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This item is taken from PN Review 215, Volume 40 Number 3, January - February 2014.News & Notes
Oh cherry trees you are too white for my heart,
And all the ground is whitened with your dying,
And all your boughs go dipping towards the river,
And every drop is falling from my heart.
doris lessing (1919-2013) had seemed immortal until this October. In 2007 she received the Nobel Prize and was described by the Swedish academy as an 'epicist of the female experience'. She was also a poet, her Fourteen Poems appearing in 1959 and containing remarkable work.
Now if there is justice in the angel with the bright eyes
He will say 'Stop!' and hand me a bough of cherry.
The bearded angel, four-square and straight like a goat
Lifts a ruminant head and slowly chews at the snow.
Goat, must you stand here?
Must you stand here still?
Is it that you will always stand here,
Proof against faith, proof against innocence?
Doris Lessing (née Taylor) was born in Persia and raised in Rhodesia. Or she was born in Iran and raised in Zimbabwe. In either case, she came into a world very different from the modern one. 'I think it is very good for small children to be batted around the world because they remember it all.' She did. She moved to Britain, and specifically to England, in 1949. A year later her most celebrated novel, The Grass is Singing (1950), was published. As a Communist her bounciness led to her being referred to as 'Comrade Tigger'. Communist recruits 'tended to be people with unhappy childhoods behind them, looking for a substitute family'. J.M. Coetzee quotes from her autobiography Walking in the Shade, where she finds in the British psyche (something she never acquired herself) 'a smallness, a tameness, a deep, instinctive, perennial refusal to admit danger, or even the unfamiliar: a reluctance to understand extreme experience'. In writing there is a British instinct for 'small, circumscribed novels, preferably about the nuances of class or social behaviour'. She was of a different order.
The Irish poet paula meehan has been appointed to the post of Ireland Professor of Poetry, an all-Ireland role jointly funded by the Irish Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Meehan, whose most recent collections Dharmakaya (2000) and Painting Rain (2009) are published by Carcanet, takes over from the current holder, Harry Clifton. Previous Ireland Professors include John Montague, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Paul Durcan and Michael Longley. Meehan is only the second woman to hold the post, established in 1998. She will work for three years at Trinity College Dublin, Queen's University Belfast and University College Dublin.
The French-born Mexican writer elena poniatowska has been awarded the 2013 Cervantes Prize, presented annually to an outstanding Spanish-language writer from anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world. She is among the most formally ingenious writers of our time, unconventional and mercilessly even-handed. Her account of the Olympic Massacre in Mexico, La Noche de Tlatelolco, remains a milestone in Latin American literary journalism. In 2008 she collected poems and songs in Rondas de la niña mala. Her novel Leonora (2011), based on the life and times of her friend the British-Mexican surrealist painter Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), and including Max Ernst, Picasso, Eluard, Breton and many others in its cast, is the immediate occasion for the award.
Creative New Zealand announced on the 20th October that michele leggott is the 2013 recipient of the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in the poetry genre. Award-winning poet, essayist and editor, Michele Leggott was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007-2009. She is a Professor of English at the University of Auckland and has published seven books of poetry, most recently Mirabile Dictu (2009). A major project since 2001 has been the development of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) at the University of Auckland. She was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2009 New Year Honours for Services to Poetry.
The new Poet Laureate of New Zealand, the ninth, is vincent o'sullivan, following in the wake of (among others) Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare, Jenny Bornholdt and Ian Wedde. His tenure will run from 2013 to 2015. Born in Auckland in 1937, he studied there and at Oxford, and lectured in Wellington and Waikato, becoming a freelance in 1978, returning to the embrace of academia at Wellington a decade later. Now emeritus professor, but based in Dunedin, he remains a major figure in New Zealand writing.
Portuguese poet nuno júdice received the 2013 Queen Sofía Ibero-American Poetry Prize from the Queen herself, in the Hall of Columns at the Royal Palace in Madrid, at the end of November. Like many writers whose language roots are in the Iberian peninsula, Judice is a novelist, essayist, critic, lecturer and diplomat - a public figure alert to public events which he witnesses, helps to shape and in his writing transforms. Meanwhile, back in Britain, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh entertained three hundred poets and poetry functionaries at Buckingham Palace on 19 November. After huddling in the rain outside the railings the guests were admitted, steaming, into the bright welcome of the Palace to an evening of champagne, delicious canapés and good cheer, interrupted by readings in the Ball Room with its impossible acoustic by sinéad morrissey, liz lochhead (who became Elizabeth Lochhead for the occasion), gillian clarke, carol ann duffy and john agard. 'The women,' wrote Kei Miller in his blog (http://keimiller.wordpress.com/2013/11//not-everyone-was-invited-to-the-party), 'are all current serving British poet laureates - of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales respectively, and Carol Ann poet laureate of the whole she-bang. John Agard brought balance I thought as the solitary male voice but also a voice and accent of British poetry that did not originate in Britain. Maybe there is something to be said for the fact that in this celebration of British poetry, none of the readers were actually English (two Scottish poets, one Northern Irish, one Welsh and one Guyanese) but still I think it was a difficult but perfectly achieved balance.' Adam Horovitz, who was not among those present, wrote a poem for the occasion (see http://adamhorovitz.co.uk/blog/2013/
/theyre-inviting-poets-to-buckingham-palace/) which concludes,
They're inviting poets to Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
'And of how much interest are poets to Queens?'
'It's a grandiose method of counting beans,'
Setting words to music was a key part of benjamin britten's work, and in his centenary year this fact has been celebrated. Britten's sensitivity not only to the lyric but to other forms of poetry is amply demonstrated in Boris Ford's Benjamin Britten's Poets, an anthology reissued by Carcanet to mark the centenary. W.H. Auden's 'Danse Macabre' was adapted in 1939, apparently without the poet's consent, and confesses 'its order and trumpet'. Britten adjusted and reshaped some poems to achieve his ends.
The Clore Poetry and Literature Awards is a £1 million initiative aimed at funding poetry and literature initiatives for children and young people across the UK from 2011 to 2015. The programme sets out to provide young people under the age of 19 with the opportunity to experience poetry, literature, and creative writing both inside and outside school, 'in compelling and exciting forms'. Grants range from £1,000 to £10,000. The deadline for applications is 7th March 2014
(http://www.vast.org.uk/clore-poetry-and-literature-awards/). Further encouragement to young writers is afforded by the PEN International New Voices Award, announced at the Moscow Non-Fiction Book Fair on 30 November. The award is open to unpublished writers aged between 18 and 30 and submissions can be made in English, Spanish or French. The remarkable team of jurors for 2014 includes Xi Chuan, the Chinese poet, essayist and translator; the Booker prize-winning novelist Kiran Desai; the Argentinean-Canadian essayist Alberto Manguel, a sometime contributor to these pages; French novelist Alexandre Postel; and Granta-Best-of-Young-British-listed Kamila Shamsie. Submissions can take the form of short stories, creative non-fiction, journalism or poetry, and the prize encourages entries from diverse linguistic regions and communities. For further information contact James Tennant, PEN International's Literary Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org.
antonio lucas, the 37-year-old Madrid poet, received this year's Loewe International Poetry Award for his collection Los desengaños (Disappointments). The award entails cash and publication in the Visor series. As if Lucas was not young enough, the Young Poets Award was presented to another Spanish poet, elena medel, for her unpublished work Chatterton. The jury of five included the great poet Francisco Brines and, for the first time, two distinguished women jurors, Soledad Puértolas and Clara Janés.
john gallas was awarded the Portico Poetry Prize (Manchester) for his elegiac poem 'a letter from the goldfield at Fenian Creek, Oparara, New Zealand'. Gallas is a New Zealander by birth and author of ten substantial books of poems and translations. He guided readers around the world of poetry in his celebrated anthology The Song Atlas, while 52 Euros: Containing 26 Men and 26 Women in a Double A- Z of European Poets in Translation zeroes in on Europe. The anglicised Euros include poems by the famous (Akhmatova, Baudelaire, Pasolini) and by the still-to-be known (the Olafsson brothers, Renée Vivien, Yulia Zhadovskaya). Native speakers provided him with literals and Gallas 're-poemed' them.
On 18 November the Guardian reported that copies of Fifty Shades of Grey in a library in Antwerp had tested positive for traces of the herpes virus and also of cocaine. All ten of the most borrowed books had traces of cocaine in them. Reassuringly, the researchers from Leuven reported that '[the] levels found won't have a pharmacological effect' and that readers would not behave any differently after reading the books, at least not as a result of the drugs. What is unsettling is the fact that using a library book can be almost as perilous as sharing a toothbrush: 'It isn't the first time academics have tested the hygiene of books. Students at Brigham Young University, Utah, found that books categorised by their university library as in high demand averaged 25- 40% more microbial life than neglected volumes.'
In the contents listing of PNR 214 the translation of Vasily Grossman's letter to Nikita Khrushchev was attributed solely to Yvonne Green; it should have been attributed to Yvonne Green and Sergey Makarov (son-in-law of the Russian poet Semyon Lipkin, who preserved Grossman's letter). Biographical notes on Makarov and Lipkin are included in this issue.
This item is taken from PN Review 215, Volume 40 Number 3, January - February 2014.