English PEN reported that the Burmese poet zarganar was released on 12 October as part of an amnesty for some 2,000 political prisoners. Zarganar (Maung Thura) was handed a 59-year sentence in 2008 after criticising the Burmese junta’s poor aid response after Cyclone Nargis. English PEN campaigned relentlessly for his release, with a rally in Trafalgar Square and ‘poetry protests’ at the Burmese Embassy in London. The organisation sent thousands of letters and cards to Zarganar during his imprisonment. PEN co-hosted the first Burmese Arts Festival in 2010, at which Zarganar’s work was featured. In 2009 the inaugural PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage was awarded to Zarganar by Tony Harrison.
In a double celebration, glasses were raised to the 200th issue of PN Review at the vibrant Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury, London, on the evening of 12 September, and at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on 8 September 2011. At the London event, the Lady Gavron, Carcanet’s and PN Review’s Chairman, spoke about the place and purpose of the magazine; Michael Schmidt issued a roll call of thanks and spoke of the duty of resistance that falls to any independent literary magazine. There were brief and eloquent readings by two longtime contributors, Stanley Moss and Marilyn Hacker, and three more recent arrivals, poets Oli Hazzard, Will Eaves and Tara Bergin. It was a memorable evening which the Economist celebrated on its blog. ‘The cartoons,’ Schmidt commented, ‘from Hogarth to Marc [not forgetting the Museum’s brilliant current exhibition Doctor Who in Comics 1964–2011], kept the celebrations firmly grounded in the real social and natural world where poetry, however high it climbs, is always rooted.’ The Manchester celebration included a lecture by poet, PNR contributor and Booker-longlisted novelist Patrick McGuiness on Donald Davie, who for some years co-edited the magazine with C.H. Sisson and Michael Schmidt, and a New Editors’ Forum featuring Carol Rumens (Guardian), Rory Waterman (New Walk magazine), James Byrne (The Wolf) and John McAuliffe (The Manchester Review). The Arts Council’s Alison Boyle welcomed the work of PN Review and spoke about the Arts Council’s place in the straitened, challenging world of independent literary journals. Subscribers can access the full archive of the magazine at www.pnreview.co.uk.
The Jury of the Laudomia Bonanni International Award has given its 2011 prize to Irish poet john f. deane. The eponymous award is in memory of an Italian writer born in 1907 in L’Aquila who achieved international renown as a children’s author and essayist. The beautiful medieval town of L’Aquila in central Italy is the capital of the Abruzzo (the country of Gabriele D’Annunzio), a region severely damaged by earthquake in 2009. The award consists of a generous purse and a visit to L’Aquila for the presentation. Previous recipients include the Arabic poet Adonis, Derek Walcott, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Edoardo Sanguineti and the Japanese writer Takano. John F. Deane’s most recent poetry collection is Eye of the Hare (Carcanet, 2011).
Everything is going kay ryan’s way these days. And she is coming our way. The popular and distinctive American poet, whose selected and new poems Odd Blocks has just been published by Carcanet, received one of this year’s MacArthur Fellowships (half a million dollars over five years). ‘Independent from schools of poetry and literary fashion,’ the citation says, ‘her mode of expression is a disarmingly clear and accessible style, characterized by concision, rhyme, wordplay, and wit.’ The former American laureate received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry earlier this year. She is touring Britain in early November, with readings at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, London’s Southbank Centre, Edinburgh’s Scottish Poetry Library and elsewhere.
The poet, diarist and long-time PNR contributor r.f. langley was posthumously awarded the 2011 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem on 5 October (British National Poetry Day). Langley died in January this year at the age of 72. His widow Barbara accepted the prize on his behalf. His winning poem, ‘To a Nightingale’, was originally published in the London Review of Books; his poetry, including Collected Poems (2000) and his 2007 collection, The Face of It, are published by Carcanet. The chairman of the judges Andrew Motion described the poem as ‘a masterclass in precision’. Playing off Keats, it recounts an observational journey through nature: ‘Red mites bowling / about on the baked lichen’; the ‘Purring of two turtle doves’; ‘Caterpillars which / curl up as questions marks’. Langley’s friend J.H. Prynne read ‘To a Nightingale’ at his memorial.
Neil Powell remembers Herbert Lomas: herbert lomas, who died on 9 September at the age of 87, was a more serious poet than he seemed and a finer one than his reputation suggests. His wartime university education at Liverpool was interrupted by three years in the army, mostly in India, after which he graduated with a First and an MA. He taught in Greece and, for ten years, at the University of Helsinki, before becoming Principal Lecturer at Borough Road College (now part of Brunel University). By then in his forties, he became a regular contributor of poems and reviews to Alan Ross’s London Magazine and in 1969 he published his slender first collection, Chimpanzees are Blameless Creatures. Other more substantial books followed, including Private and Confidential (1974), Fire in the Garden (1984), Trouble (1992), A Useless Passion (1998) and The Vale of Todmorden (2003). The last two titles contain substantial sequences about his wartime experiences and about the Pennine town in which he grew up; a third sequence, ‘Death of a Horsewoman’, memorialises his wife Mary, who died after a riding accident in 1994. All these, together with unpublished work, were gathered into a handsome 400-page Collected Poems, called A Casual Knack of Living (Arc, 2009). He was also a prolific translator from the Finnish and the editor of Contemporary Finnish Poetry (1991).
I crossed swords with Bertie when he fiercely reviewed an early book of mine in the London Magazine: I wrote a spiky letter, he wrote a spiky reply. He was clearly a cussed sod, a kindred spirit: I knew we’d get on. So we did, when for ten years I lived near him in Aldeburgh, often meeting by chance on Crag Path or in the High Street. He looked like a pub man, but wasn’t: his parents had kept one in Todmorden and it had put him off the places. Our last sustained encounter was at the grand annual lunch-and-reading of the Suffolk Poetry Society in 2006, he as chairman and I as a competition judge: it’s the kind of occasion that can be tiresome, but Bertie – generous, funny and attentive to everyone – made it a pleasure. He liked ‘lightness of touch’, as he says in the Preface to A Casual Knack of Living. Casual or not, he had a knack of living, and he loved to share it.
Charles North remembers the American poet Paul Violi: paul violi (1944–2011), who brought an inventive wit, a sharp satirical spirit, and a variety of new forms to American poetry, died at 66 of cancer in April.
PN Review 202 Violi grew up on Long Island, studied English literature and art history at Boston University, and upon graduating did map completion and survey work for the Peace Corps in Nigeria. Back in the US, he worked for WCBS TV and served as Managing Editor for Architectural Forum from 1972 to 1974. In 1970 he had begun to frequent The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, becoming part of what came to be known as the Second Generation of New York School poets; in 1978 he was the Project’s Interim Director. He also chaired the Museum of Modern Art Associate Council Poetry Committee. For the last three decades, Violi was a busy and popular university teacher. At the time of his illness, he was teaching in the graduate writing program at The New School and in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
Comic lists drawn from everyday life were a Violi speciality: the call of a horserace, a TV schedule, a ‘Police Blotter’, an index to an imaginary book. One of his best known poems, ‘King Nasty’, is a biting monologue in the form of a ‘movie treatment’ for an execution during the Reign of Terror. He also wrote in a lyrical vein. As difficult as it is to be taken seriously as a comic poet, Violi achieved that. His readings drew enthusiastic audiences in the US and UK. He received the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two National
Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts grant.
Poetry and Motions
Sir: I have just perused your editorial in PNR 201 and, if my memory is not playing me false, I think you were briefly a member of the General Council of the Poetry Society in the 1970s. Of course, as you delicately hint, the current row was brought on by disagreements over Poetry Review, as were the rows in 1949 and in 1976. All of them resulted in the membership or factions of the membership seeking a coup, the most successful being the first when Muriel Spark was summarily dismissed as editor of Poetry Review following a putsch led by Dr Marie Stopes, whose poetry I do not know, but whose other work I am acquainted with after finding a manual on intimacy with one’s partner in my paternal grandfather’s effects after his death. Dr Stopes was subsequently on the General Council, briefly making a final appearance at the AGM in May 1950. The Report of the AGM in the July–August 1950 issue of Poetry Review records that she ‘spoke to her motions’, but on being overruled on the second, when she attempted to amend her motion without the requisite twenty-eight days’ notice, she left the meeting, so that she could not speak on her third. All her motions were eminently sensible and were adopted in some form later, but by all accounts she was overbearing and bossy and had made enemies. Her exit foreshadowed the exits of the British Poetry Revival Group on the General Council in 1976, when they made what they thought was a strategic withdrawal, and the shambolic resignations of the current Trustees. Like Dr Stopes, they discovered nobody wished their return.
I attended performances of Bob Cobbing from the British Poetry Revival when he was alive and have had the privilege of reading the work of Alan Jenkins, who was one of the Trustees who resigned in the latest teapot tempest, but I have yet to find a parallel in their work with that of Dr Stopes. Perhaps, if I place recordings of Cobbing’s explorations of the roots of language and Jenkins’ ruminations on social mores at the end of the twentieth century in a box with the more perfervid of the love letters I received from the amoureuses of my youth and one or two extremely private trinkets, my appalled grandchildren will draw wholly misleading conclusions.
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