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This item is taken from PN Review 202, Volume 38 Number 2, November - December 2011.News & Notes
This issue's arresting cover image, the collage Napoleon, 2009, features in the new exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, of collages by JOHN ASHBERY. This is the poet's second solo exhibition of collages, following his PNR-featured début with the gallery in 2008. The new exhibition continues until 3 December 2011 at 724 Fifth Avenue; visit www.tibordenagy.com for details. A full colour spread of Ashbery collages from the exhibition is projected for PNR 203.
Ashbery was fascinated in his youth by the collage novels of Max Ernst and the partly collaged Cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque. He started collaging as an undergraduate at Harvard and has continued the process in his visual and his literary work ever since. Influenced by Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell and, more directly, Joe Brainard, his work combines art-historical and contemporary pop culture references. In May Ashbery received the Medal of Honor of the New York University's Center for French Civilization and Culture. In November he will be presented with the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
GRISELDA OHANNESSIAN, the former President and Publisher of the perennially exciting New Directions, died in August, after long years of Parkinson's disease. She devoted her working life to New Directions and was a fierce advocate of the press. Among authors she edited and encouraged were Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Antonio Tabucchi, Nina Berberova, Uwe Timm, Shusaku Endo, H.D., Elio Vittorini, Romain Gary, Henry Miller, Gert Hofmann, Stevie Smith, B.S. Johnson, Henry Green, William Saroyan, Mikhail Bulgakov and Raymond Queneau. She discovered H.E. Bates, James Munves, Henri Guiggonat, Carmel Bird and Christoph Bataille; and she mentored younger New Directions editors. Ohannessian also published a memoir, Once: As it Was, evoking in a wry, precise style her remarkable childhood: her father was Schuyler Jackson and her stepmother Laura (Riding) Jackson. Ohannessian's death sadly coincides with the 75th anniversary of New Directions, a milestone which is being cele brated with events across the United States, with Ferlinghetti reading with Michael McClure at San Francisco's legendary City Lights bookstore, Michael Palmer and Susan Howe in Boston, and Nicole Krauss, Anne Carson and Paul Auster at the historical Cooper Union in New York.
In their anniversary year New Directions garnered another Nobel Laureate. Swedish poet tomas tranströmer was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature in October. He has been on the list of possible recipients for twenty years, so the announcement is more a relief that justice has been done than a surprise. It would have been a surprise if Bob Dylan had received the award, a possibility widely canvassed at the last moment. Tranströmer's complete poems in English in one volume is entitled The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems (Bloodaxe is his British publisher). The best-known Scandinavian poet of the post-war period, Tranströmer is also the most widely translated. For many years seriously debilitated after a stroke, he continues to write. He is an avid pianist and has released a recording of classical piano pieces performed with his left hand. Though the largest, this is not the first award he has received; his honours include those almost inevitable preludes to the Nobel, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Bonnier Award for Poetry, Germany's Petrarch Prize, the Bellman Prize, the Swedish Academy's Nordic Prize, the August Prize, and a Lifetime Recognition Award in 2007 from The Griffin Trust.
The Iowa Review has launched a remarkable dialogue among leading contemporary translators on the state of the art. Laurence Venuti, a PNR contributor and a translator from Italian, French and Catalan, throws down a very eloquent gauntlet. In his inaugural essay, Towards a Translation Culture, first conceived as a lecture delivered to the annual conference of the American Literary Translators' Association in October 2010, Venuti draws a bleak image of literary translators facing repeated rejections from commercially minded publishers. 'The occasional success of a contemporary foreign novelist like Roberto Bolaño or Stieg Larsson is misleading,' he asserts. 'The current situation has not really changed enough to indicate any across-the-board upsurge in sales of translations or any expansion of the readership for them.' He discusses the challenge of getting his translation of the contemporary Catalan poet Ernest Farrés published (eventually accepted by Carcanet, the award-winning, book-length Edward Hopper). Iowa Review editor Russell Valentino, head of the University of Iowa's Translation Workshop, has solicited answering essays from, among others, Tim Parks and Luise von Flotow. And there will be blood: Valentino quoted the Review's onetime advisor Cole Swensen's observation that translation can often seem a 'blood sport', adding that 'we ask only that swords remain sheathed. Well, the dullest ones anyway, as they tend to make the greatest mess. Otherwise, have at it.' Members of the literary and translation communities are invited to join the conversation at www.iowareview.org.
The second International Translation Day took place at the Free Word Centre in London in September. Hosted by English PEN and Free Word in association with the London Book Fair's Literary Translation Centre, the symposium brought together translators, academics, teachers, agents, publishers, booksellers, funders, journalists and NGOs to discuss the state of the 'translation sector' and to propose solutions to the challenges it currently faces. Issues discussed included ways of popularising literature in translation; what we can learn from the success of other art forms such as music; the role of schools and universities in producing future translators; supporting the translation of minority languages; and the power of literary festivals. Read the ensuing report at www.englishpen.org. To find out more about English PEN's Writers in Translation programme or to contribute to the project, contact Emma Cleave, Programme Manager, at href="mailto:email@example.com”>firstname.lastname@example.org.
English PEN reported that the Burmese poet zarganar was released on 12 October as part of an amnesty for some 2,000 political prisoners. Zarganar (Maung Thura) was handed a 59-year sentence in 2008 after criticising the Burmese junta's poor aid response after Cyclone Nargis. English PEN campaigned relentlessly for his release, with a rally in Trafalgar Square and 'poetry protests' at the Burmese Embassy in London. The organisation sent thousands of letters and cards to Zarganar during his imprisonment. PEN co-hosted the first Burmese Arts Festival in 2010, at which Zarganar's work was featured. In 2009 the inaugural PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage was awarded to Zarganar by Tony Harrison.
In a double celebration, glasses were raised to the 200th issue of PN Review at the vibrant Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury, London, on the evening of 12 September, and at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on 8 September 2011. At the London event, the Lady Gavron, Carcanet's and PN Review's Chairman, spoke about the place and purpose of the magazine; Michael Schmidt issued a roll call of thanks and spoke of the duty of resistance that falls to any independent literary magazine. There were brief and eloquent readings by two long-time contributors, Stanley Moss and Marilyn Hacker, and three more recent arrivals, poets Oli Hazzard, Will Eaves and Tara Bergin. It was a memorable evening which the Economist celebrated on its blog. 'The cartoons,' Schmidt commented, 'from Hogarth to Marc [not forgetting the Museum's brilliant current exhibition Doctor Who in Comics 1964-2011], kept the celebrations firmly grounded in the real social and natural world where poetry, however high it climbs, is always rooted.' The Manchester celebration included a lecture by poet, PNR contributor and Booker-longlisted novelist Patrick McGuiness on Donald Davie, who for some years co-edited the magazine with C.H. Sisson and Michael Schmidt, and a New Editors' Forum featuring Carol Rumens (Guardian), Rory Waterman (New Walk magazine), James Byrne (The Wolf) and John McAuliffe (The Manchester Review). The Arts Council's Alison Boyle welcomed the work of PN Review and spoke about the Arts Council's place in the straitened, challenging world of independent literary journals. Subscribers can access the full archive of the magazine at www.pnreview.co.uk.
The Jury of the Laudomia Bonanni International Award has given its 2011 prize to Irish poet JOHN F. DEANE. The eponymous award is in memory of an Italian writer born in 1907 in L'Aquila who achieved international renown as a children's author and essayist. The beautiful medieval town of L'Aquila in central Italy is the capital of the Abruzzo (the country of Gabriele D'Annunzio), a region severely damaged by earthquake in 2009. The award consists of a generous purse and a visit to L'Aquila for the presentation. Previous recipients include the Arabic poet Adonis, Derek Walcott, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Edoardo Sanguineti and the Japanese writer Takano. John F. Deane's most recent poetry collection is Eye of the Hare (Carcanet, 2011).
Everything is going KAY RYAN'S way these days. And she is coming our way. The popular and distinctive American poet, whose selected and new poems Odd Blocks has just been published by Carcanet, received one of this year's MacArthur Fellowships (half a million dollars over five years). 'Independent from schools of poetry and literary fashion,' the citation says, 'her mode of expression is a disarmingly clear and accessible style, characterized by concision, rhyme, wordplay, and wit.' The former American laureate received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry earlier this year. She is touring Britain in early November, with readings at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, London's Southbank Centre, Edinburgh's Scottish Poetry Library and elsewhere.
The poet, diarist and long-time PNR contributor R.F. LANGLEY was posthumously awarded the 2011 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem on 5 October (British National Poetry Day). Langley died in January this year at the age of 72. His widow Barbara accepted the prize on his behalf. His winning poem, 'To a Nightingale', was originally published in the London Review of Books; his poetry, including Collected Poems (2000) and his 2007 collection, The Face of It, are published by Carcanet. The chairman of the judges Andrew Motion described the poem as 'a masterclass in precision'. Playing off Keats, it recounts an observational journey through nature: 'Red mites bowling / about on the baked lichen'; the 'Purring of two turtle doves'; 'Caterpillars which / curl up as questions marks'. Langley's friend J.H. Prynne read 'To a Nightingale' at his memorial.
Neil Powell remembers Herbert Lomas:
HERBERT LOMAS, who died on 9 September at the age of 87, was a more serious poet than he seemed and a finer one than his reputation suggests. His wartime university education at Liverpool was interrupted by three years in the army, mostly in India, after which he graduated with a First and an MA. He taught in Greece and, for ten years, at the University of Helsinki, before becoming Principal Lecturer at Borough Road College (now part of Brunel University). By then in his forties, he became a regular contributor of poems and reviews to Alan Ross's London Magazine and in 1969 he published his slender first collection, Chimpanzees are Blameless Creatures. Other more substantial books followed, including Private and Confidential (1974), Fire in the Garden (1984), Trouble (1992), A Useless Passion (1998) and The Vale of Todmorden (2003). The last two titles contain substantial sequences about his wartime experiences and about the Pennine town in which he grew up; a third sequence, 'Death of a Horsewoman', memorialises his wife Mary, who died after a riding accident in 1994. All these, together with unpublished work, were gathered into a handsome 400-page Collected Poems, called A Casual Knack of Living (Arc, 2009). He was also a prolific translator from the Finnish and the editor of Contemporary Finnish Poetry (1991).
I crossed swords with Bertie when he fiercely reviewed an early book of mine in the London Magazine: I wrote a spiky letter, he wrote a spiky reply. He was clearly a cussed sod, a kindred spirit: I knew we'd get on. So we did, when for ten years I lived near him in Aldeburgh, often meeting by chance on Crag Path or in the High Street. He looked like a pub man, but wasn't: his parents had kept one in Todmorden and it had put him off the places. Our last sustained encounter was at the grand annual lunch-and-reading of the Suffolk Poetry Society in 2006, he as chairman and I as a competition judge: it's the kind of occasion that can be tiresome, but Bertie - generous, funny and attentive to everyone - made it a pleasure. He liked 'lightness of touch', as he says in the Preface to A Casual Knack of Living. Casual or not, he had a knack of living, and he loved to share it.
Charles North remembers the American poet Paul Violi:
PAUL VIOLI (1944-2011), who brought an inventive wit, a sharp satirical spirit, and a variety of new forms to American poetry, died at 66 of cancer in April.
Violi grew up on Long Island, studied English literature and art history at Boston University, and upon graduating did map completion and survey work for the Peace Corps in Nigeria. Back in the US, he worked for WCBS TV and served as Managing Editor for Architectural Forum from 1972 to 1974. In 1970 he had begun to frequent The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery, becoming part of what came to be known as the Second Generation of New York School poets; in 1978 he was the Project's Interim Director. He also chaired the Museum of Modern Art Associate Council Poetry Committee. For the last three decades, Violi was a busy and popular university teacher. At the time of his illness, he was teaching in the graduate writing program at The New School and in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
Comic lists drawn from everyday life were a Violi speciality: the call of a horse-race, a TV schedule, a 'Police Blotter', an index to an imaginary book. One of his best known poems, 'King Nasty', is a biting monologue in the form of a 'movie treatment' for an execution during the Reign of Terror. He also wrote in a lyrical vein. As difficult as it is to be taken seriously as a comic poet, Violi achieved that. His readings drew enthusiastic audiences in the US and UK. He received the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts grant.
This item is taken from PN Review 202, Volume 38 Number 2, November - December 2011.