Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Paul Celan (1920–70)



‘Craft means handiwork, a matter of hands. And these hands must belong to one person, i.e., a unique, mortal soul searching for its way with its voice and its dumbness. Only truthful hands write true poems. I cannot see any basic difference between a handshake and a poem.’
Letter to Hans Bender, 1960

‘A poem, being an instance of language, hence essentially dialogue, may be a letter in a bottle thrown out to sea with the – surely not always strong – hope that it may somehow wash up somewhere, perhaps on a shoreline of the heart. In this way, too, poems are en route: they are headed toward.
Toward what? Toward something open, inhabitable, an approachable you, perhaps, an approachable reality.
Such realities are, I think, at stake in a poem.’

‘Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen’, 1958

Paul Celan [tr. Rosmarie Waldrop, Collected Prose (Carcanet)]






Monday, November 22, 2010

Frank O'Hara on the air

Lunch Poems, a light-hearted programme on Frank O'Hara, was on BBC Radio 4 last night, fronted by Paul Farley. It includes a poignant interview with John Ashbery. You can hear it again here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters by Louis Begley (Yale University Press)


In 1894 the French artillery captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason and imprisoned on Devil's Island. For Devil's Island read Guantánamo Bay, says the novelist and lawyer Louis Begley, who uncovers numerous parallels between l'affaire Dreyfus and "the Bush-Cheney heritage of trampling on America's international obligations under both the Geneva conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture while at the same time evading or violating the laws and constitution of the United States". Everyone has a right to a fair trial, he argues, but, just as Dreyfus was a victim of anti-Semitism, so many Guantánamo detainees are victims of anti-Islamism. In France, the liberal establishment exposed the military conspiracy that had imprisoned an innocent man; in America, Begley observes, "journalists dedicated to exposing the abuses of the Bush administration", as well as federal judges, military and civilian lawyers and law professors, took it upon themselves to defend the Guantánamo detainees. "They have redeemed the honour of the nation."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Music of Our Times

'In a credit crisis, J. H. Prynne’s poetry may – like it or not – be most fully and restlessly the music of our times.'
Robert Potts in the Times Literary Supplement (he also mentions the Cambridge Literary Review)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Culture crunch (cont.)


'Most funded poetry organisations will be forced to cut their programme and poetry publishers will have to cut their lists. They will cut out the more financially risky or onerous work, because that's what it makes sense to do, and this means that the more established poets will continue to be published. Getting a first collection taken on by a publisher is going to be more difficult than ever though, and poets may have to think hard about alternative ways of building their careers, such as submission to print and online magazines, unpaid readings and even self-publishing.'
Chris Holifield, Director of the Poetry Book Society

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Royal wedding? No thanks


There are times when I find this country utterly incomprehensible . . .

I’ve no idea why the media is so excited about William Windsor (above) announcing he is to get married.

Fortunately, Graham Smith of Republic is on hand to bring some sanity to proceedings and to put the whole thing in context:

“I'm sure this is very happy news for those who know the couple, but it is a private matter and we mustn't see the government wasting limited resources paying for a major set-piece event.

William is not the head of state, there is no guarantee he will ever be head of state. This is a private occasion which I'm sure the palace will want to milk for maximum PR effect. It is not for the taxpayer to pay for any part of this event, the Windsors must cough up.

Inevitably there will be additional security arrangements for the wedding, but that must be paid for by the Windsor family from their own personal fortunes, not by taxpayers who are experiencing sweeping spending cuts.

If people are being told to tighten their belts, if the government is making thousands unemployed, if welfare payments are being slashed, it would be sickening for the government to allow a single penny more to be spent on the royals at this time.

Spending public money on this wedding or affording it any special status would be no more appropriate than if it were Ed Miliband's wedding. This is a private occasion.

We are certain the palace spin doctors will be working overtime to use this opportunity to their advantage. Republic today makes this pledge to do all it can to counter that PR campaign and continue to push the case for a modern and democratic institution in place of the monarchy.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Culture Crunch (cont.)


It’s as if we are attempting to socially engineer these troublesome thinkers and questioning creatives out of existence.
“Education is important to society as a whole, not just to the individual. To remove public funding for the study of subjects such as English, history and philosophy would be to deny their public value and the enrichment they provide to our culture through the stimulation of creativity and original thought, and to define a subject as only of any inherent worth if it has an obvious financial value. Passing the costs on to students through increased tuition fees would put a great many people off going to university, particularly those where no one else in their family has been before . . . Many would increasingly be unable to afford to value education for it’s own sake, putting the arts, humanities and social sciences out of reach and forcing decisions increasingly based on anticipated financial return. A civilised society values knowledge in and of itself. It’s as if we are attempting to socially engineer these troublesome thinkers and questioning creatives out of existence.”

Comedian Stewart Lee getting serious on the NUS website

Stand with Sakineh

 Sakineh Ashtiani 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Culture crunch (cont.)


'The poetry publishing network will be wrecked, and the publishing opportunities for new writers will be severely affected by the loss or cutting back of some of the key imprints.'
Neil Astley, founder of Bloodaxe Books 
(taken from the Comments stream of this depressing article)

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Eitingons: A Twentieth-Century Story, by Mary-Kay Wilmers (Faber)

Much of this beautifully written family memoir concerns Leonid Eitingon (1899–1981), a terrifying figure who joined the Cheka in 1920 and later went about enthusiastically “liquidating” Stalin’s enemies, even helping to organise Trotsky's murder. More palatable, perhaps, are Max (1881–1943) and Motty (1885–1956). A Zionist psychoanalyst, Max befriended Sigmund Freud (although Jung called Max “an impotent gasbag”) and he established an institute of psychoanalysis in Palestine in the 1930s; Motty became a multimillionaire by importing furs to the US in the 40s. But were the FBI’s doubts about Motty simply cold war paranoia? And was Max involved in the kidnapping of a White Russian general? Plenty of questions remain unanswered, but Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor of the London Review of Books, makes a virtue of this uncertainty as she investigates her mother’s family. It is the journey rather than the destination that matters. This enjoyable book is a little like an LRB article: leisurely, knowledgeable, full of fascinating nuggets and a tad overlong.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Battlestar Galactica


Finally, I watched the last episode of the final season of Battlestar Galactica (the reimagined TV series from 2003 to 2009, not the 1970s series). If you value your time, do not buy the three-hour miniseries that began it all or you will be sucked in and become an addict. Addiction is the only way to describe it, I think.

Endings are hard to get right on long-running series, and as the Lost finale demonstrated, the writers can sometimes get it hopelessly wrong, ruining any lingering respect one might have had for the show. Thankfully, this is not how I felt at the end of Battlestar Galactica. The writers got it about as right as they ever could, I think, given the complexity of the plot.

Battlestar Galactica never made it to terrestrial TV in the UK and people raise their eyebrows when I tell them it is magnificent television. But don’t take my word for it. I first took notice of the show because of Ron Silliman’s enthusiastic posts, comments such as “Battlestar Galactica was not only the best sci-fi program ever on television, one could argue that it was the most well-conceived, written & acted series in US TV history. Using the hokey old premise of robots-turn-on-man & the idea of a displaced civilization in search of a home, they produced the TV equivalent of King Lear. Or Moby Dick.”

But be warned, if you are tempted to read Ron’s blog: there are spoilers aplenty in his later posts, and one of the great pleasures of Battlestar Galactica is never knowing what will happen next . . . And yes, I am aware there's a prequel, Caprica, but I really need to get my life back!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bridport Prize 2010


To Bridport at the weekend for the Bridport Prize. Lots of fun people there. My thanks to Michael Laskey for choosing my poem ‘Suggestions for Further Reading’ and to Zoë Heller for her good humour, and to all the nice people I met.

All of the winning poems and stories are in the anthology, which you can purchase here (requires login) or here.

And that’s quite enough of that.