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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 219, Volume 41 Number 1, September - October 2014.

News & Notes
philip larkin has woken up in Spain: not on the Costa del Sol but in a chunky volume that includes the English originals of his three principal books, the chief uncollected poems, and – in the mirror facing – a black-sailed unfamiliar. The volume, edited by Damián Alou for Lumen in Barcelona, costs ‹22.90 (ebook ‹11.99), rather less than the Faber Complete Poems but more than the paperback Collected. The ebook edition is especially tempting: only Martin Amis’s Selected and The Whitsun Weddings are available in that format in the UK. In ‘Sapos’ (a.k.a. ‘Toads’) the Iberian Larkin’s mouth is over-stuffed with syllables, but there he is, his ironies less savagely honed but ironical none the less: ‘Y sé que nunca ha de permitir / que con la mía me vaya a salir, / que consiga de una tacada / fama, dinero y a una monada. // No digo yo que encarne uno / la verdad espiritual del otro uno; pero sí que es difícil perder a alguno / si tienes a los dos, ese par de tunos.’ He may be in Spain, but the weather of Hull clings to him. He may be carrying a rueful bucket of sangría, but we will not find him splayed out on any deckchairs.


pablo neruda has surprised us from beyond the grave with new poems which will be published by the Spanish publisher Seix Barral for the first time, in Latin America late in 2014 and in Spain early in 2015, to mark the 110th anniversary of the poet’s birth and ninetieth anniversary of 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair, one of his best-known works. This is good news after the reports of foul play surrounding the poet’s death in 1973. The manuscripts, written in the 1950s after he had completed Canto General, were discovered in a drawer at the Neruda Foundation Library.


Friends of wallace stevens have had a roller-coaster ride in recent months: would Stevens’s house at 118 Westerly Terrace in Hartford, Connecticut, be acquired and transformed into a home museum? ‘For my own part I like to live in a classic atmosphere, full of my own gods and to be true to them until I have some better authority than a merely contrary opinion for not being true to them’, wrote Stevens in a letter (23 May 1947). His is still a handsome house, full of shadows and privacy, and the price seemed reasonable. Alison Johnson, the prime mover, reported to the Hartford Courant, ‘Just as we were preparing to put down a large payment on 118 Westerly Terrace on Friday, July 18, I had a call on Monday morning from one of the five consortium members, who told me that he was very sorry to say that he was withdrawing his offer to put up $100,000 as one of the investors in the consortium. He said that he had also changed his mind about letting the projected house museum use his collection of Wallace Stevens’s furniture and paintings.’ What followed was a tale more worthy of Updike than of Stevens. The central character in the drama was Peter ‘Zeke’ Hanchak, Stevens’s grandson. Johnson describes him as Stevens’s ‘polar opposite’, who ‘admits freely that he doesn’t like or understand “95 percent” of his grandfather’s poetry. He spent a couple of years at Berkeley during the height of the Vietnam War turmoil and lived in the woods of northern Maine for a few years in an area identified only by coordinates on a map. He does not own a computer or do e-mail. He doesn’t use a cell phone, so he can’t be reached if he is out-of-town. He types charming letters on Elsie Stevens’s old typewriter.’ In some respects he is not unlike his grandfather, then. And, no, the house will not become a museum.


Writers are getting poorer. It seemed unlikely that they could do, but they are, according to a survey conducted by Queen Mary, University of London, entitled What Are Words Worth Now? A Survey of Authors’ Earnings for the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) and published on 8 July. ‘An author at the median level earned £11,000 in 2013, the survey found, whereas the 2005 figure was £12,300.’ Few poets earn at ‘the median level’. Don’t give up the day job, then. Owen Atkinson of ALCS noted the ‘rapid decline in both author incomes and in the numbers of those writing full-time’ and worried about the possible consequences for ‘the economic success of the creative industries in the UK’. Wendy Cope, who participated in the ALCS debate at the House of Commons, said: ‘Most people know that a few writers make a lot of money. This survey tells us about the vast majority of writers, who don’t. It’s important that the public should understand this – and why it is so important for authors to be paid fairly for their work.’ Contributing factors to the decline in incomes include the discounts demanded by wholesalers, chains and e-retailers from publishers which affect royalties, the enormous increase in the number of people calling themselves authors, self-publishing, and over-production. 2454 authors responded to the survey questionnaires. The additional statistics say as much about writers as about respondent rates: 56% were men and 44% women; 17% per cent were aged 44 or under; 54% were aged 45–64; and 29% were aged 65 or over. Writers in middle age would appear to feel the inclement weather more acutely than the young.


Authors’ illusions are likely to be further damaged by the Hawking Index. E-readers read the reader, and one’s relationship with one’s tablet, iPad or other device is likely to become more complex and tetchy in future. E-readers know how many pages the reader has turned, and those who provide our ebooks can see what we highlight and page mark, how we dip and skip. Amazon uses this information to refine its algorithms and pander to our deepest desires. But as a by-product we have the Hawking Index (HI), which ‘tabulates estimates of how many readers make it through any given title’. The name derives from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, a book much bought but not wholly consumed by the buyer. ‘The HI aggregates the passages Kindle readers highlight in a given title, averages the top five, and divides by the number of pages in the book. This provides an estimate of how far into the book people manage to get.’ Readers who highlight and get to the end will have a proper spread of highlights throughout the book. Highlights tend to cluster near the start of a book. Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning The Goldfinch scores 98.5%, Fifty Shades of Grey only 25.9%. And Hawking? 6.6%. HI will be a crucial tool in determining what authors earn from digital reading subscription services such as Oyster. The royalty is paid not when a book is downloaded but when it is read.


The Library of Congress announced in June that charles wright, who has written getting on for two dozen books of poems, is to succeed Natasha Trethewey as the new American Poet Laureate. Another southerner, he is 78 years old, a retired professor from the University of Virginia. He owned himself ‘somewhat confused’ by the appointment. ‘I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do. But as soon as I find out, I’ll do it.’ In PN Review 135 we published five of Wright’s poems and an interview with Martin Caseley. In PNR 196 (2010), Yusef Komunyakaa described him as ‘this unique, one-of-a-kind voice that also came from the South’.


In June the poet susan wicks was awarded the 2014 Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize for Talking Vrouz, her translation of poems by Valérie Rouzeau, described as a ‘wonderfully inventive and yet faithful translation of poems which are already at an oblique angle to their own language’.


Judith Chernaik reported the death on 18 April of gerard benson (1931–2014), co-founder of Poems on the Underground. ‘Our common project – to reach a mass audience with the greatest possible range of poetry – gained immeasurably from Gerard’s profound knowledge of literature, his love of the comic and arcane (riddles, nonsense poems, limericks), and his unerring instinct for what would work on the Tube. He was represented on the Tube and in our many anthologies by his translations from Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon riddle, and most recently his own “Riddle”, which, to his delight, went viral on the web as readers argued about the solution.’


Poet and scholar allen grossman died in June at the age of 82. He taught poetry, poetics, and humanities at Brandeis until 1991, and then at Johns Hopkins. He wrote several books of poems and criticism and received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship as well as the Bollingen Prize for Poetry from Yale University. A Harlot’s Hire (1962) and The Woman on the Bridge over the Chicago River (1979) contain narrative-­philosophical writing of distinction.


The poet, novelist and publisher dermot healey, widely admired in several genres and much loved, died in June at the age of 66. As a publisher he set up Raven Arts Press in 1977; before it closed in 1992 it was responsible for bringing together the first Collected Poems of Michael Hartnett and work by Paul Durcan, Anthony Cronin, Matthew Sweeney, Brian Coffey and many others, including Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s English debut volume, the translations by Michael Hartnett. ‘Early Raven books,’ Healey remembered, ‘were printed in sheds and back lanes around Finglas. The press never possessed a single unifying intellectual agenda, but was a loose movement for change, its course being dictated by the writers who got involved and who brought others in. It was never run as a business, but it was a huge amount of fun with serious intent, a passion and a pleasure, an adventure undertaken with a genuine love of literature and at times a genuine sense of mischief.’ His own most recent book of poems, from Gallery, was A Fool’s Errand. It took him a dozen years to complete. In 1983 Peter Hazeldine in PNR described Healey as having ‘a stoical, but far from joyless view of the world, which he is not prepared to soften in order to make a more immediate appeal. He can be crabbed and awkward at times, but he is never self-­admiring and does not posture. It is this willingness on his part to take risks that makes him such an interesting writer.’


The American poet robert panara, who lost his hearing as a child and became a leading educator of the deaf and a pioneer of studies of deaf culture, has died at the age of 94. At the Rochester Institute of Technology he founded the school’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. He was a founder of the National Theater of the Deaf in Connecticut, too. He was the first deaf person to earn an academic teaching position after graduating from the New York School for the Deaf, and the first deaf person to earn a master’s degree in English from New York University. He mastered lip-reading and when Queen Elizabeth visited the United States in 1957, Life magazine employed him to lip-read her response to a football game she was taken to see in Maryland. Though no reporters were present, she was quoted in full thanks to Panara’s uncanny skill, reading her lips (and negotiating her accent) from a distance of two hundred yards, through binoculars provided by the magazine.


The Valencia-born Catalan poet anfós ramó, born in 1924, died in June. Self-­educated, a ‘neo-realist’, he wrote all his work in the language of Valencia and won every specifically Valencian award. In his day job he was a journalist.


At 73, the artisan-poet felipe prieto has died in Oviedo, Spain. He wrote in the language of Asturias, and was a corresponding member of the Academia de la Llingua for more than thirty years.


In July the first International Congress of Persian Poetry took place in Teheran involving twenty poets from several nations (Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Russia, Ukraine and Iran), centring on the work of farzaneh joyandí and the Lahore poet zahir ahmad sedighi (who writes in Urdu and Persian) and intended to strengthen the language and its traditions. Meetings took place in Isfahan as well as in the capital. In Iran, it was claimed, poetry was not a minority interest. In almost every house one can find books by the outstanding poets, Hafez and Sadi, for example, and the books are actually read. Poetry books are among the perennial bestsellers.


On 24 July the National Library of Spain announced that, with the aid of the National Telephone Company, the plan to digitise its core collection for popular access, begun in 2008, was well on its way, with more than 150,000 books now available to any citizen. The chief librarian ana santos aramburo spoke of the value of access, preservation, and dissemination made possible by close collaboration between two technologically inventive and compatible organisations. Access is open and free. Resources include drawings, engravings, photographs, books and manuscripts, maps, journals… In 2012 30,000 pages per day were being digitised. 31,000 users a month from 163 different countries access material. The renewal of the agreement just announced will entail digitising the work of writers now coming out of copyright, including Lorca, Valle Inclán and Unamuno. Apps are being developed to make the work more immediately accessible.

This item is taken from PN Review 219, Volume 41 Number 1, September - October 2014.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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