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This item is taken from PN Review 232, Volume 43 Number 2, November - December 2016.

News & Notes
Destination • A most unusual joint blue plaque was unveiled at Anne and Vivian Ridler’s former Oxford home at 14 Stanley Road on 16 September to celebrate the poet and the Printer to the University of Oxford 1958–1978, who together had such an impact on book culture in the twentieth century. Anne Ridler, a contributor to this magazine, worked on the editorial staff of Faber & Faber, for a time as assistant to T.S. Eliot and later as a freelance reader. She published ten collections of poetry, original and translated opera libretti, and much else. She died in 2001. We understand that in Doughty Street, London, a blue blaque will soon be dedicated to the memory of the poet Charlotte Mew. Women poets are beginning to get their blue due, though there is still some way to go.

David Gascoyne • To mark the centenary of the birth of David Gascoyne on 10 October, Enitharmon Press has published his Anniversary Epistle to Allen Ginsberg, a fitting tribute.

Prize-Giving • To those that have shall be given. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds has received a $100,000 lifetime achievement purse in the form of the Academy of American Poets’ prestigious Wallace Stevens Award for ‘proven mastery in the art of poetry’. Now 73, she received the Pulitzer for Stag’s Leap, a sequence of poems about a divorce, three years ago. Another Pulitzer winner, the former United States poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, was awarded $25,000 and a fellowship. Lynn Emanuel’s The Nerve of It: New and Selected Poems, took the $25,000 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for the best poetry book published in 2015. Donte Collins, twenty years old, received an award for most promising young poet, a prize that has previously gone to Sylvia Plath, Robert Pinsky and Mark Strand.

For her part, Claudia Rankine received a MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ of $625,000. She told Time that she will use the windfall to establish a ‘Racial Imaginary Institute’ where ‘creative thinkers’ can ‘come together in a kind of laboratory environment to talk about the making of art and culture and … the dismantling of white dominance’.

The Pak Kyong-ni Literature Award, in memory of the late Korean novelist Pak Kyong-ni, author of the epic novel Toji, and worth 100 million (about £70,000) has been presented to the Kenyan novelist Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who, the citation says, ‘distinctively reveals different angles of the lives of people undergoing the process of globalization’. The Kenyan ‘deeply and fiercely examined and agonized over situations where various boundaries including the West and the Non-West, and modernity and pre-modernity overlap, while dealing with the independence war of Kenya, which became a British colony, and social issues after its independence’. This seems an inspired and timely choice, linking two sides of the cruelly colonized Non-West globe.

This year’s Forward Prizes were not without wholesome controversy. Sasha Dugdale’s poem ‘Joy’, originally published in PNR 227, received the award as Best Single Poem of the year, and our regular Report writer Vahni Capildeo won the Best Collection prize for Measures of Expatriation. ‘Because I grew up in Trinidad in the Seventies and Eighties, there was no internet and there weren’t many books available to me. It excites me to think that someone who googles ‘poetry’ – a little reader, such as the girl I used to be – will be able to find it.’ Next to the international purses the British purse of £15,000 at first looks modest, but it is less the prize than the recognition it affords that is of value. ‘Language is my home, I say; not one particular language.’

The prize for Best First Collection also went to a Caribbean writer, St Thomas-born Tiphanie Yanique, now thirty-eight, for Wife, a multi-tonal book about ‘the cultural weight of marriage’. ‘I’d like to thank my husband for staying with me, despite these poems,’ she declared at the prize-giving.

Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee • On 6 October Amnesty reported the arrest and sentencing of a writer to six years’ imprisonment for writing a fictional story about a stoning, a story that she had not even published or circulated to the public. Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Director of Research and Advocacy for the Middle East and North Africa, declared, ‘she is effectively being punished for using her imagination’. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee is a human rights activist as well as a writer. She is accused of ‘insulting Islamic sanctities’. Amnesty International suggested, ‘Instead of imprisoning a young woman for peacefully exercising her human rights by expressing her opposition to stoning, the Iranian authorities should focus on abolishing this punishment, which amounts to torture. It is appalling that Iran continues to allow the use of stoning, and justifies it in the name of protecting morality.’ At the trial, the writer was not allowed a defence; her sentence preceded the hearing, as it were. Her husband too is in detention and has been since June for, in Amnesty’s words, ‘peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association’.

Play It Again • The Poetry Archive is a work in progress. It is now offering poets it considers key the chance to record their work again, focusing on later work, thanks to funding from the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Idlewild Trust. Among the poets re-recording are Andrew Motion, Michael Longley, Simon Armitage, Wendy Cope, and Lavinia Greenlaw. A grant from Creative Scotland has facilitated recordings of a range of other Scottish writers, David Kinloch, Anna Crowe and Frank Kuppner among them. The Frank Kuppner recording is likely to be choice and eccentric; those who admire his contributions to PNR will certainly await it with bated breath.

Robert Nye (1939–2016) • In PN Review 231 we attributed to John Lucas an obituary of Robert Nye which in fact appeared in an extended form in the New York Times. Our apologies to both parties for the mis-
attribution. Here is what John Lucas actually wrote.

TUCKED INSIDE THE inscribed copy of An Almost Dancer : Poems 20052011 which Robert Nye sent me was a note. ‘This is my last book. (There won’t be another.) It might be my best.’ He was right on both counts. Although he lived for a further four years there were to be no more publications, but the thirty-three poems that make up An Almost Dancer are a perfect distillation of his art. As Helena Nelson, reviewing the book in the pages of PN Review commented, ‘many of the poems […] are almost naked in their plainness’, but, she added, while their ‘themes and motifs are familiar’, this a ‘patently serious book’. Like Norman Cameron, to whose lyric clarity and teasing, often slant statements Nye owes much, he wasn’t a prolific poet, but his devotion to his art was lifelong.

Born in London in1939, Nye left school at the age of sixteen, published his first poems that year in The London Magazine, and from then on earned his living as a freelance writer. Regular reviewing for, among other places, The Scotsman and The Times, where he was a long-serving poetry critic, brought in some money; more came by way of prose fiction. He published collections of short stories, works for children, and a clutch of novels, including Doubtfire, Faust, Mrs Shakespeare: The Complete Works, and Falstaff, which won him the Hawthorndon Prize for 1976 as well as the Guardian Fiction Prize. But if his correspondence is to be believed he always found writing prose something of a chore, confessing to a friend that to get started on a day’s work he needed Valium washed down with whisky.

Poetry was what mattered, that of others as well as his own. He made discriminative selections of Ralegh, Barnes, early Laura Riding, Dowson; he edited the Faber book of Sonnets; he championed the work of the Elizabethan George Gascoigne, James Reeves, the little-known and soon-dead Clere Parsons, and his friend and mentor, Martin Seymour-Smith. As to his own poetry, Juvenilia 1, published in 1961 and warmly welcomed in the TLS – ‘here is a true poet’ – was followed two years later by another Juvenilia, and in revised form these were gathered together and joined by more recent poems for his first substantial collection, Darker Ends (1969), which won him an Arts Council bursary. Later collections include Divisions on a Ground (Carcanet, 1976), Collected Poems (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995), and, from Greenwich Exchange, The Rain and the Glass: 99 Poems, New and Selected (2004). There were also some fugitive pamphlets, including One or Two Swallows (Eyelet Books  /  Shoestring Press, 2008), and then the last, beautiful book, published in 2012. He died at his home near Cork, where he had lived for more than twenty years.   

Rilke at the Movies • CONTRIBUTED BY FRANK BECK • Rainer Maria Rilke may be one of the twentieth-century writers least likely to appear on a movie screen: his poetry is lyrical, even ephemeral, and not theatrical in the least. Rilke cherished solitude as a vital prerequisite for his work, though it meant living apart from his wife and daughter much of the time. Many of the poet’s other important relationships were conducted largely through the mail. Not the stuff of great cinema, one might think.

Despite this, two new German film biographies feature Rilke as a main character. Both focus on the years before the First World War, a time of intense intellectual ferment and flowering artistic creativity. Yet this age of Yeats, Freud, Rodin, Chekov, and Puccini has long been overshadowed by the cataclysm that followed. Now it’s ripe for cinematic exploration, and two of Rilke’s closest confidantes were important participants in the period: Lou Andreas-Salome, a writer and pioneering psychoanalyst, and Paula Modersohn-Becker, a boldly original artist who challenged ideas about what a woman could paint. Both of these productions were years in the making, the work of filmmakers who hope to reawaken interest in the era. Initial reviews from Europe and North America suggest they are about to succeed.

First to appear was Lou Andreas-Salomé, directed by Cordula Kablitz-Post, which opened in Germany in June. A novelist and critic who wrote two early studies of Ibsen and Nietzsche, Salomé later became an analyst to whom Freud sometimes sent patients. The film traces her relationships with Nietzsche (played with gusto by Alexander Scheer), philosopher Paul Rée, and Rilke; the narrative is framed by her final days in Göttingen in the 1930s, besieged by the Nazis for her association with Freud. Katharina Lorenz and three other actresses share the leading role, one for each stage of life. Kablitz-Post, a noted German documentary filmmaker, co-wrote the script with veteran screenwriter Susanne Hertel.

Julius Feldmeier is their Rilke. We meet him in 1897 as a twenty-one- year-old art history student visiting Munich, where he encounters Lou Andreas-Salomé, an accomplished author of thirty-six. He is immediately smitten. At first she rebuffs his approaches but eventually finds his mixture of diffidence and determination irresistible, and they become lovers. The two were together for just three years, but the bond between them never really ended, as the film makes clear. (Though Rilke and Salomé spent long periods apart, most of the poet’s biographers agree that without her guidance and support the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus might never have been written.)

Der Spiegels review found Kablitz-Post’s film ‘marvelous’ at ‘unraveling the tangle of relationships surrounding this rebellious figure’. Austria’s Die Presse called it ‘true to its source and yet – thanks largely to Katharina Lorenz’s ‘Lou’ – incredibly fresh’, while Switzerland’s Neue Luzerner Zeitung said the film ‘brings an unbelievable biography thrillingly alive’. It has received eight Austrian Film Prize nominations, including one for Katharina Lorenz for Best Actress.

Christian Schwochow’s Paula premiered at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival in August and will come to German cinemas in December. Written by screen veteran Stefan Kolditz and author and theatrical director Stephan Suschke, it tells the story of Rilke’s dear friend Paula Modersohn-Becker. In little more than a decade, she grew from a tentative student painter to a Paris-based master who created European art’s first nude female self-portraits, before her early death. She was, in one critic’s words, ‘modern art’s missing piece’.

The treatment of Rilke in the two films dovetails nicely, because after leaving Salomé in 1900 the poet went straight to the Worpswede artist colony, near Bremen. Becker was studying there, and this is where Schwochow’s narrative begins. His Rilke is Swiss actor Joel Basman, who has to portray both the shy young man who arrived at Worpswede and the more confident person Rilke became, five years later, as Rodin’s personal secretary in Paris. Rilke-lovers will notice, however, that, in the first scene in which Basman appears, he recites lines from Sonnets to Orpheus, written some twenty-two years after the scene is set. It’s a surprising lapse in a film that generally keeps its chronology straight.

Becker is played by Carla Juri, who is also Swiss and has an even more demanding role. We watch her develop from a woman who, as Rilke wrote to Becker’s mother in 1916, ‘so compliantly and cooperatively devoted herself to family harmony’ but who then, ‘seized by the passion of her task and renouncing all else, [took] upon herself a life of loneliness and poverty ’. Yet the script often presents Becker as a tongue-tied naïf, a figure hard to reconcile with the literate, articulate woman one finds when reading her letters and journals.

Paula has not been widely reviewed yet, but, after its screening in Locarno, Variety wrote that the film ‘daubs an unexpected range of tones, from the tragically romantic to the jauntily comic, onto the canvas with free abandon’ to create ‘a lush, involving biopic’. (Trailers for both films are on YouTube.)

Rilke is already the modern Continental poet most frequently translated into English. These two films, expected to arrive in the UK in 2017, shed new light on the pivotal period in which he, Andreas-Salomé and Modersohn-Becker flourished – and which continues to nourish our own.

Bernard Bergonzi (1929–2016) • CONTRIBUTED BY NICOLAS TREDELL • The critic, poet and novelist Bernard Bergonzi died on 20 September at the age of eighty-seven. In fourteen critical books and many essays and reviews, Bergonzi made a wide-ranging contribution to the understanding and appreciation of literary works from the late Victorian to the modern era and engaged thoughtfully with the debates on the novel that enlivened the 1960s and the conflicts over literary theory that galvanized the 1980s. His writing was informed, accessible and, where appropriate, amusing. While he affirmed an English liberal humanist stance as a critic, his Catholicism made him aware of what he called, in his provocative essay ‘The Terry Eagleton Story’ (first published in PNR 40), ‘a major world of thought and commitment elsewhere’ and enhanced his understanding of both Catholic and Marxist authors writing against the grain.

Bergonzi, a cradle Catholic, was born in Lewisham in London, the son of Carlo, a dance band musician and later white-collar factory employee, and Louisa (née Lloyd). Illness marked his childhood and youth and he came close to death more than once before he reached twenty-one. His early career was chequered; he worked as a clerk but began to earn a reputation as a poet; two of his poems featured in the opening programme of John Wain’s radio series ‘First Reading’, then a cutting-edge platform for what became known as the Movement. His first poetry volume, Godolphin and Other Poems, appeared in 1952, and three further volumes followed: Descartes and the Animals (1954), An English Sequence (1966) and Years (1979).

In autumn 1953, supported by a London County Council grant, Bergonzi went to Newbattle Abbey, a residential adult college near Edinburgh, where Edwin Muir was the warden and his English Literature tutor. He returned to London in June 1954, worked as a clerk again and wrote an unpublished novel. Deciding to pursue a university education, he went to Wadham College, Oxford on a scholarship in autumn 1955. His younger fellow students, such as the novelist and historian David Caute, saw him as possessing a portfolio of experience which they lacked. When rogue intellectual Colin Wilson, author of The Outsider (1956), visited Oxford, his remark about the critical neglect of H.G. Wells’s early scientific romances sowed the seed of Bergonzi’s B. Phil dissertation and his pioneering first critical book, The Early H.G. Wells (1961).

By then, Bergonzi was a lecturer at Manchester University. His second critical book, Heroes Twilight (1965, 1980) is eminently readable and now a classic point of reference in the study of Great War writing. In 1966, he moved to Warwick University where he remained until his retirement, rising to become Professor of English and serving from 1979 to 1982 as a pro-vice-chancellor.

The Situation of the Novel (1970, 1979) offered, for its time, a state-of-the-art anatomy of the differences between contemporary British and American fiction, contrasting ‘The Ideology of Being English’ with ‘The Incredible Reality’ of the USA. Bergonzi grasped why and how the novel, as a form, had buckled in the later twentieth century and if he deprecated some of the more outré attempts to hammer it into new shapes, he gave them fair audience. The book remains valuable for its survey of the state of fiction at a crucial moment and for its insights into a rich range of authors from Anthony Powell to Thomas Pynchon.

Bergonzi’s only published novel, The Roman Persuasion (1981), evokes an English Catholic community in the 1930s and offers a counter-narrative to the myth of the Spanish Civil War as a struggle between righteous Republicans and nefarious Nationalists. It drew on the family history of his first wife, Gabriel (they married in 1960 and she died in 1984), and on his work on his critical book Reading the Thirties (1978).

Bergonzi’s other critical books include studies of T.   S. Eliot (1972, 1980) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1977) and a history of English literature from 1939 to 1960, Wartime and Aftermath (1993). In 1990, his Exploding English gave an absorbing account of the development and current crisis of ‘English literature’ as a discipline and made the radical recommendation that cultural studies should absorb most of literary studies (including the analysis of prose fiction) and that those really keen to study literature should take a degree focusing on poetry, which Bergonzi called, in his interview in pnr 79, ‘the most intensive form of literary experience’.

In the twenty-first century, his illuminating biography A Victorian Wanderer (2003) charted the geographically and spiritually peripatetic life of Matthew Arnold’s younger brother, Thomas. Bergonzi himself remained spiritually constant but kept a low profile about his faith in his criticism, acknowledging in his pnr 79 interview that religion was ‘important’ to him but ‘somewhat private’. It is fitting that his final book, A Study in Greene (2006), brings together his Catholicism and his liberal humanism in a fine study of a Catholic convert who became a major twentieth-century novelist.

This item is taken from PN Review 232, Volume 43 Number 2, November - December 2016.

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