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This item is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

News & Notes
louise glück received a 2014 National Book Award for Faithful and Virtuous Night, her new book of poems also shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize in Britain. Glück has written ten books of poetry and already received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, the Bobbitt National Poetry Prize, the Ambassador’s Award and Yale’s Bollingen Prize for her poetry. The judges evoked the work as though it were a late addition to Le Morte d’Arthur or Gawain: ‘a story of adventure, an encounter with the unknown, a knight’s undaunted journey into the kingdom of death’; it ‘tells a single story, but the parts are mutable and the great sweep of its narrative mysterious and fateful, heartbreaking, and charged with wonder’. In an interview Glück reflected, ‘I don’t know that there existed, before this book, a connection between poetry and prose in my work, unless you count the possible influence on my poems of the essays I began, some decades ago, to write intermittently. I felt, when I worked in that form, that some leftover elasticity seeped into my rather songlike intense poems, introducing sensations of space and variety. Also, I like to read prose – novels and biographies, mainly, but also pill bottles and cereal boxes. Prose absorbs me; toward poems my reactions are too fevered. […] As I was close to the end of Faithful and Virtuous Night, I was one last time stymied. Kathryn Davis suggested I read Kafka’s short stories again. What followed was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my writing life. Two weeks of a brand new toy! And then the book was done.’

In late November at the royal palace in Madrid Queen Sofia of Spain presented the twenty-third Prize for Ibero-­American poetry to the Malaga poet maría victoria atencia (born in 1931). The award is accompanied by the publication of a substantial collection of the poet’s work underwritten by the University of Salamanca, responsible for the publication, and the Patrimonio Nacional. The prize is for a body of accomplished work that in some way links the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking worlds of Latin America with Spain. Previous recipients of the award since 1992 include Joâo Cabral de Melo Neto (Brazil), Álvaro Mutis (Columbia), Mario Benedetti (Uruguay), Nicanor Parra (Chile), Sophia de Mello Breyner (Portugal), Juan Gelman (Argentina), Blanca Varela (Peru), José Emilio Pacheco (Mexico), Francisco Brines (Spain), Fina García Marruz (Cuba) and Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaragua).

Welsh poetry pamphlet publisher Rack Press received the 2014 Michael Marks Award for pamphlet publisher of the year. The £5000 award will be used to develop the future activities of the Press in 2015, when it completes its first decade. Nicholas Murray, speaking after the British Library awards ceremony, noted that by the end of 2015 the press will have published thirty-four poets. ‘We favour poetry that engages with the world of politics and current events as well as lyric poetry and, as the only Welsh pamphlet publisher ever to have been shortlisted in any category since the inception of this Award, we take very seriously our commitment to Wales and to the Welsh poetry and cultural scene.’

The Grim Reaper has been working overtime.

allan kornblum, the Iowa City publisher of Coffee House Press, died in Iowa City in November at sixty-five. He had suffered from leukaemia since 2006 but this had not slowed down his work as publisher and advocate. He arrived in Iowa City from New York in 1970. Inspired by some six-foot-tall paintings of toothbrushes in an exhibition of Jim Dine’s work at the Whitney Museum, he planned to publish a journal called Toothpaste. He began his publishing with work by Iowa City authors not necessarily associated with the Iowa writing programme, and Toothpaste appeared. The book publishing operation, run with his wife Cinda, followed. Allan and Cinda spearheaded the Iowa City movement called the Actualists, opposed to and then in dialogue with the more established writers of the Iowa programme. ‘The most appealing thing for me about the Actualists was the democratizing, egalitarian view they took of writing,’ John Kenyon, director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organisation, wrote. ‘Ultimately, it was about getting writing into the hands of readers, whether through conventional or unconventional means.’ Kornblum published chapbooks, broadsides, pamphlets and sponsored Toothpaste readings, then established Coffee House Press in Minneapolis in 1984. The authors published include Robert Creeley, William S. Burroughs, Donald Barthelme, Charles Bukowski, Diane Di Prima, John Barth and Margaret Atwood.

On 10 November the Irish Times reported the death of the Donegal poet, playwright and fiction writer francis (frank) harvey. He was eighty-nine. He began his poetic career with a poem about potato digging written when he was sixteen. It was published in the same paper which first took up Patrick Kavanagh. In the 1970s he abandoned story- and playwriting, concentrating on poetry. Gallery Press published In the Light on the Stones (1978). In 1979 he retired from the Bank of Ireland. Gallery and then Dedalus Press published his later books, including a Collected Poems. Moya Cannon first read his poetry as a student in Dublin in 1978. ‘Here was a poet who made your hair stand on end,’ she wrote. ‘Such independence; he caters to no school, he caters to no literary fashion. He writes about the quotidian but lifts it into the metaphysical all the time; yet he is also completely grounded.’

To PN Review 11 (1980) the poet anne cluysenaar contributed two poems in progress. The first ended with the lines, ‘My stepchild Tim outlines his hand in biro. / After our deaths, those trees may catch his eye. / Affections share us, though we fail to name them.’ This same stepson, thirty-four years later, was arrested and charged with her murder, after her body was discovered in the farmhouse in rural Wales where she lived with her husband Walt. Anne, who had studied with Donald Davie, contributed five times to PN Review. Carcanet published two of her books of poetry and memoir and she brought the poems of Burns Singer to the press, editing his Selected Poems (1977). She was a fine teacher, editor and friend. Peter Davidson will contribute an account of her life and her work to PN Review 222.

bernard heidsieck, the French sound poet born in 1928, died in November. In his long career he had, incongruously, been a vice-president of the Banque Française du Commerce Extérieur in Paris and (more plausibly for a sound poet) president of the Commission Poésie at the Centre National du Livre. In 1976 he organised the first international festival of sound poetry and later the Rencontres Internationales 1980 de poésie sonore in Rennes, La Havre and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. At a time when poetry was ‘morose, et triste’, he and others set out to experiment and create ‘une poésie debout, une poésie qui sort de la page, une poésie en quelque sorte performée même si ce terme, lui, l’a toujours refusé’. His fellow conspirators included the legendary Henri Chopin, and also François Dufrêne, Brion Gysin and Gil J. Wolman, described in one obituary as ‘pioneers of sound poetry’. In this later decade, it is hard to assess the lasting impact of his work, of their work, on poetry. It certainly made the decades of their main activity more exciting for the poetry audience.

The poet, editor, scholar, translator and teacher jon stallworthy died in November at the age of seventy-nine. He had published twelve books of poetry, starting with The Astronomy of Love (1961) and ending with War Poet (2014). His most celebrated book may have been Root and Branch (1969), with his much-anthologised poem ‘The Almond Tree’. He told the story of the development of his poetic imagination in Singing School (1998), acknowledging the main influences, living and dead: Helen Gardner and Maurice Bowra, Yeats (Between the Lines [1963]) and Owen (the biography Wilfred Owen [1974]). He was an important poetry editor, re-creating the Oxford University Press poetry list and promoting the work of a range of writers including Peter Porter, Hugo Williams, David Harsent, Fleur Adcock and Anne Stevenson. He described himself as a Hamiltonian editor, persuaded by the severe aesthetics of Ian Hamilton. He edited The Penguin Book of Love Poetry and contributed to the influential Norton Anthologies. In the Independent, his life-long friend Nicolas Barker wrote, ‘Instantly attractive, exceptionally handsome in youth, Jon Stallworthy was an electric presence in any gathering. Verbal wit came easily; so did lighter as well as serious verse. From deep wells of reading his own distinctive poetic voice comes through clearly. Like Henry Reed,’ whose work he edited, ‘he knew better than any poet of our time how paper-thin the barrier is between love and war. In his studies of other poets and of his own forebears in the past, and always in his own poetry, he explored with a tender precision […] the wounds and joys that love and war engender.’

galway kinnell, an explorer of American experience in the years after the Second World War who received a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for his poetry, died of leukaemia in November at the age of eighty-seven. Reacting against the work of the high modernists, Kinnell belonged to the generation (W.S. Merwin was his roommate at Princeton) that aspired to regain a general, non-specialised readership for poetry. Yeats and Rilke helped form his sense of the poet and his rhetoric. Ironically, like many poets keen to re-enfranchise the common reader, he ended up as an academic and a subject of academic study. He is a popular writer in that all the poems he has collected since 1960 remain in print. His most famous poem is still his most remembered: ‘The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ Into the New World’. Published in 1960, it owes a serious democratic debt to Whitman. Reviewing a later book, Harold Bloom remarked that Kinnell had not lived up to the promise of ‘The Avenue…’; he evinced ‘a certain over-ambition that makes of each separate poem too crucial an event’. Even when there is an element of portentousness in his work, the poems are moving, though sometimes muted by their intentions. ‘Galway Kinnell cares about everything’, James Dickey said. He was an activist outside his poems on many liberal and some radical fronts.

In October carolyn kizer died at the age of eighty-nine. Her poems are smart, vividly feminist. In 1985 she received a Pulitzer Prize for her collection Yin. Even back in the 1950s she was exploring feminist themes with the same intensity as Adrienne Rich but from a different perspective and with a different inflection, less confrontational, more intimately lethal. Ursula K. Le Guin described Kizer’s poems as ‘intensely, splendidly oral, wanting to be read aloud’. She was a scrupulous reviser of her work, always hard on herself, her drafts revealing her commenting on a poem as if she were her own teacher wagging a finger over a ‘LOUSY couplet’. 

This item is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

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