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This item is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.News & Notes
PN Review were greatly saddened by the death in January of one of our most original authors, the poet and diarist R.F. LANGLEY. He has been a regular contributor to the magazine since 1994 and his 'From a Diary' column has been appearing since PN Review 148. He wrote some of the most beautiful and durable poems it has been our privilege to publish in these pages.
Roger Langley was born in Rugby in 1938 and educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. He went on to teach English and Art History in secondary schools in Wolverhampton and Sutton Coldfield, living in Staffordshire for most of his life. It was not until after he retired from teaching in 1999 that Langley began to publish seriously, first in pamphlets, and his work began to appear in journals and anthologies, including The Harvill Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry in English (1999). His Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2000) and his collection The Face of It (Carcanet, 2007) drew a devoted following among readers and reviewers. Jeremy Noel-Tod in the Daily Telegraph described The Face of It as 'one of the classics of early 21st-century English poetry. [...] Langley's meditations on the natural world make English strange with Shakespearean animation, jumping from rhyme to rhyme and thought to thought.'
Curious and experimental in spirit, Langley owed debts to the Objectivists and Black Mountain poets and was considered part of the 'Cambridge School' (he was a friend and contemporary of J.H. Prynne). Yet, as the critic William Wootten observed in the Times Literary Supplement, the experimental spirit of his work was 'absorbed into a poetic that is characteristically English and traditional'. Langley employed rhyme and strict, often syllabic, forms alongside compression, ellipses and the compounding of images and ideas, devices which make his poems challenging. Shakespeare, the Romantics and Hopkins are audible in his poems of the English countryside; the inspiration for much of his work came from the landscapes of Suffolk. Throughout his life, he maintained a journal - part diary, part autobiography, part commonplace book - which we have included as a regular feature in this magazine. These extraordinarily evocative informal prose writings were gathered together in Langley's Journals (Shearsman Books, 2006).
Engaging with the legacies of high modernism and English pastoral, Langley produced poems of startling originality.
The second international Czeslaw Milosz Literary Festival will take place in Krakow from 9-15 May 2011 under the heading Native Realm. This is the flagship of the Milosz Year declared by the Polish and Lithuanian Parliaments on the occasion of the poet's hundredth anniversary. Festival participants will include Derek Walcott, Adonis, John Banville, Breyten Breytenbach, Bei Dao, John Gray, Robert Hass, Jane Hirshfield, Amin Maalouf and Zadie Smith. At the centre of the programme will be four poetry evenings whose titles come from the Nobel Prize-winner's works: A Book of Luminous Things, The Unattainable Earth, City Without a Name and The Grand Duchy of Poetry. It will also include panel discussions, five concerts premiering musical interpretations of Milosz's poetry, and the launch of a long-awaited biography by Andrzej Franaszek. Visit www.milosz.eu for more information.
CLIVE WILMER has been appointed Master of the Guild of St George. Established by John Ruskin in 1878 with the ambitious aim of 'making England a happier place to live in', in practice the Guild was always rather more modest, focusing on improvements in art education, craft work and the rural economy. The Guild is now a charitable Education Trust which attempts to put Ruskin's noble ideas into practice. It has an art collection, built up by Ruskin and supplemented since, in Sheffield's Millennium Galleries; it also provides scholarships and awards across a range of subjects close to Ruskin's heart. The Guild meets regularly for symposia and lectures, the most recent of which was by Dr Stuart Eagles on Ruskin's influence on Tolstoy. Clive Wilmer's latest collection of poems The Mystery of Things (Carcanet, 2006) recently appeared in Spanish, translated by Misael Ruiz and published by Vaso Roto Ediciones (http://vasorotoediciones.blogspot.com). His Collected Poems will appear in 2012.
A manuscript poem by FEDERICO GARCÍA LORCA has been discovered among the Moldenhauer music archive in the United States Library of Congress. Part of Poeta en Nueva York (Poet in New York), Lorca's response to the United States during the Great Depression, the manuscript offers new insights into his process of composition and his view of America. 'I offer myself to be devoured by Spanish peasants,' writes Lorca in a line which he later cut before the poem 'Oficina y denuncia' ('Office and Denunciation') was eventually published in 1940, four years after the poet was shot near Granada. The manuscript was uncovered by Boston University's Christopher Maurer, who is writing a book with Andrew Anderson about the poet's time in the United States and Cuba. On the recommendation of his family Lorca spent a year (1929-30) in New York, briefly studying English at Columbia University before returning to Spain; his visit coincided with the 1929 crash and America's ensuing social meltdown. During this period there is a marked shift in the poet's work away from short folk lyrics towards social realism and graphically experimental, surreal techniques. Lorca writes in the poem, 'This is not hell, it is the street.'
On 19 January 2011 LIZ LOCHHEAD was appointed Scotland's new Makarby First Minister Alex Salmond at an event at the National Library of Scotland. She succeeds Edwin Morgan, for whom the post was created. Alex Salmond was excited. 'As an author, translator, playwright, stage performer, broadcaster and grande dame of Scottish theatre, Ms Lochhead embodies everything a nation would want from its national poet.' (He did not mention her poems.) He added to his encomium: 'With a natural ability to reach all ages and touch both sexes through her writing, Ms Lochhead has also been immensely successful at championing the Scots language.' Carol Ann Duffy, the new Makar's friend and herself a Scot, was alliteratively chuffed: 'I am filled with professional, poetic and personal joy to hear today that Liz Lochhead is Scotland's new Makar... Like her wonderful predecessor and pal, Edwin Morgan, Liz Lochhead possesses the deeply Scottish qualities of independence, inquisitiveness and inventiveness.'
There has been a flurry of new arrivals to the Poetry Archive recently. Four new voices were welcomed in January: Michael Laskey, Imtiaz Dharker, and the Americans Howard Nemerov and Carolyn Forche. Memorable readings by Lorna Goodison, John Montague, Chris Wallace-Crabbe and the irrepressible Sophie Hannah were also added. To its Historic Recordings collection, the Archive added Spike Milligan and the famous, fragmentary recording of Robert Browning. Other recent additions to the Historic section include W.H. Auden, Amy Clampitt and Sylvia Townsend Warner's electrifying reading of 'Gloriana Dying', first published in PN Review. Explore this wonderful audio resource at www.poetryarchive.org.
JOHN GROSS, who edited the Times Literary Supplement in its heydays in the 1970s and was a major critic in the United States and Britain, a biographer, essayist and anthologist extraordinaire, died on 9 January in London at the age of 75. In 1969 Gross wrote one of those books which was prophetic and remains so, though its prophecies change with each generation: The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters: English Literary Life Since 1800 is singularly urbane and wise, written by a man who understood the culture of reception from every angle, including that of editor (he had worked in publishing for several years) and academic, and at once believed in and was profoundly sceptical of it. He edited a number of Oxford anthologies: The Oxford Book of Parodies appeared last year. Other notable books included his study of Shylock and a personal book, A Double Thread (2001), about growing up Jewish in Britain.
MALANGATANA NGWENYA, described by the New York Times as among Africa's best-known contemporary artists, whose phantasmagoric paintings grew out of the political reality of Mozambique, has died in Matosinhos, Portugal. He was 74. Ngwenya was a spontaneous man, a singer, a dancer, a linguist. He was unusual among his countrymen in that he made his world-wide reputation without leaving his country. An artist, he remained visible in the world of politics too, and made his mark, often as a dissident in colonial and post-colonial times. He helped to establish the National Museum of Art of Mozambique in Maputo, and in the revolutionary tradition of Orozco and Rivera painted significant mural work. His poems first appeared in 1963 in the journal Black Orpheus; they also appeared in the anthology Modern Poetry from Africa.
Elaine Feinstein remembers
Bella Akhmadulina (1937-2010): When I met BELLA AKHMADULINA for the first time in 1975 she was Queen of Moscow, admired equally for her flamboyant beauty, her dazzling poetry and her readiness to court trouble with Soviet authorities. She had come to prominence in the sixties alongside Yevgeny Yevtushenko, whom she married when they both graduated from the Gorki Institute of Literature. It was Yevtushenko who brought me to meet her in the grand apartment she shared with her third husband, Boris Messerer, the stage designer for the Bolshoi Theatre. I remember the kitchen had a long oak table on which stood little pewter saucepans filled with chicken livers and walnuts. Bella herself was standing by the huge stove, her presence surprisingly that of a mischievous child. I wondered if she had prepared the complicated dish herself. Yevtushenko muttered glumly that she had never cooked while she was married to him.
Certainly, her poems do not suggest domesticity. In one poem, 'Fever', she writes gleefully of shaking so violently that the doctor cannot examine her. In another, she arrives at a dinner party soaked by rain, and as shocked guests urge her towards the fire, hears in their voices the tones of those who would once have pushed her to be burned as a witch. Significantly, she gives the name of Yelabuga - the little town on the Kama where Marina Tsvetaeva took her own life - to a fairy tale monster, which she threatens to destroy, even as the hideous creature turns one yellow eye towards herself. The political implications of all these poems were easy to make out.
All Akhmadulina knew of me was that I was an English poet who had translated Marina Tsvetaeva. She revered both Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva, and was proud to be considered their true heir. She trusted me accordingly with memorable stories and several unpublished poems I later translated for the BBC.
We met again in Paris, where she was dining with a group of émigré writers in a restaurant near the Bastille. It was not exactly dangerous for her to be eating with them, though it would of course have been noted; however, she was always quite reckless. She had written in support of Boris Pasternak in 1959, and was briefly expelled from the Writers Union for doing so. She published an open letter supporting Andrei Sakharov in his internal exile. Four years after our first encounter she was involved in a major confrontation with Soviet authorities. Together with Vassily Aksyonov and other members of the Writers Union, she published in Metropol alongside unofficial writers, insisting that if anything was censored the magazine would be published abroad. As a result of this threat, many writers were thrown out of the Union. (Inna Lisnianskaya resigned in protest, and was prevented from publishing for nearly 30 years.) Akhmadulina was rebuked, but went unpunished.
Many of her most famous poems such as 'Fever' and 'Rain' exist in English translation. She travelled widely abroad to read her poems - at the Cambridge Poetry Festival we read together - and received many literary honours, including the Russian State Prize in 1989. Sadly, in later years, her health deteriorated. In November 2010, she died aged 73 in the writers' village of Peredelkino just outside Moscow.
This item is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.