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This item is taken from PN Review 233, Volume 43 Number 3, January - February 2017.

With this issue PN Review announces the appointment of its first artist in (virtual) residence, the American composer Michael Hersch.

This eccentric development is the result of a reading and concert celebrating the life and work of Christopher Middleton at St Saviour’s Church, St George’s Square, London, on 28 May 2016. Michael’s a tower in air for soprano and horn (with Ah Young Hong and Michael Atkinson), containing lines from Middleton’s poetry, was premiered, along with sections from his sonata The Vanishing Pavilions, also grounded in the poetry.

Described by Andrew Clark in the Financial Times as ‘one of the most fertile musical minds to emerge in the U.S. over the past generation’, Michael will work with PN Review to create a musical commission including poetry. The beginning of his residency is marked by Marius Kociejowski’s feature in these pages, and will chart Michael’s course over the coming years, with wider attention to connections between contemporary music and poetry. This ‘natural musical genius who continues to surpass himself’ (Tim Page, Washington Post) will visit Europe during his residency, and events will be organised around him.

Born in Washington D.C. in 1971, Michael came to international attention aged twenty-five when he received the Concordia American Composers Award. He is one of the youngest ever recipients of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition. He was also awarded the Prix de Rome, the Berlin Prize and the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been performed around the world under distinguished conductors including Mariss Jansons, Alan Gilbert and Marin Alsop. He has written for soloists including Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Thomas Hampson and Midori. His solo and chamber works are performed around the globe – from the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in the United States to Germany’s Schloss Neuhardenberg Festival in Brandenburg and the Philharmonie in Berlin; from Dartington New Music Festival to Italy’s Romaeuropa and Nuova Consonanza Festivals and Japan’s Pacific Music Festival. Michael is a most welcome presence in PNR.


We also mark in this issue, with a supplement, the eightieth birthday of the poet John Fuller. In an age in which Creative Writing programmes sometimes seem to bankroll foundering English departments, how is it that Oxford, without (until lately) a formal Creative Writing offering, has produced so many outstanding contemporary poets (and novelists), a disproportionate number having come through Magdalen College? One answer is to be found in Magdalen’s long-lived Florio Society, now open to the wider university, and its quondam English Fellow John Fuller, an Augustan spirit, who continues to attend the Society.

Even half a century ago, when I was an undergraduate at a different college, John Fuller was at work. His little hand press, the Sycamore Press, located in John’s garage, was starting to turn out booklets and broadsheets that have marked a dozen important debuts. The debutants typeset, guillotined, folded and sewed their own and one another’s verses. John was editing Auden and writing poems, a quiet and significant figure who continues animating a new – a fourth – generation of writers, ensuring that their engagement with English poetry in all its kinds and periods is a mainspring of their creative enterprise. His wry, critically encouraging example flows so contrary to the dominant currents of the age, and so effective has been his creative challenge, as teacher, editor, poet and poetic collaborator (collaboration is one of his chief creative and pedagogic activities, the pedagogy running in both directions), that it is hard to imagine how British poetry could have coped without him.

Here’s to his next eighty years!


‘She was intensely private and though she died – apparently a few days ago in Illinois – of recurrent illness, there was no chatter at all about it,’ Eavan Boland wrote to me of the death in October of Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1951–2016). It was Eavan who recommended her work to this magazine, where we featured in 2007 and 2008 a dozen of her major poems, and Carcanet published her two American collections in a single volume, Poems: Song and The Orchard, in 2008. We were surprised that her death passed with so little notice. In my view, she is a figure whose small oeuvre belongs on the shelf reserved for the work of Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, two equally careful, equally troubled writers.

‘I admired her so much,’ Eavan wrote. ‘Occasionally I wished she were more in the world of publication/presence/exposure. I feared she wouldn’t publish more and would become – and in a way she did – the hermetic figure which was always in her heart. […] When I think of her work I like to think of “Three Cows and the Moon” best – the poem at the end of Song. It has an expansive, pastoral ease in the world that isn’t always in the more gothic poems. And it breathes with a sort of happiness I always felt she didn’t have enough of. […] She was a poet’s poet’s poet and I will miss her greatly.’

As Eavan suggests, there is a sort of justice in the media’s neglect of Kelly’s passing. She’s in a class of her own, which is where she wanted to be, as little as possible trammeled by contemporary nostrums. Her prosody is inventive and brilliant, her diction scrupulously woven, of a piece. Her sense of a human condition in which evil is a real, contending force, colours the work: deeply Christian but with a Redeemer so retiring that He often counts as an absence. In her world a mother raises her children, creatures suffer, and the beauties of creation are exquisite and sometimes unbearable. The poems remind us how serious poetry can be, even if it is smiling, how much it can demand of the writer and give the attentive reader. 

This item is taken from PN Review 233, Volume 43 Number 3, January - February 2017.

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