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This item is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

News & Notes
In China in September the Institute of Poetry officially pronounced a river venerated for centuries by poets as Poetry River. The Qihe merits this title, said Zhang Tongwu, the Institute’s president, at a ceremony of dedication, because it is widely recognised as the cradle of Chinese poetry. It is not a very long river – at 160 kilometres, in the Chinese context, it is hardly even a haiku of a river. It rises in Shanxi and flows into Henan province where it joins other rivers and makes its way to the Yellow Sea. From the eleventh to the first centuries BC it was poetry’s own river, and 39 of the 305 verses of Confucius are said to describe the landscape of the Qihe, said Zhang. In northern Henan, in the prefecture city of Hebi, a three-kilometre wall inscribed with 1500 verses of early poetry about the river and the city has been built. Earlier in September in a visit to a Beijing university the president of China declared that classic poetry should be inculcated into the memories of students and transformed into part of the genetic structure of their native culture, a change of emphasis from the ‘new broom’ approach of earlier times.

The Chilean poet and anti-poet nicanor parra (‘there’s enough poetry for everyone’) celebrated his one hundredth birthday on 5 September. The president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, visited him at his home where he has lived in relative seclusion for years. Throughout Latin America his survival and his poetry were celebrated with readings, and in Chile with song and dance. His poem ‘What does an old man get from going to the gym’ is characteristic of his self-deprecating poetry: ‘Silly old man his mother tells him / you are just like your father / he didn’t want to die either / God give you life to drive your car / God give you life to talk on the phone / God give you life to breathe / God give you life enough to bury your mother.’ His first collection appeared in 1935.

Chilean President Bachelet was also called upon in August to present the Iberoamerican Neruda Poetry Prize to the Cuban poet reina maria rodriguez at a ceremony in the Moneda Palace in Santiago. Bachelet noted that Rodriguez is the tenth recipient of the award and the youngest so far honoured with the $60,000 dollars and the promise of book publication. Parra won the prize in 2012.

The Iranian poet simin behbahani, the de facto national poet of Iran, died in Tehran in August at the age of 87. She was a politically engaged and a ‘subversive’ poet, who published her first poem when she was fourteen. She was a master of the ghazal, bringing into the form a modern and contemporary idiom and reference. She adopted various strategies to circumvent the censors (not always successfully), her work energised by a struggle against inequality (she was awarded the Simone de Beauvoir prize in 2009) and for thematic openness. Her poetry is a kind of fever chart of the expectations and disappointments of her people in a turbulent century. She preferred to stay in Iran when many of her contemporaries chose exile. It is where she belonged, whatever the promise and prosperity of exile might have offered.

The First World War diaries of siegfried sassoon were published online on 1 August, a substantial resource for general readers keen to engage the war close-up. Sassoon himself wanted to savour the extremes of experience, and when he did his reaction was unexpected and puzzling. ‘My inner life is far more real than the hideous realism of this land, the war zone.’ Cambridge University Library has digitised 4,100 pages of these diaries, which include stains from the material world in which they were written (mud, wax, cricket scores). John Wells, the archival librarian, noted how, ‘unlike edited, printed transcriptions, the digitizations allow the viewer to form a sense of the physical documents, and to appreciate their unique nature as historical archives’. On screen one can come very close to the world in which the hand rested on the little page and the words followed the days’ inexorable progress.  

Material culture was the subject of a modest, successful appeal by the Wheal Martyn China Clay Museum in St Austell, Cornwall, to restore the ‘shabby’ desk where the blind Cornish poet jack clemo (1916–94) wrote his poems. One anonymous donor provided £300; the additional money collected will go towards restoring his rickety bookcase.

niall campbell was awarded the £20,000 Edwin Morgan Prize for his first collection Moontide (Bloodaxe), reviewed by Neil Powell in this issue of PN Review.

Jamaican poet, essayist and novelist kei miller was awarded the Forward Prize for Best Poetry Collection for The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (Carcanet) at the Southbank Centre on 30 September. The chair of the judges, Jeremy Paxman, said: ‘Kei is doing something you don’t come across often: this is a beautifully voiced collection which struck us all with its boldness and wit. Many poets refer to multiple realities, different ways of observing the world. Kei doesn’t just refer, he articulates them’. The shortlist included new collections by Colette Bryce, John Burnside, Louise Glück (also Carcanet) and Hugo Williams.

The Forward prize-giving event was dedicated to dannie abse, one of this year’s judges and among the best-loved contemporary British poets, who died the weekend before the prize was announced, at 91. He contributed ‘Nothing’ to Poetry Nation 4, a poem already worrying at the theme of age. It opens: ‘Amnesia. A keyhole. A glass eye. / In sleep, dreams between long blanks; / awake, blanks between brief dreams. / This is the cemetery side of fifty. / This is the taste of pure water. / This is the dread revealing nothing.’ And in his last contribution, to PN Review 209, he wrote ‘In Highgate Woods’, which concludes: ‘Old poets stay at home to become explorers; / the older they get, the smaller they get / and, relentlessly, the trees grow tall.’ (The Welsh Academi director described him two years ago as ‘at the top of the Welsh tree’, which has become a rather tall one.) He was made a CBE in 2012, rather later than one might have expected for a figure so generous and so central to the ‘scene’, a physician poet, a Welshman, a Jew. His final collection, Ask the Moon, will be published next February.

Reports are circulating that the poet and activist tenzin tsundue was detained by police ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India. Tsundue, of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, is associated with Friends of Tibet (India) and has been detained before for protesting against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He was said to have been released when Jinping had concluded his visit.

James Sutherland-Smith writes:

miodrag pavlović, the last surviving member of the great Serbian modernist triumvirate of Ivan Lalić (1931–96), Vasko Popa (1922–91) and himself, died on 17 August this year. He was born in 1928 in Novi Sad, the second city of Serbia, and trained as a doctor, although he soon moved to working in literature, eventually becoming Director of the National Theatre in Belgrade and a chief editor at the Yugoslav publishing house of Prosveta. In addition to Serbian he was fluent in English, French and German. In 1952 he published his first collection, 87 Poems, a book which can be said to have inaugurated modernism in Serbian literature, with Popa’s first collection appearing in 1953 and Lalić’s in 1955. He also wrote short stories, novels and a number of important works in literary criticism. From his withdrawal from active work as a publisher he divided his time between his homes in Tuttlingen in Germany and in Belgrade. Miodrag Pavlović was an extremely prolific poet, but only a tiny fraction of his work has made its way into English in book and chapbook form. In comparison with Lalić and Popa he never reached a wide audience in the English-speaking world. Like many Serbian writers his fluency in a number of languages meant that he was also a distinguished translator and he mentioned to me when we first met that he had even translated Sir Geoffrey Hill’s work. He was twice a nominee for the Nobel Prize in literature.

A selection of his poems, translated into English by Nenad Aleksić and myself, was in proof when news of his death reached me and will be published shortly by Salt. We completed the translations with Miodrag in the conference room at the British Council in Belgrade. Despite being eighty years old at the time, he went through our draft in great detail, pointing out inaccuracies and sometimes demanding from me ‘a better word choice, please, James’. It was a humbling yet inspiring experience.

The Portuguese lawyer, politician, poet, novelist and translator vasco graa moura died on 27 April this year. This interview, with Bernardo Pinto de Almeida, was one of the last interviews that Moura gave on the subject of his poetry.

Fifty years of published poetry: how have the poems changed?
Each poem is a new experiment with language and the energies that come out of it – a new way to relate word and world. The changes are to do with that: at first I was more open to avant-gardeism. But that never went very deep. Gradually I matured till the very obscurities of my poems were a kind of quest for clarity.

Tell me about constants and changes.
I gradually gave up techniques deriving from surrealism. I wanted more and more to combine two things: reawakening classical forms and metres and a diction that tends, as Montale said, towards prose – but rejects it.

What kind of a thing is a good poem? Which poem by someone else would you most like to have written?
A good poem comes to life by escaping definition. It takes its energy from our very being. Its verbal power goes on reverberating long after it has struck us. I should like to have written some of Camões’ sonnets and Brodsky’s ‘Elegy for John Donne’.

You’re not only a poet and novelist. You’ve earned international recognition for your lifelong work as a translator of poetry. Your translations include some major classics. How has this affected your poetry? How has your own poetry helped the translator?
I only translated works that challenged me, that spoke to me personally. It was hand-to-hand combat with the source language and even more so with my own. There were moments of the great European literary traditions that I wanted to bring into Portuguese. So it was a kind of training in expressive form. And it left traces that germinated in my own work. Now and then you hear the echoes.

You have been critical of Pessoa and the space he occupies in the Portuguese literary scene. What other family trees do you recommend?
The line of Camões, obviously. The line of Césario Verde. And someone later than Pessoa: Vitorino Nemésio. And don’t forget the major Brazilian names, especially Carlos Drummond de Andrade and João Cabral de Melo Neto.

What do you think of the new Portuguese poetry? What voices would you pick out ?
There’s a young poet, Tatiana Faia, you’ll hear a lot more about. I recommend her latest book, Lugano. Another name to keep in mind is Margarida Vale de Gato, who wrote ‘Mulher ao Mar’. There’s a fascinating poetry being made in Portugal now that combines experiment with the great literary tradition.

Is there a poem you still want to write?
Yes. My best one yet.

Translated by Chris Miller with Ana Hudson

This item is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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