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This item is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.

News & Notes
To PNR 109 James Tate contributed
‘Think of your absent friend’:

. . . The bumbershoot has departed for the desert
using the back staircase and through the backdoor
incognito hush-hush cat-like like a cloud
and what’s a friend going to do
but cleave and cling, remembering
the flying horse, the chained maiden, Berenice’s hair,
not to mention foreign bodies in the eye,
convulsions and loss of limb,
in addition to forms of address for persons of rank
and public office, and the Republic of Tonga!

‘What kind of disorganization is this?’ Anthony Caleshu, using Tate’s own words, asked in PNR 126. Tate’s later poems, many in prose, moved towards narrative, extension, seeing how much they could do within the form, as he put it, expanding to the maximum without rupture. Writing about Tate’s work again in 2006, Caleshu quotes the poet:  ‘The prose poem has its own means of seduction. For one thing, the deceptively simple packaging: the paragraph. People generally do not run for cover when they are confronted with a paragraph or two. The paragraph says to them: I won’t take much of your time, and, if you don’t mind my saying so, I am not known to be arcane, obtuse, precious, or highfalutin. Come on in… And when, by the end of a prose poem, a revelation or epiphany of some sort has been achieved, it is particularly satisfying. You look at it and you say, “Why, I thought I was just reading a paragraph or two, but, by golly, methinks I glimpsed a little sliver of eternity.”’ Eternity – and entirety, there is as much containment in his prose as in his verse forms. I wonder if John Ashbery, who loved Tate’s poems and sometimes read them as a catalyst, turned to the prose poems for preference: the absence of lineation frees the reader’s ear and eye. The aural space is generous.

James Tate, who won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, has died at the age of seventy-one. Jorie Graham told the Boston Globe: ‘Jim Tate […] mixed Beckett-like black humor with his own flat Midwestern brand of the Kafkaesque absurd. [...] Quite a few generations of poets in the United States simply could not have found their voices without his guiding, mischievous, brilliant, darkly-lit spirit.’ In Britain, he numbered Simon Armitage among his admirers.

Last year PNR featured Oli Hazzard’s long interview with [Travers Rafe] Lee Harwood, the translator of Tristan Tzara and a poet who ran against the tide of the 1960s, remaining a benign contrary force in British poetry, devoted to Brighton and its sea- and skyscapes, but connecting always with alternative American poetries (the Beats, the New York School) and the poetries of languages other than English. In his introduction to John Ash’s 1981 book, The Bed & Other Poems, he wrote, ‘The voice in the poems talks with us, not at us. […] It is as though each poem is a discussion or a civilised conversation between the poet and his readers [...] We are questioned and invited to provide our own answers.’ He is, thanks in part to his dialogue with John Ashbery and later with F. T. Prince, a poet of broadly similar mettle. ‘The first time I went to the States,’ he told Oli Hazzard, ‘[Ted] Berrigan arranged for me to do a reading at St Mark’s the second night. Then there was The Man with Blue Eyes. I loved the atmosphere with those younger writers in New York, Padgett, Berrigan and so on, you could try something, if it would go wrong and you’d fall flat on your face, look a total fool, you’d just get up and try something else! Whereas in England it was like, I imagined, Japan, the big horror was losing face. Whereas there it was almost essential to make pratfalls, to be willing to put yourself out and try something. So there were all these collaborations – painters, poets, musicians, incredible. Joe Brainard and I did cartoon strips for the Village there. I did word collaborations with a couple of other poets. It was a wonderfully exciting time, probably helped a bit by speed in some cases, but everybody was helping each other. I remember the first time I met O’Hara. We were talking, and he asked what I was doing, and I’d got one of those $99 99-day Greyhound bus passes, because I thought, how can I understand all this literature I admired – Dos Passos, or Williams, or the West Coast – if I didn’t understand the dirt it grows out of. So I did this couple of months bus trip around, and stayed mostly with people I’d met through the little mag scene. So meeting O’Hara, he said, “Well, where are you going?” and I told him, and he said “When you go to Washington, go to this gallery. When you go to Boston, go to this gallery.” He was so enthusiastic to share, and that I also enjoy the paintings he loved. Whereas some people who had a grand idea of themselves wouldn’t bother with this awkward kid. Everybody seemed to have enthusiasm.’

The ‘intimist’ Catalan poet and medical historian Felip Cid Rafael, born in 1930, died in May. For half a century he was an outstanding presence in the Catalan intellectual world, as a teacher at the Universitat Autònoma from 1970 through 1995 and as a writer. He was a very private person, hence the term ‘intimist’, giving little away beyond the poems themselves, which contain what he regarded as the necessary disclosures, refined of any confessional or merely personal detail. His first book of poems, Sonnets from the Zoo (1963) included an introduction by his great Catalan predecessor Salvador Espriu. His Obra poètica (1963–2006) appeared in 2007 – a sparse output in comparison with his huge oeuvre as a historian – and El Testament is due out shortly. His 1999 book of memoirs was entitled Useless Memories.

The Zimbabwean poet, playwright and novelist Chenjerai Hove died in July in Norway. He was fifty-nine. He was a resolute critic of President Robert Mugabe and chose to go into exile in 2001, having endured harassment from the authorities. Bones (1988) is his best-known book. Its setting is a white-owned farm and it tries to determine how great a difference the end of colonial rule has made for the average African. His friend the film maker Farai Sevenzo likened him to the Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong'o. He was a master of English and of his native language, Shona, whose oral tradition coloured his narratives. His four published volumes of poetry are dedicated, as the titles suggest, to political themes: Up in Arms (1982), Red Hills of Home (1985), Rainbows in the Dust (1998), and Blind Moon (2003).

the colours of the sky 
as it changed its many tempers
to invoke the voice of thunder and lightning, 
all those colours of butterflies and nameless things, 
all these will always remind me
that I am part of that geographical 
space where I grew up. 
It is my traveller’s luggage 

The Pablo Neruda prize for 2015 was awarded to the Brazilian visual poet Augusto de Campos, one of the founders of the Concrete Poetry movement and now eighty-four years old. He is the first Brazilian to receive the prize, created eleven years ago and with a generous cash stipend attached to it. During the 1950s Augusto and his brother Haroldo, together with Décio Pignatari, created the movement which soon became international, reaching Scotland via Edwin Morgan. The citation spoke of how, in his long and richly creative life, his adventure has been to deflect poetry towards other artistic languages, including the plastic arts and music. His publications include Poemóbiles (1974) and Caixa Preta (1975). He has translated into Portuguese work by e. e. cummings and Ezra Pound.

During July the city of Medellin, Colombia, hosted the twenty-fifth of its legendary Poetry Festivals, which fill football stadia with audiences for poetry from around the world. The day before the first Festival opened, in 1991, one of the participating poets, Daniel Chaparro, was murdered. The event went ahead unstoppably. The festival has helped transform Medellin from a city whose name was synonymous with drug production and crime to a city devoted to quite another line of business. Each year dozens of poets are brought together, their work translated and performed. One report spoke of the annual ‘oxygenation of [the city’s] soul, heightening of its life, giving free rein to the word [...]’ This year included a ‘peace and reconciliation’ world summit, with poets from Palestine, Northern Ireland, El Salvador, Cuba, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, the Aztec nation (Nahuatl poetry from Mexico), Bolivia, Germany, and two Colombias, the post-colonial nation and the Wayuu nation, its language still spoken by some 300,000 people.

Yale University’s Beinecke Library was reported by the Atlantic Monthly as having acquired a complete run of the Chipotle Grill ‘Cultivating Thoughts’ series, the ‘two-minute essays and stories’ printed on the company’s bio-degradable paper goods including cups. Jonathan Safran Foer started and curates the series. ‘Must a cup, or bag, suffer an existence that is limited to just one humble purpose, defined merely by its simple function?’ Contributors include Amy Tan, Paolo Coelho, Jeffrey Eugenides, Neil Gaiman, Barbara Kingsolver and Toni Morrison. The Atlantic commented: ‘The Beinecke […] has collected poetry printed on the side of pencils, postage stamps, bumper stickers, and commercial paint chips. It includes poems on posters by Amiri Baraka and Gwendolyn Brooks.’ The library said, ‘The Yale Collection of American Literature collects American Literature in all its formats and in all media, documenting the ways great American writers reach diverse and unusual audiences beyond standard book publishing.’

Under the headline ‘Flood of Signatures against Chus Visor’, the Spanish press reported a petition against sexism in Spanish poetry. The editor of Visor, Jesús García Sánchez, better known as Chus Visor, one of the leading poetry editors in Spain, had said, ‘I am sorry, poetry by women in Spain is not at the same level as poetry by men. There are no women poets comparable to the novelists Ana María Matute or Martín Gaite [...]. From the generation of [18]98 and throughout the twentieth century, there is no great woman poet, not one. There are good ones, like Elena Medel, but for each Medel there are five equally good men.’ This unleashed the protest for ‘poetic Justice’. Sánchez has been on most of the major award judging panels; the petition against him demanded that he be debarred from such panels in future. Four hundred signatories of both sexes, some of them well-known writers, signed the petition. There is certainly a disparity in publishing in Spain: only fifteen percent of poetry books and thirty percent of novels published in Spain are by women. Only four women have won the National Poetry Prize out of fifty-two laureates. Calling for greater transparency in the appointment of judging panels for all competitions that are publically funded, the petitioners also demand gender parity on juries and a rotation of judges. No one could have been more transparent than Sánchez, who spoke his mind, but this is not the kind of transparency the petitioners are calling for.

This item is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.

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