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This item is taken from PN Review 227, Volume 42 Number 3, January - February 2016.

News & Notes
Bodleian at 12,000,000
On 10 November the Bodleian Library at Oxford catalogued its twelve millionth accession, the only known copy of Shelley’s Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, completed when he was nineteen. It starts in the destruction of a corrupt old order and ends with ‘error’s night’ turned to ‘virtue’s day’. The author is described as ‘a Gentleman of the University’ and the edition is dated 1811, the year of The Necessity of Atheism, for which he was rusticated from the university. It is dedicated to the ill-fated Harriet W---B---K [Westbrook], with whom he ran away to Scotland to marry that August.

Attacks on Secular Publishers
Shelley would not have survived even to nineteen in modern, nominally secular Bangladesh. A secular publisher, Avijit Roy, an American citizen of Bangladeshi descent and a critic of radical Islamism, was hacked to death on 27 February as he walked home from a book fair. His wife Bonya Ahmed was seriously wounded. In October Faisal Arefin Dipon, forty-three, was killed at his office in the city centre. ‘I saw him lying upside down and in a massive pool of blood. They slaughtered his neck. He is dead’, his father, the writer Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq, was quoted by AFP as saying. Earlier that day, another publisher and two writers were injured in an attack. A group affiliated with al-Qaeda said it carried out the attacks. Earlier in the year, at least three liberal bloggers with secular views met their deaths at the hands of religious enforcers who carried out their mission in broad daylight, using machetes. The BBC reported that in March Washiqur Rahman was ‘hacked to death near his home in Dhaka’; on 12 May the blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was killed in Sylhet; and on 7 August Niloy Neel, another blogger, was hacked to death at his home. Police have now arrested three people, one a grey-beard British citizen called Touhidur Rahman, and charged them with the murders of Roy and Das. Rahman, described as an IT expert with links to a banned militant group called the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) was identified as the master-mind. He also funded ABT, the Bangladesh Daily Star affirmed. In photographs of the subsequent protests, many of those in attendance are women.

Ashraf Fayadh sentenced to death
A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced the poet Ashraf Fayadh to death on charges of apostasy. Thirty-five-year-old Fayadh – of Palestinian origin and a resident of Arabia, but officially stateless – is a prominent figure in the country’s contemporary poetry scene, and an ambassador and curator who has connected a generation of Saudi artists to the rest of the world. The charges relate to poems in his 2008 collection Instructions Within, and to the testimony of a few witnesses, affirms Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch, who has read the court documents. On 17 November the court found Fayadh guilty on five charges including spreading atheism, threatening the morals of Saudi society, and having illicit relations with women, Coogle reports. In his article for the New York Times Ben Hubbard notes that, ‘The Saudi government has not commented publicly on Mr Fayadh’s case, and its Justice Ministry does not have a known news officer.’ The death sentence can be appealed and a campaign is underway to overturn or reduce the sentence, led by Mona Kareem, a stateless activist from Kuwait.

Howl at Sixty
7 October was the sixtieth anniversary of Allen Ginsberg’s first public reading of Howl, at the Six Gallery in San Francisco.

Greville Press at Forty
It is forty years since the indefatigable Antony Astbury launched the Greville Press. Anyone with a complete collection of the Press’s pamphlets and books (celebrated in The Tenth Muse, a Carcanet anthology Astbury edited in 2005 to mark a previous milestone) is in possession of an estimable literary treasure. The publications are not all beautiful (some are), but all are engaging. The Greville empire is built on firm foundations, on Harold Pinter first, and on George Barker and the Barker family, on W. S. Graham, David Wright and others, drawn mainly from that rich, still undervalued pre-Movement generation. Pamphlets of new work alternate with selections from neglected writers across the time-span of British poetry. The selectors are poets, their better halves and relations. The insights that Greville publications give us into our tradition are unexpected, vivid, the whole project uniquely English, eccentric and life-enhancing.

Ida Vitale
The nonagenarian Uruguayan poet Ida Vitale (born in Montevideo in 1923) has been awarded the 2015 Queen Sofia Prize for poetry, the major accolade for Spanish-language poets. News of the prize was telephoned through to the poet but the messenger had not consulted the world clock: he caught her in the middle of the night, and her first response was, ‘This is some sort of joke.’ On the 18th of November the joke became a reality and the Queen herself presented the prize at the Royal Palace in Madrid. Vitale, of Italian ancestry, remembers how in her childhood, after dinner, her father unfolded a map of Spain so that the family could follow the progress of the Spanish Civil War. She has always felt a Spanish belonging, cultural but not political. She found her way to poetry when she was compelled to memorise a poem of Gabriela Mistral’s which began, ‘La hora de la tarde, la que pone / su sangre en las montañas. / Alguien en esta hora está sufriendo; / una pierde, angustiada / en este atardecer el solo pecho / contra el cual se estrechaba.’ The poem, about landscape, love, suffering and loss, was the fuse for her own writing. ‘One always starts by tripping over something’, she said. Previous Spanish and Portuguese recipients have included Sophia de Mello Breyner (Portugal), Juan Gelman (Argentina), Blanca Varela (Perú), José Emilio Pacheco (México), Francisco Brines (Spain) and Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaragua).

Rafael Cadenas
The octogenarian Venezuelan poet Rafael
Cadenas has received the twelfth García Lorca Poetry Prize, awarded by the city of Granada, for his ‘direct, minimalist and linguistically demanding’ work.

Carlos Bousoño (1923–2015)
Victor García de la Concha, director of the Instituto Cervantes, wrote a moving obituary of the poet, critic and scholar Carlos Bousoño in El Pais (26 October). Ortega y Gasset was moved by the blond beauty of the young man who, in his early work, was an antiquater of language, slavishly imitating the work of earlier centuries. He passed by way of Rubén Darío and Modernism into the modern period, becoming a close friend of Dámaso Alonso and Vicente Aleixandre. He survived the era of Francoism, becoming – alongside other poets, with increasing courage – a writer with social and realist themes. His trajectory illuminates the development of literary activity in Spain in a troubled century: his connections to the writers of the past and of those that followed makes his work a tissue of connection and resistance, a nuanced fever chart. When he died he was the oldest member of the Real Academia Española, spending each Thursday in dialogue with his juniors, friends and followers.

Preserving the Archive
Contributed by William I. Elliott
In Japan where although modern poetry was, in 1968, already a hundred years old, there had never been anything like a poetry centre, which is to say a group of people bent on supporting their like-minded mates in the sustained practice, performance and propagation of poetry. The United States had a few such centres. Americans were the most visible overseas contingent in Japan and some of those were poets or professors, or both. They had to contend less with an uninformed populace than with universities that had never found a place for contemporary poetry in their institutional life.

Ripeness was all – or most of it. Two professors, one a poet, and two non-poets pulled strings and launched the Kanto Poetry Center at Kanto Gakuin University in Yokohama. That was in 1968, in August of which a small group of poets and professors met on the campus and conducted readings, lectures and mini-seminars across a few days and nights. At the end, the Center shut down, until again in 1970 a second conference was held, at the end of which the Center shut down again. Ripeness is all – or most of it.

Skipping forward to 1982, the Center reopened and stayed open for these summer sessions, meeting annually until 2002 (when financial straits forced closure). Over the course of twenty-odd years the Center welcomed hundreds of poets and professors, and always with renowned poets, Japanese and non-Japanese, carrying the torch. All proceedings were taped (later transferred to CD-Roms) and those along with other related materials have been transferred as a gift to Special Collections in the library of the University of Chicago where they will be held as research materials. The collection there had its origin in Harriett Monroe’s gift of her modern poetry collection to the Chicago library in the 1930s. That collection has continued to expand uninterruptedly and there are hundreds of books more recently added that attest to Western – especially American – poetic intercourse with Japan following the pre-war spade work of such figures as Waley, Fenellosa, Pound and Nishiwaki Junzaburo and leading post-war giants such as Shuntarō Tanikawa and Makoto Ōoka. Other performers include Noriko Ibaragi, Seamus Heaney, Les Murray, Denis Levertov, Jon Silkin, Harry Guest, W. S. Merwin, Michael Schmidt, Christopher Middleton, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kudo Naoko, James Kirkup, W. D. Snodgrass, Koike Masayo, Kazuko Shiraishi, Gary Snyder, Nuala Dhomhnaill, Kazue Shinkawa, Hiromi Itō, and Mikirō Sasaki.

Claudia Rankine, Citizen
The enormous success of Citizen by the Jamaica-born poet Claudia Rankine – awarded the Forward Prize, shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize, recipient of many accolades in the United States where the poet now lives (in California) – has given rise to debate. One headline quoted a critic, ‘That’s not poetry; it’s sociology!’ and went on to defend the work, a generic stew that includes photographic as well as verbal images, numbered chunks of prose and essay material. In its molding together of anecdotes and fragments of narrative, the ‘micro-aggressions’ build up a complex, deliberately flat verbal experience, avoiding conventional lyric focus and lift-off. Her provocation, she has made it clear, is deliberate. She is a multi-media writer, as in her earlier Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, described as poetry but conforming to few of the norms of poetic format or genre. Those critics who relate Citizen to Whitman, to classic works of Modernism and the post-modern do not allow for the self-referentiality of the manner if not the voice, the essentially romantic inflection of the project. This is not an inclusive Song of Myself  but a song of me. Yet Adam Fitzgerald writes persuasively about its originality. ‘So what does Citizen sound like? By identifying structural, unconscious racism in its ubiquitous occurrence, it traffics in the same ambiguous tonalities of everyday speech that Whitman’s own poetry did. Interrogating the merest phrase, Rankine is able to make her anonymous vignettes vibrate.’ He adds, ‘In Citizen, Rankine shows how ready our imaginations are to recognize the afflictions of anti-black discrimination because our daily language, like our present-day society, is inescapably bound to a history of slavery, violence and white supremacy. That is, a living history.’

Are You Diversity Led?
Artists and clients of the Arts Council have been asked in recent years to respond to various questionnaires. One circulated in November asks, ‘are you diversity led’, foregrounding the possible assumption that demographic criteria have priority over aesthetic, even to the point of displacement. On 7 December at the Studio, Library of Birmingham, an Arts Council sponsored event reflected on changes that had taken place since ACE announced ‘a fundamental shift’ in its approach to diversity. ‘This change placed responsibility on every funded organisation to make their work more reflective of the communities they serve.’ Forty years ago the comment would have concluded ‘the art form they serve’. The debate, following a speech by ACE Chair Sir Peter Bazalgette, was led primarily by performing arts specialists.

In Seattle, Amazon has opened its first bricks and mortar store. Even as the media gathered to examine this airy, unconventional shop, where books, algorhythmically-selected, are displayed face out and stocks are kept to a minimum, the Seattle Times (31 October) was investigating how organised groups use the Amazon review system ‘to push political and social agendas often only tangentially related to the products being sold’. Religious, political and other interest groups in an organised way stigmatise titles they regard as hostile without giving much evidence of having read them. Scarlett Lewis’s book Nurturing Healing Love is about a mother (the author) coming to terms with the murder of her six-year-old son in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Gun-lobby reviewers called the book ‘sick’, ‘a fraud’, and the author many worse things. A YouTube user uploaded a video in October urging followers to ‘Truth Bomb the Shit Out of Amazon Reviews!’ In September, Amazon legally cracked down on reviewers who provided positive reviews in return for emoluments. The attack reviews, it says, are different in kind and are allowed to stay: Amazon apologist Tom Cook wrote to the Times, ‘All authentic reviews, whether the reviewer bought the product on Amazon or not, are valuable to customers, helping them make informed buying decisions every day.’ Some positive pressure-groups use the review system, not only for books but for other products, to raise awareness of environmental or other misdemeanors entailed in production. The one-star review is the ultimate instrument for getting books and other products downgraded, removed from sight. One commentator remarked, ‘The reason Amazon cannot just use verified reviews is simple. Most of the content at the site is from free customer reviews, and it would mean it would lose most of its content.’

This item is taken from PN Review 227, Volume 42 Number 3, January - February 2016.

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