935,000 copies of Paroles have been sold. His work has a special appeal for adolescent and young adult readers. Prévert was a writer who shed poems like leaves-that is, he wrote on any bit of paper, a serviette, an envelope, and discarded the poem once he had emitted it. One critic called him 'not a poet but a writer of graffiti'. The judgement is unfair. Prévert has 'brought poetry down to street level', has found an audience grateful for his kind of work. Few French poets command even a hundredth of the readership that Prévert's work has achieved.

The centenary of the birth of GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE - which PNR commemorated with David Arkell's piece in number 18-is being celebrated 'avee éclat' in France: a 'colloque', two exhibitions at Beaubourg, a television feature, and articles in all the papers and journals. These ritual celebrations have their use: new texts, new scholarship are encouraged, and more to the point the work is exposed to a wide readership. But of course there is the sad side-effect, too, of the legend of this particular poet, a legend which has grown sometimes at the expense of the work. Centenaries can obscure the work behind the ghost of the man. A three-hour television programme about a poet? Well, in this case, given his involvement with the visual arts, etc., perhaps the medium is well-chosen. It was Max Jacob who declared that his age would be known as the 'siècle d'Apol-linaire'. This statement-in France at least-does not ring false.

The American ambassador, Kingman Brewster, has launched a 8200,000 appeal for improvements at Dove Cottage, especially in the area of the library. The developments envisaged are laudable -they will make Dove Cottage more useful to the student and scholar and, in many ways, more accessible to the informal visitor. It is sad that the Observer reported the campaign as an attempt to 'expand the Wordsworth Industry in Grasmere'.

The magazine MINOTAURE was founded by Albert Skira in 1933 in order to publish the work of writers, poets and painters at the heart of the Surrealist movement-but also the work of men such as Lacan, or the ethnologist Griaule. Picasso designed the first cover of Minotaure. Skira republished-in facsimile format-issues 1 through 4 of this celebrated journal in October.

The Manchester City Art Gallery continues its imaginative work. Its most recent triumph is the WYNDHAM LEWIS exhibition, which will do much to assist in the revaluation of Lewis's whole oeuvre, and which destroys some of the prejudices that cling almost as much to his graphic as to his written work. The exhibition, which will travel to Cardiff and Edinburgh, is the largest of his work since the 1956 Tate retrospective. What is most lucidly revealed-to those who have read some of Lewis's prose and verse-is the continuity between his graphic and literary work, the unity of his imagination, and its extraordinary power to grow.

In PNR 12 we reported on the issue much agitating booksellers and publishers in France, the 'prix flottent': legislation passed on 1 July 1979 abolished publishers' recommended prices, leaving the actual price of books in shops to be decided by each shop-proprietor. Among French publishers and booksellers we spoke to at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the effects of this change were variously assessed. The larger booksellers and publishers are happy; it is the small bookseller who is suffering, and there have been some closures. A number of booksellers have formed a union to pressurise the government to change its legislation. Mr Tuzot of the union claims that the cultural damage caused by a free price system is already evident. Professional booksellers are the first to suffer; and specialist publishers and small presses, who depend on the professional bookseller most, suffer second. Third to suffer is the reader: the prices are lower, perhaps; but the choice is narrower, and crude market factors determine more and more insistently what is to be published and sold, and where sales will occur. Academic publishing is 'directly menaced', the president of the French Publishers' Association-a mugwump in this affair-declares. His 'wait and see' attitude is characteristic- the patient attrition which will realise that an irreversible error was made just in time to write an elegy for the independent French booksellers. Developments are watched closely by British publishers and booksellers.

The 'menace', as some believe, to copyright conventions posed by photocopying equipment and other forms of technology has become subject of debate. At Frankfurt a report from the Director General of UNESCO set the cat among the pigeons. Publishers should not use copyright, he said, as an anchor, since 'copyright is a barrier to the dissemination of information' to developing countries. He went on to urge publishers to develop cheap, efficient ways of getting information about. . . . In other words, themselves to contribute to the erosions of copyright, to the further development of reprography. Publishers replied to the Director General's report by affirming that without copyright, there could be no creative effort, What is more, the problem relates less to the developing world than to the rest. The British Library receives half a million requests a year from 98 overseas countries and two and a half million from the UK. There are twice as many requests now as five years ago. It is hard to see what form of legislation could possibly protect copyright against such advanced technology as is now available. The British Library and other major libraries would of course comply with any 'royalty' legislation. But any legislation which turns the individual with a Xerox or a 3M copier into a pirate will be impossible to enforce and is likely to be regarded with derision.

As though the good book did not have enough enemies, new foes have been found-this time in the United States, where tax legislation requires publishers to increase their tax payments on warehouse inventories. The age-old custom whereby each year stock is 'depreciated' by a specific factor, until it is written off, has been overturned. The result is that titles which, in the past, a publisher could have kept in print because-in depreciating-they did not augment his tax liabilities, will now be run out of print briskly; or never published in the first place. The publisher will have more in common with the hot-cake salesman than with the creative entrepreneur.

Millions of books will be flooding the remainder market as publishers drastically reduce their inventories. It is the durable book, the adventurous or scholarly text, the risk book, that will suffer. Yet again the major publishers (who are the hardest hit) are being given a strong disincentive from publishing-for example-poetry. And fiction. And music books. And . . . There is much resistance to the legislation-changes are not inconceivable; but then the American legislative process is not swift, and the tax authorities are.

At the London Book Fair it was a pleasure to meet representatives of NOWA, the independent Polish publishing house. It has been in operation for four years and represents a radical departure for Polish writers who in the past could choose between the state publishing houses and samizdat obscurity. NOWA grew out of the samizdat activities of a number of writers, and Jan Walc was one of the founders. It began not as a deliberate movement-rather, copies of poems were required for a poetry recital, and Walc prepared them, only to find a real demand for work produced in this fashion. He lost his job with Polityka, but he had found other ways of spending his time. The magazine Zapis was founded and proved-with its signed articles- an important catalyst to further work. Other members of the group included Mirek Chojecki, who lost his job as a researcher at the Nuclear Research Institute and gradually took charge of operations. The police were very interested and obstructive, but NOWA developed despite the various hurdles set in its way. The chief problem was the acquisition of reprographic facilities, and this was NOWA's most vulnerable flank, since contact had to be made with sinister elements in order to get machinery and materials. The 'thaw' of 1977 helped, and NOWA has evolved a very impressive list of Polish and foreign writing. Its authors include Czeslaw Milosz, Stanislaw Baranczak, Tadeusz Konwicki (whose Minor Apocalypse was sold to Faber and to Farrar, Straus); and projected editions of Orwell's Animal Farm. There are also 'pirated' or photocopied editions of Solzhenitsyn, etc. These 'editions' reach about 200 copies at most and are circulated by hand. A full account of this perilous and exciting venture is to be found in Index on Censorship 6 (1979) in Jan Wale's article 'Unofficial Publishing'. Index also publishes a list of other 'independent' journals from Poland, and selective samizdat listings. The NOWA representatives at the London Book Fair acknowledged their indebtedness to Index-we all share it.

NOWA's objectives are clear: to place in circulation works of merit which have been proscribed by the authorities; to break the state's monopoly on publication and information; and to publish the best new and translated work that reaches it. It seeks assistance from its readers: 'help in distributing its publications, provision of equipment and printing material, financial assistance.' The address of Miroslaw Chojecki in Warsaw is ul. Sarbiewskiego 2/47. Alternatively, readers can contact NOWA through Aleksander Smolar, 9 rue Dr A. Schweitzer, 92220 Bagneux, France.

British independent (and small) presses have foes other than the police: the pound, the exchequer, and the like-and also a very limited public for their wares. Anvil Press Poetry has contributed more than most of the independent poetry publishers, and it has withstood many foes. But this has been a difficult year for it. We were therefore glad to learn that Anvil will be resuming a full publishing programme and changing its structure to become a non-profit distributing company. This has been made possible by financial help from Mr L. W. Carp, chairman of the Words and Music bookshops group and of Wildwood House and East-West Publications. The new catalogue/stocklist (available from 69 King George Street, London SE10 8PX) is full of interesting projects.

The Book Marketing Council has landed on BARNSLEY as the place for a research project on 'The Book in the Community'. The BMC-home trade division of the Publishers' Association- is projecting various experimental schemes. Many local groups expressed support, interest and commitment to plans for making Barnsley a kind of Yorkshire Book-Marketing Guinea-Pig. Barnsley's location, its traditions and its civic sense all made it an obvious choice. The Times reported some BMC statistics, however, which make sobering reading for serious editors, publishers, writers and readers: only 2% of leisure spending is on books. 39% is on drink. And Barnsley is no exception to that rule.

Having responded warmly to the BMC visit, Barnsley councillors were warning that-because of £2.3m overspending, a 100% increase in rates was a possibility. Such news is more likely to stimulate the breweries' sales than the booksellers'.

Just as private and industrial sponsorship for the Arts is getting off the ground in a big way, Sir Roy Shaw, secretary general of the Arts Council, criticised commercial sponsors for backing only the 'safe' arts. Arts patronage has been sold to corporations as an aspect of promotion: they are not asked to be altruistic, rather to regard themselves as profiting from the exposure their products receive through being associated with the arts. It is hardly surprising that the 're-creative' arts-music, opera, ballet and theatre in particular-have profited most, and so it should be. Sir Roy has a budget for supporting other forms of art. And perhaps it should be remembered that the Arts Council is not above supporting 'safe' art, having put new productions of 'Oklahoma' and 'My Fair Lady' on the road. It is worrying to hear someone in Sir Roy's position talking thus, or about 'stuffy museum culture'. Can he point to concrete triumphs of the Community Arts schemes? We might be more inclined to lend a sympathetic ear if he can. Is he not increasingly confusing art and educational subsidy? And will this not increasingly discourage vocational initiative by implicitly degrading the traditional arts?

HOLY COMMUNION (1662)-using Merbecke's setting and recorded in the church of Our Most Holy Redeemer, London, is now released by Beta Records (Highbury Studios, Swan Yard, London Nl 1SD) at £4.50 including p&p. It is also available in cassette. It is one of the marks-elegiac, forlorn-of the passing from common currency in the churches of the traditional service and the ascendancy of the 'alternative services' which are included in the fat new prayerbook. Beta Records offer this disc 'for those who miss the traditional liturgy'. Is this an accepting admission of defeat? It is a clear and strong recording -but without fellow-communicants the experience becomes aestheticised, historical. We hope the record will prove an incentive to resistance of the new services, not a token reminder of the old.

Mr I. M. PARSONS, CBE, died on 29 October at the age of 74. As Chairman of Chatto & Windus Ltd from 1954 to 1974, a publisher and editor of original distinction, his contribution to the world of poetry was quiet but considerable. He was among the last of a generation of adventurous and inventive publishers.

He entered Chatto & Windus in 1928 and in 1930 became a partner. Though still a smallish press, Chatto & Windus had emerged after the First World War with a distinguished literary list and with a tradition of fine design and production. Parsons was behind the launching of Night and Day, the mid-1930s magazine whose promise was cut short by litigation.

In his own right Parsons was a fine anthologist and one of his most important recent contributions to the world of poetry was his superb edition of The Collected Works of Isaac Rosenberg, a labour of love and discrimination. Another well-known title of his is Men Who March Away, a collection of poetry from the First World War.

On 6 November, aged 81, PROFESSOR NEVILL COGHILL, FRSL, Merton Professor of English Literature at Oxford from 1957 to 1966, died. Controversy still-though now rather mutedly-surrounds Professor Coghill's most famous project: the translation of Chaucer into a contemporary idiom which brought the poet's stories into wide currency in the Penguin edition of The Canterbury Tales and which paved the way for the West End musical Chaucer which successfully toured the world. Chaucer was only one-perhaps the most public-of his enthusiasms. He was a broadly-based scholar of English literature, a fine and generous teacher and colleague, a producer of amateur and professional drama, and a hundred other occupations. His desire to make public, accessible, visible, the major resources of English literature-especially those resources which changes in the language had rendered remote-worried some of his purist colleagues but delighted many readers and listeners (he was a fine broadcaster) who might otherwise never have had, even at one remove, access to Chaucer, Langland, and other work of moment.

This item is taken from PN Review 19, Volume 7 Number 5, May - June 1981.



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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