NEWS & NOTES
Compiled by Eleanor Crawforth
Poetry spat: Round Four. sir geoffrey hill (knighted for services to literature in the New Year’s Honours List) called attention to the Poet Laureate’s ease or facility with language. In his first lecture of the academic year, ‘Poetry, Policing and Public Order’, the Oxford Professor of Poetry noted Duffy’s eagerness to ‘democratise’ the art form. (The lecture was delivered at Keble College on 29 November 2011, though the Guardian and Telegraph waited until 31 January to report it; a quiet week for news.) Responding to Duffy’s suggestion that children and young people are ‘perfecting’ their poetry skills through the medium of text messaging, Hill compared Duffy’s conception of poetic language with that ‘employed by writers for Mills & Boon and by celebrity critics appearing on A Good Read or the Andrew Marr Show.’
On the London Review of Books blog on 9 January, Ian Patterson described Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about Stephen Lawrence, published in the Guardian on 6 January, as ‘embarrassingly bad’. Responses to the blog have been numerous, but none so telling as Keston Sutherland’s, which begins, ‘I’m put in mind of Gillian Rose’s essay on Schindler’s List. Rose defines in that essay a speculative identity she calls “the ultimate predator”. It is the person who is always at the top of the food chain, the person who exits intact from a spectacle of misery or injustice rigged up to cosset her, the person who exists in a prophylactic sentimental culture that filters out the really toxic realities before they get to her and who for that reason thinks that sympathy is easy and habitual and not arduous or destructive of the person she already is. The Duffy squib is a neat little example of that sort of filter.’ He then reads the poem and its creative dynamics in detail. Duffy won the Costa poetry prize in January for her latest collection, The Bees (Picador), her first since being appointed Poet Laureate in 2009.
The Lebanese-French poet vénus khoury-ghata has been awarded the Prix Goncourt de Poésie. This accolade from the Académie Goncourt recognises excellence across a poet’s body of work. Khoury-Ghata is the author of sixteen collections of poems and the recipient of many prizes, including the Prix Mallarmé
in 1987 for Monologue du mort and the Grand Prix de la Société des Gens de Lettres for Fables pour un peuple d’argile (1992). She was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government in 2000. Her selected poems, translated by Marilyn Hacker, appeared in 2009 as Alphabets of Sand (Carcanet).
Khoury-Ghata’s translator herself won the 2011 Argana International Poetry Award in January. marilyn hacker was given the prize by Morocco’s Bayt Achiir (House of Poetry). Established in 2002, each year the Argana recognises ‘poetic friendship’ between Moroccan poets and one of their international colleagues. Hacker, like Khoury-Ghata, has been much honoured. Her Essays on Departure: New and Selected Poems 1980–2005 is published by Carcanet.
On 20 March 2012, the international literature festival berlin (ilb) will host a reading for the imprisoned Chinese writer and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize liu xiaobo. Poet, critic and political activist Liu has been in detention for more than three years, after he and other intellectuals wrote and published the civil rights manifesto Charta 08. The event, intended to highlight Liu’s plight to a broader public, will feature readings of the Charta 08 and poems by Liu. So far the petition against his arrest has been signed by writers from all continents, among them Amir Hassan Cheheltan (Iran), Noam Chomsky (USA), Bei Dao (China), Ariel Dorfman (Chile), Herta Müller (Romania/Germany), Amos Oz (Israel), Salman Rushdie (India/UK), Peter Schneider (Germany) and Janne Teller (Denmark). The organisers of the Berlin reading encourage groups and institutions across the globe to host similar events on 20 March. Visit www.literaturfestival.com or email worldwidereading@ literaturfestival.com to inform the ilb of other Liu events or pledge support.
The winning entries in the 2011 Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize for the translation of Russian poetry into English are now available to read at www.stephenspender.org. Judged by poets Sasha Dugdale and Paul Muldoon, and Catriona Kelly, Professor of Russian at Oxford University, the prize celebrates the long friendship between Brodsky and Spender and the rich tradition of Russian poetry. Joseph Brodsky (1940–96) received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987 and, like Spender, served as Poet Laureate of the United States. Carcanet published
Brodsky’s Collected Poems in English in 2001; his essential prose writings were recently reissued as Less Than One: Selected Essays by Penguin Modern Classics. The Times Stephen Spender Prize, which invites translations of poems into English from any language, classical or modern, is open for entries until 1 June 2012. This year’s judges are Susan Bassnett, Edith Hall, Patrick McGuinness and George Szirtes. The 2012 Brodsky translation prize will accept entries between April and the end of August 2012.
john ashbery has received a lifetime achievement award from the US National Book Foundation. The 2011 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters was awarded in recognition of his achievements as a poet. Previous recipients include Toni Morrison, John Updike, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston and Gore Vidal. It joins Ashbery’s Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and National Book Critics’ Circle Award and dozens of other awards on his metaphorical mantelshelf.
christopher logue, dubbed the ‘Alexander Pope of our day’, has died aged 85. His colourful life included military service, two spells in prison and several suicide attempts, as well as periods spent working as a playwright, screenwriter and actor. From modest beginnings in Portsmouth, he grew up with a romantic view of military life, enlisting young and serving as a soldier in the Black Watch. During action in Palestine he was arrested and court-martialled for stealing; he spent sixteen months in an army prison. Bored by post-war London, in 1951 he left for Paris where he joined an expat literary community that included the Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi. His literary activities included writing for the film director Ken Russell and for the Royal Court in London, and a highlight of his acting career was a performance as the spaghetti-eating fanatic in Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky (1977). Logue was a long-term contributor to Private Eye. As a political activist, he protested with Bertrand Russell against nuclear weapons. He collaborated on jazz projects and on loose adaptations of Pablo Neruda’s love poems. His poem ‘Be Not Too Hard’ was set to music by Donovan, heard in the film Poor Cow (1967) and made popular by Joan Baez on her eponymous 1967 album. Logue wrote for the Olympia Press under the pseudonym Count Palmiro Vicarion, notably a pornographic novel, Lust. He published an autobiography titled
News & Notes