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This item is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.News & Notes
PHILIP LARKIN once said that he could live a week without poetry but not a day without jazz; and with the release of a new four-CD box set of his favourites, listeners will now be able to appreciate what he meant. Issued by Proper Records to mark the 25th anniversary of the poet’s death, Larkin’s Jazz ranges from Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and other greats to lesser-known artists. The librarian’s tastes lean towards the classics he grew up with rather than the shock of the new; he hated the arrival of bebop and the further flights of modernism that followed. Larkin was jazz reviewer for the Telegraph between 1961 and 1971, and a decade of his criticism was collected in All What Jazz (Faber), a companion to the new CD collection. In his introduction, Larkin expanded upon what he deemed the fatuities of modernism, in painting and literature as well as music.
The Hidden Place, a site-specific wall painting by the Scottish poet and artist THOMAS A. CLARK, is currently on display at the Ingleby Gallery, 15 Calton Road, Edinburgh until 25 September. One long poem about the land and its people, the artwork offers an alternative map of Scotland. Place names tell of old cultures, history, geography, industry, religion and myth, and Scottish place names have their origin in Gaelic, Pictish, Norse, English, French, Latin and Scots. Over a hundred place names are replaced by phrases revealing the original meaning of the names. Each place, the artist says, becomes a piece of condensed folk poetry, revealing a rich past with quiet lyricism: bay of the bent grass, place of pebbles, slope of brightness. The painting has also been realised as a threecolour screenprint. The gallery opens Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm. See www.inglebygallery.com or telephone +44 (0) 131 556 4441 for more information.
Thomas A. Clark’s work often appears as installations in galleries, public spaces or in the landscape. With the artist Laurie Clark, he runs Cairn, a project space for minimal and conceptual art (www.cairneditions.co.uk). Clark’s The Hundred Thousand Places (Carcanet), a book-length poetic journey through the Scottish landscape, was shortlisted for the Scottish Arts Council Poetry Book of the Year Award.
W.S. MERWIN has been named the seventeenth US Poet Laureate, the Library of Congress announced in July. He follows Kay Ryan in the post. It is as yet unclear how the publicity-shy Merwin, who prefers to lead ‘a very quiet life’, will manage the public aspect of his new role: ‘I always shied away from commitments to Washington – I like living in Hawaii,’ said the 82-year-old from his home, a former pineapple plantation on Maui. Michael Wiegers, Merwin’s editor at Copper Canyon Press for seventeen years, even doubted that he would accept the post, describing him as ‘an incredibly humble man’ though ‘an undeniable presence in the world of poetry’. Merwin was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He studied at Princeton with John Berryman; a youthful encounter with Ezra Pound encouraged him to take up translation. Merwin moved to Hawaii in 1976 to study Zen Buddhism, and he stayed. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes and the National Book Award.
Over at the Paris Review, new editor LORIN STEIN has ruffled American literary feathers with his rather peremptory approach to poetry selection. Stein first surprised critics by installing a little-known graduate student, Robyn Creswell, in the role of poetry editor (doubly controversial because Creswell is that rare thing: a non-practising poetry editor). Stein and Creswell purged poems previously accepted for publication by the magazine’s outgoing poetry editor, Dan Chiasson. The press was alerted when one rejected poet, Daniel Nester, posted the text of Stein’s abrupt email on the culture blog We Who Are About to Die. ‘I’ve edited journals for 21 years,’ Nester told journalists. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this. At smaller journals, there’s honor among thieves. Maybe it’s a corporate thing. Or they’re just clueless.’ Stein responded: ‘It’s never fun cutting things, but an editor’s job is to put out a magazine by his or her best lights, and that means you have to have discretion over what you publish.’ The Paris Review claim their approach is normal, that the decks were similarly cleared during previous transitions, as when Meghan O’Rourke and Charles Simic took over from Richard Howard. He justified their actions to the New York Observer (20 July 2010) by saying that he and Creswell were preparing a ‘holy shit’ poetry section of ‘showstoppers’ for their first issue, published on 15 September. Quite.
English PEN celebrates five years of its valuable Writers in Translation programme by publishing a new anthology, Making the World Legible, edited with an introduction by the writer and translator Julian Evans. It comprises extracts from 36 books that the programme has championed with its grant scheme, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry by writers across the globe. ‘Over the last five years we have given English readers access to some of the most amazing experiences in the literary world,’ says Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN. ‘This book gives a taste of the great writing that is out there.’ The Writers in Translation anthology is available free of charge through libraries nationwide, selected independent bookshops and online, from www.englishpen.org and the website of the Waterstone’s Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize.
A new arts centre housing the International Anthony Burgess Foundation (IABF) has opened in Manchester. Situated at the Engine House, Chorlton Mill, Cambridge Street, it includes a study centre containing Burgess’s own library and the Foundation’s archive of his work, a vast and largely unexplored collection of papers, writings, photographs, musical scores and Burgessian paraphernalia donated by the author’s widow Liana which, until recently, had been gathering dust in a house in Withington. Highlights include Burgess’s cigars, his battered Olivetti typewriters and a well-thumbed cocktail recipe book, as well as unpublished stories and early drafts of A Clockwork Orange. The IABF has a café bar and performance space for literary events and concerts, including recitals on Burgess’s own grand piano. How the author would have felt about his papers and belongings being brought ‘home’ to Manchester is debatable; he had a famously ambivalent relationship with his native city. Having based his cult dystopian novel on the city’s Moss Side street gangs of the 1920s and 1930s, Burgess abandoned Manchester for Malaya (now Malaysia) and Brunei as a young teacher, later living as a tax exile in Malta, Italy, America and finally Monaco, where he is buried. According to Dr Andrew Biswell, Burgess’s biographer and director of the IABF, the author delighted in recalling a piece of hate mail delivered anonymously to the Midland Hotel, where he was staying on a rare visit home: ‘We’ve reserved three graves for you, Mr Burgess,’ it read. ‘One for your body, one for your books and one for your ego.’
It’s not often that small literary presses are courted by Hollywood: that was the situation in which CB Editions publisher CHARLES BOYLE found himself when one of his pamphlets was brought to the small screen by Emma Thompson. A mock-elegy for the heady joys of old-time Soho, A Song of Lunch by Christopher Reid is a narrative poem about an ageing book editor who meets up with an ex-lover in their favourite restaurant after fifteen years. Screenwriter (and Reid’s successor as Chair of Creative Writing at Hull) Martin Goodman liked the poem so much that he showed it to his friend, Greg Wise, the actor partner of the Oscar-winning actress. The resulting film version of A Song of Lunch, starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson and produced by Wise, will be broadcast on BBC2 on National Poetry Day (7 October 2010).
New Walk, a bi-annual international poetry and arts magazine edited by RORY WATERMAN with Nick Everett and Libby Peake, based at the University of Leicester, will launch in September. The first issue includes poetry by Mark Ford, Alison Brackenbury, Hilary Menos, Grevel Lindop, Leontia Flynn, Tom Leonard, Andrew Motion and Timothy Murphy, among others, as well as fiction and artwork, essays, opinion, reviews and a substantial interview with Gwyneth Lewis. Annual subscriptions cost £15 and are available through www.newwalkmagazine.bigcartel.com, in the UK (postage free) and abroad. Cheques made out to New Walk Magazine can be posted, with name and address, to New Walk Magazine, c/o Nick Everett, School of English, University of Leicester, LE1 7RH. Potential contributions or other queries should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.A launch event for the magazine will be held at 6.30pm on 11 November at the University of Leicester, part of the Literary Leicester festival; it will include readings by Alice Oswald, Matt Merritt and others.
BEN SONNENBERG, founder of the literary journal Grand Street and a PNR contributor, died in New York aged 73. Born into a privileged Manhattan family in 1936 (his father was one of the most powerful corporate publicists in the country), Sonnenberg had a wealthy, unhappy childhood which he chronicled in his memoir Lost Property: Memoirs and Confessions of a Bad Boy (1991). His twenties were spent travelling in Europe, writing plays, spending money, seducing women and doing sporadic jobs for the CIA. He read widely and cultivated an impressive circle of friends that included Kenneth Tynan, Elias Canetti, Ted Hughes and Virgil Thomson. In his mid- thirties he began suffering from multiple sclerosis, eventually being paralysed from the neck down. His condition did not prevent him from holding court; he still hosted frequent literary gatherings at his New York apartment.
He founded Grand Street in 1981 in the spirit of high-minded but non-academic magazines like The Dial and Horizon. Thanks to the whims and enthusiasms of his editorship, it became one of the most exciting literary magazines of the postwar era. ‘He was a very lively reader of material, and had not made up his mind ahead of time about anything,’ observed the poet and translator Richard Howard, a frequent contributor. ‘He was very open to critical writing, especially the kind that includes lots of gossip.’ Sonnenberg edited and published the magazine from his home for nine years, until health problems forced him to sell it in 1990. Described by William Grimes in The New York Times as ‘a dandy, boulevardier and self-educated litterateur’, Sonnenberg’s achievements as editor include publishing one of Samuel Beckett’s last poems and devoting a revelatory special issue to the poet C.P. Cavafy.
Iain Bamforth reports from Strasbourg: The current double summer edition of the French monthly Europe (No. 974/975), founded in 1923 by Romain Rolland and now in its eighty-eighth year, has a special feature on two modern globetrotters, Nicolas Bouvier and Kenneth White. In a long interview with Yves Leclair, the wandering monk poet from the West of Scotland, now much better known in France for his ‘geopoetical’ writings and transports, expounds on the ‘oral’ side to his thinking, the long period ‘hors littérature’ in the Pyrenees that made his name, and how to be a ‘cosmographic poet’ in the age of mass tourism. White’s acts of nomadism pale somewhat when seen in close proximity to the work of Nicolas Bouvier, the Swiss writer who was ‘discovered’ in France only a few years before his death in 1998. Bouvier’s reputation has continued to grow, with the publication of his entire oeuvre in the Quarto series. Europe offers eighteen essays of appreciation prefaced by two amusing late articles by Bouvier on the Tamagochi phenomenon and the Yakusa (Japanese mafia) and a couple of unpublished letters written to his travelling companion, the artist Thierry Vernet, who set out with him in 1953 to travel in a shabby Fiat Topolino from the Baltic to the Khyber Pass. ‘You think you are making a trip, but soon it is making – or unmaking you.’ Bouvier pressed on alone, from Ceylon to Japan, and published his masterpiece L’Usage du Monde, which is based on his journal entries, in 1963. This extraordinary book, about half of which dwells on Iran during the period when Mosaddegh, the prime minister, was ousted by the CIA on behalf of the British, is a masterpiece of wit and observation in which the travellers ‘denied [them]selves every luxury except one, that of being slow’. The fractious Fiat has a hand in this. The difference between Bouvier – who is effortlessly thought-provoking and curious about everyone he meets, from border guards to truckies – and White is that the former learns to respond to his surroundings, rather than to his perceptions. Magnificently translated by Robyn Marsack, L’Usage du Monde was published last year in NYRB’s prestigious and attractive series of travel classics as The Way of the World.
Will Robertson remembers Geoffrey Dutton:
The Scottish poet GEOFFREY DUTTON has died in Angus aged 85. Born in Chester of Anglo Scottish parentage in 1924, Dutton studied at Edinburgh before moving to Dundee where he pursued a career that was to lead to international acclaim as a biochemist. He married his wife Elizabeth in 1957, settling in Northern Perthshire in 1958. It was while working at Dundee that he met Anne Stevenson – then the writer in residence – who was to have a profound effect on Dutton’s work, encouraging publication and guiding the development of his distinctive and original voice.
Dutton chose to live much of his life in a fairly Spartan setting surrounded by a harsh yet beautiful environment. This was also reflected in his work – an austere and minimalist style of writing which contrasted with its rich representation of the complexity and beauty of Dutton’s perspective. His poetic work was published over four major volumes: Camp One, Squaring The Waves, The Concrete Garden and The Bare Abundance. Dutton derived considerable satisfaction from understanding the underlying structure of things, emphasising the beauty of discovery and the unity of the technical and the creative. Over the course of fifty years, his ‘ecological dialogue’ with nine acres of Perthshire hillside produced a garden of enormous beauty: a unified scientific and artistic achievement, spanning crag and dell, moor and woodland; a vast ecological metaphor expressed in tree and shrub, bulb and fern. This became the subject of Harvesting The Edge (prose and poetry) and Some Branch Against The Sky.
Dutton engaged with the light and darkness of the Scottish land and its people. He chose to live in some detachment from the literary society of his time, remaining unaffected by literary fashion and developing his own distinctive style based on a wide and deep experience and a vast perspective of time. The themes woven through his work were those that also underpinned his life: integrity, the essential unity of scientific and artistic discovery, the Scottish land and, at an underlying implicit level, the Scottish people and his family.
Colin Still remembers David Chaloner:
David Chaloner, who has died of cancer, aged 66, was an internationally acclaimed designer as well as a prolific poet. Often associated with the Cambridge poets, his closest friends and correspondents included people like Andrew Crozier, John James, Douglas Oliver and Peter Riley, though, like Lee Harwood, he never either lived in Cambridge or studied at the university. Following a number of chapbooks, his first major collections were the delightfully named Hotel Zingo (Grosseteste), and Chocolate Sauce, published by Andrew Crozier’s Ferry Press, a volume noted for its eye-catching silk-screened dust jacket, designed by Patrick Caulfield, the original artwork of which hung in pride of place on David’s wall.
His very varied career as a graphic and interior designer was marked by a long association with Terence Conran, which included eight years as Creative Director of Conran Design. Latterly he worked mostly in Holland, where in 2009 he co-founded yet another design group; at the time of his death, despite a by now seriously debilitating illness, he was still commuting to Amsterdam each week and was working until the very last. The travel that occupied so much of his time is a recurrent motif in his writing: ‘the knock at the door,/The ride to the airport, out and up through swirls/Of morning fog in pressurised flight./Twenty-two pages later is touchdown,/ And early morning confusion has been forgotten/In the state of half sleep and half wakefulness,/Depending on which direction you are coming from.’ … ‘The Berliner Allee is quiet/for a Friday night. On the corner,/in the Argentinian restaurant, no/one speaks English. I order/and eat in sign language with occasional words/and silence./A German gaucho serves beer.’ These wry pieces are David’s Lunch Poems, written in airport lounges, in flight and in anonymous hotel rooms, using every spare moment, in an already very full life.
In 2005 Salt Publishing brought out a handsome 435 page Collected Poems, which included all his work to that date; this book, which is strongly recommended, is available from www.saltpublishing.com. Variations on Silence, a CD of David’s readings, can be obtained from Optic Nerve: www.opticnerve.co.uk.
This item is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.