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This item is taken from PN Review 204, Volume 38 Number 4, March - April 2012.News & Notes
Poetry spat: Round Four. SIR GEOFFREY (knighted for services to literature in the New Year's Honours List) called attention to the Poet Laureate's ease or facility with language. In his first lecture of the academic year, 'Poetry, Policing and Public Order', the Oxford Professor of Poetry noted Duffy's eagerness to 'democratise' the art form. (The lecture was delivered at Keble College on 29 November 2011, though the Guardian and Telegraph waited until 31 January to report it; a quiet week for news.) Responding to Duffy's suggestion that children and young people are 'perfecting' their poetry skills through the medium of text messaging, Hill compared Duffy's conception of poetic language with that 'employed by writers for Mills & Boon and by celebrity critics appearing on A Good Read or the Andrew Marr Show.'
On the London Review of Books blog on 9 January, Ian Patterson described Carol Ann Duffy's poem about Stephen Lawrence, published in the Guardian on 6 January, as 'embarrassingly bad'. Responses to the blog have been numerous, but none so telling as Keston Sutherland's, which begins, 'I'm put in mind of Gillian Rose's essay on Schindler's List. Rose defines in that essay a speculative identity she calls “the ultimate predator”. It is the person who is always at the top of the food chain, the person who exits intact from a spectacle of misery or injustice rigged up to cosset her, the person who exists in a prophylactic sentimental culture that filters out the really toxic realities before they get to her and who for that reason thinks that sympathy is easy and habitual and not arduous or destructive of the person she already is. The Duffy squib is a neat little example of that sort of filter.' He then reads the poem and its creative dynamics in detail. Duffy won the Costa poetry prize in January for her latest collection, The Bees (Picador), her first since being appointed Poet Laureate in 2009.
The Lebanese-French poet VÉNUS KHOURY-GHATA has been awarded the Prix Goncourt de Poésie. This accolade from the Académie Goncourt recognises excellence across a poet's body of work. Khoury-Ghata is the author of sixteen collections of poems and the recipient of many prizes, including the Prix Mallarmé in 1987 for Monologue du mort and the Grand Prix de la Société des Gens de Lettres for Fables pour un peuple d'argile (1992). She was named a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur by the French government in 2000. Her selected poems, translated by Marilyn Hacker, appeared in 2009 as Alphabets of Sand (Carcanet).
Khoury-Ghata's translator herself won the 2011 Argana International Poetry Award in January. MARILYN HACKER was given the prize by Morocco's Bayt Achiir (House of Poetry). Established in 2002, each year the Argana recognises 'poetic friendship' between Moroccan poets and one of their international colleagues. Hacker, like Khoury-Ghata, has been much honoured. Her Essays on Departure: New and SelectedPoems 1980-2005 is published by Carcanet.
On 20 March 2012, the international literature festival berlin (ilb) will host a reading for the imprisoned Chinese writer and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize LIU XIAOBO. Poet, critic and political activist Liu has been in detention for more than three years, after he and other intellectuals wrote and published the civil rights manifesto Charta 08. The event, intended to highlight Liu's plight to a broader public, will feature readings of the Charta 08 and poems by Liu. So far the petition against his arrest has been signed by writers from all continents, among them Amir Hassan Cheheltan (Iran), Noam Chomsky (USA), Bei Dao (China), Ariel Dorfman (Chile), Herta Müller (Romania/Germany), Amos Oz (Israel), Salman Rushdie (India/UK), Peter Schneider (Germany) and Janne Teller (Denmark). The organisers of the Berlin reading encourage groups and institutions across the globe to host similar events on 20 March. Visit www.literaturfestival.com or email email@example.com to inform the ilb of other Liu events or pledge support.
The winning entries in the 2011 Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize for the translation of Russian poetry into English are now available to read at www.stephen-spender.org. Judged by poets Sasha Dugdale and Paul Muldoon, and Catriona Kelly, Professor of Russian at Oxford University, the prize celebrates the long friendship between Brodsky and Spender and the rich tradition of Russian poetry. Joseph Brodsky (1940-96) received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987 and, like Spender, served as Poet Laureate of the United States. Carcanet published Brodsky's Collected Poems in English in 2001; his essential prose writings were recently reissued as Less Than One: Selected Essays by Penguin Modern Classics. The Times Stephen Spender Prize, which invites translations of poems into English from any language, classical or modern, is open for entries until 1 June 2012. This year's judges are Susan Bassnett, Edith Hall, Patrick McGuinness and George Szirtes. The 2012 Brodsky translation prize will accept entries between April and the end of August 2012.
JOHN ASHBERY has received a lifetime achievement award from the US National Book Foundation. The 2011 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters was awarded in recognition of his achievements as a poet. Previous recipients include Toni Morrison, John Updike, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston and Gore Vidal. It joins Ashbery's Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and National Book Critics' Circle Award and dozens of other awards on his metaphorical mantelshelf.
CHRISTOPHER LOGUE, dubbed the 'Alexander Pope of our day', has died aged 85. His colourful life included military service, two spells in prison and several suicide attempts, as well as periods spent working as a playwright, screenwriter and actor. From modest beginnings in Portsmouth, he grew up with a romantic view of military life, enlisting young and serving as a soldier in the Black Watch. During action in Palestine he was arrested and court-martialled for stealing; he spent sixteen months in an army prison. Bored by post-war London, in 1951 he left for Paris where he joined an expat literary community that included the Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi. His literary activities included writing for the film director Ken Russell and for the Royal Court in London, and a highlight of his acting career was a performance as the spaghetti-eating fanatic in Terry Gilliam's Jabberwocky (1977). Logue was a long-term contributor to Private Eye. As a political activist, he protested with Bertrand Russell against nuclear weapons. He collaborated on jazz projects and on loose adaptations of Pablo Neruda's love poems. His poem 'Be Not Too Hard' was set to music by Donovan, heard in the film Poor Cow (1967) and made popular by Joan Baez on her eponymous 1967 album. Logue wrote for the Olympia Press under the pseudonym Count Palmiro Vicarion, notably a pornographic novel, Lust. He published an autobiography titled Prince Charming in 1999. He received the Whitbread Poetry Award for his 2005 Faber collection Cold Calls; yet he remains best known for the epic poem War Music, a modern rendition of The Iliad. In the opening three words of his version of Homer's account of the siege of Troy - 'Now hear this' - Logue imbues the ancient invocation to the muse with an urgency born of first-hand military experience. Louis MacNeice said of Logue's Homer, 'never was blood bloodier or fate more fatal'.
PETER READING, a controversial poet of the generation that followed Ted Hughes's, has died at sixty-five. The pessimism of Reading's poems led to his being christened the 'laureate of grot'. He characterised his early work as 'mordant, very mordant'. His poetry is shot through with acid humour. Death was a perennial preoccupation, as was the destruction of the planet. In the Guardian (2 December 2011) his friend, the poet and BBC arts producer Tim Dee, said of him, 'for at least the last twenty years of his life ... he wrote as if he and the world of his poems were already dead.'
Born in Liverpool, Reading studied painting at Liverpool College of Art and worked briefly as a teacher and lecturer in art history. For twenty-two years, from 1970 to 1992, he worked as a weighbridge operator at an animal feedmill in Shropshire. The job, he said, left him free to think, and in 1974 he published his first collection, For the Municipality's Elderly. Sacked for refusing to wear a uniform, Reading remained in Shropshire and slowly began to make a living from writing. Bloodaxe published several collections and three volumes of Collected Poems, the most recent in 2003. Reading has been called the best English bird poet since Lawrence; a childhood twitcher, he spent time ringing waders and passerine migrants in the estuary of the river Dee.
Kevin Jackson remembers Gilbert Adair:
GILBERT ADAIR, who died in December at the age of 66, once said that it was his ambition to write in the same spirit in which Fred Astaire danced. He realised that ambition, across a wide body of work comprising journalism, novels, poems, translations, criticism and pastiches of true (the word is not too strong) genius. No British writer of his generation could match Adair for fluency, grace, wit and the ability to pull off the seemingly impossible with no visible effort. I was once at a lunch with him when he read out some extracts from his work-in-progress: a translation of George Perec's La Disparition, a long novel written without the letter 'e'. At one point in the translation, he had to find a way to rewrite six classic English-language poems into e-less form, while still retaining metre, rhyme and sense. Thus, 'The Raven' by Edgar Allan Poe became 'Blackbird' by Arthur Gordon Pym. He read it out. We stood and applauded - not for the linguistic brilliance alone, but for the sheer fun of the thing.
Adair was always entertaining, always fleet, always overflowing with quirky and fresh ideas. I first noticed his prose in the early 1980s, when he wrote deliciously idiosyncratic film reviews for the often rather solemn Sight and Sound. In one of them, an appreciation of Coppola's The Outsiders, he drew attention to that neglected part of the face known technically as the incisive fossa - the little bump which lies between the nostrils and the upper lip. He doted at length on the fossa of one of the films' young stars, and fantasised about running up and down it in trainers. I was hooked, and - as a producer on Radio Four's Kaleidoscope programme - asked him to review for me. We never became close friends, but his company was always charming, stimulating and thoughtful. Almost every conversation, it seemed, would yield some new treasure from his knowledge of arcane topics.
As popular cinema grew more infantile, Adair - whose tastes were formed by the classic European art cinema, as well as by the likes of Chaplin (he once wrote a moving tribute entitled 'On First Looking into Chaplin's Humour') - moved away from criticism to fiction in various forms. He wrote book-length pastiches of Lewis Carroll and J.M. Barrie; novels written in homage to Cocteau (The Holy Innocents, later filmed by Bertolucci as The Dreamers), Thomas Mann (Love and Death in Long Island, a homage to Death in Venice that was also filmed) and a series of ingenious parodies of Agatha Christie that exceeded the Mistress herself in ingenuity. He continued to write cultural criticism, much of it in a vein inspired by Roland Barthes (he spent a lively decade in Paris) but lightened with his own comic sense. Adair was an intensely private man - I had known him for almost twenty years before he told me he was gay - and could be difficult: he was keenly alert to slights, bore grudges for a long time, and was at times gloomy as Eeyore. Luckily for me, I managed to stay on cordial terms with him throughout. The sad news of his death makes the world seem a duller, less civilised, less agreeable place.
Alice Kate Mullen remembers George Whitman (1913-2011):
George Whitman died peacefully at home above his bookshop on 14 December 2011, two days after his 98th birthday. As the founder (in 1951) of the legendary Shakespeare and Company, in a former monastery in Paris, George became a modern-day frère lampier. He lit the way for generations of writers, including Beckett, Miller and Durrell, as well as the beat poets Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg. American-born and much travelled, George lived for people and books, not margin and profit. Inscribing this creed onto his library walls: 'Be not inhospitable to strangers / Lest they be angels in disguise', he offered wandering readers and writers, known as 'tumbleweeds', a bookshelf bed in exchange for a few hours' work.
Trusting in George's hospitality, I first arrived at Shakespeare and Co. near midnight in November 2009. The lamps were indeed lit and sanctuary was granted, indefinitely. Although I missed George's heyday, the infamous pancakes and cockroaches, his Sunday tea parties lived on, in mismatched crockery and cups with broken handles (George didn't approve of handles). Luminous and gaunt, George remained the heart and soul, quieter then, but listening still. Poetry readings came and went, and one evening, at the heart of a festival, he sat surrounded by champagne and well-wishers in his splendid paisley jacket, velveteen and utterly George. In those short summer months, we often carried George down from his eyrie in his armchair. Mine was only a fleeting encounter, but, even then, eating ice cream with him outside the bookshop, I knew how fortunate we were to inhabit his world.
Free-spirited and eccentric, George will be truly missed by bibliophiles worldwide who visited and stayed in his bookshop over the last 60 years. His daughter Sylvia continues his mission and 'tumbleweeds' across the world carry, in their hearts, the lamp which he lit.
The Nobel Prize-winnning Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska died in February at the age of 88. A full obituary will appear in the next issue of PNR.
An innovative iPad 'app' based on The Waste Land has been recognised at the Future Digital Innovation Awards. Produced by Faber, the interactive resource allows readers to experience Eliot's poem in both manuscript (annotated by Pound and Eliot's first wife) and in published form, to read explanations of particular passages and to hear the poem read by Eliot himself at two different points in his life. It also features audio readings (synchronised to the text) of The Waste Land by Ted Hughes and actors Alec Guinness and Viggo Mortensen, a dramatic interpretation by Fiona Shaw and responses to the poem by Seamus Heaney and Jeanette Winterson. It is a bestseller on iTunes.
A Correction from Miriam Gamble:
In a recent review of the Shearsman anthology Mexican Poetry Today: 20/20 Voices (PNR 198), I remarked upon the male editor's discussion of gender in the work of the female poets included in the book. I've since discovered, with acute embarrassment, that the editor, Brandel France de Bravo, is a woman. I'd like to apologise to her and correct this rather substantial error on my part.
This item is taken from PN Review 204, Volume 38 Number 4, March - April 2012.