Wednesday, March 30, 2011

. . . und wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit? (Hölderlin, ‘Brod und Wein’)*

An extraordinary decision today by the Arts Council to cut all funding for the Poetry Book Society.

Chris Holifield, Director of the PBS, says: "We are stunned by the Arts Council decision which will impact on thousands of poetry lovers, poets and poetry publishers. We will try to find a way for the PBS to survive but its future must now be in doubt, and the poetry world and especially poetry readers will be the losers. It is ironic that an organisation set up by the Arts Council and strongly supported by our greatest poets has its future undermined by the same organisation."

You see, the Poetry Book Society was set up by the Arts Council in 1953!

"This news goes beyond shocking and touches the realms of the disgusting. The PBS was established by T S Eliot in 1953 and is one of poetry's most sacred churches with an influence and reach far beyond its membership. This fatal cut is a national shame and a scandal and I urge everyone who cares about poetry to join the PBS as a matter of urgency." Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate

* ‘. . . and who wants poets at all in lean years?’ ‘Bread and Wine’ (Michael Hamburger trans.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Finnegans Wake and the Nazis

Sylvia Beach, the American owner of the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company, recalls life under Nazi occupation in 1941:

“My German customers were always rare, but of course after I was classified as ‘the enemy’ [when America entered the war], they stopped coming altogether – until a last outstanding visit ended the series. A high-ranking German officer, who had got out of a huge grey military car, stopped to look at a copy of Finnegans Wake that was in the window.” The officer came into the shop and said to Sylvia in fluent English, “I want that copy of Finnegans Wake you’ve got in the window.” She recalled the encounter in an interview: “‘Well,’ I said, ‘that’s the only copy left in Paris, and you can’t have it . . . You don’t understand that anyhow. You don’t know Joyce.’ And he said, ‘But we admire James Joyce very much in Germany.’ He was very angry, and he went out and got into his great car, his great military car, surrounded with other fellows in helmets, and drove away.” [. . .]

Then, just after Christmas, the Wehrmacht officer who had demanded Sylvia’s copy of Finnegans Wake returned.

“He came back in about ten days, and he said, ‘Your copy of Finnegans Wake is gone from the window. What did you do with it?’ I said, ‘I’ve put it away. It’s for me.’ He was so furious. He said, ‘Well, you know, we’re coming this afternoon to confiscate all your goods.’ I said, ‘Very well. Do so.’ And he said, ‘Now will you sell Finnegans Wake?’ And I said, ‘Not at all. Come along.’ So, he disappeared in a rage, booming down the street. [. . .] I immediately had everything removed from my shop. In about two hours, there wasn’t a book left in it, not only Finnegans Wake but everything else disappeared. [. . .] I had the name Shakespeare and Company painted off the front by the house painters, who lived in the house. And the carpenters took down the shelves even. Everything was removed. And the shutters were up. The Germans must have come and saw nothing, nothing left at all. And I retired upstairs.”
from Charles Glass, Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation 1940–1944 (2010), pp.205-6.


“Ten men, ton men, pen men, pun men, wont to rise a ladder. And den men, dun men, fen men, fun men, hen men, hun men wend to raze a leader.”

from Finnegans Wake, p.278 (a reference to Hitler)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Choose Your Weapons: The British Foreign Secretary – 200 Years of Argument, Success and Failure, by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young (Phoenix)

British Foreign Secretary William Hague
This unexpectedly enjoyable book begins with Lord Castlereagh and George Canning choosing pistols for a duel on Putney Heath in 1809. Both men survived and went on to become foreign secretaries, but according to Hurd and Young, Castlereagh and Canning represent two competing approaches to British foreign policy. Castlereagh was cautious and favoured compromise, Canning was more progressive and interventionist. Should British foreign secretaries try to change the world? Yes, one might argue, if it means abolishing slavery; no, if it means, say, colluding in the overthrow of the elected government of Iran – and, of course, Blair used “humanitarian intervention” to justify invading Iraq (disaster generally follows when PMs assume the foreign secretary’s responsibilities, says Hurd). The book explores the private lives and public careers of 11 foreign secretaries from 1807 to 1956; Lord Salisbury and Ernest Bevin shine, but others in the post went about appeasing dictators, alienating allies and losing influence abroad. It’s a spry account with some vivid vignettes.

from the Guardian 05.02.11

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is this the end of Eng Lit?

"English departments have little to offer the world of business: we're not going to attract subsidies from investment banks to teach 14th-century literature, and arms companies won't buy the products of our research. We cannot compete with science and technology subjects when it comes to balance sheets and profitability. When market ideology is implemented and state funding withdrawn it is the arts and humanities that lose the most."
from the Guardian

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

The longlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is out and I'm rather proud to say I had a hand -- an editorial hand only -- in shaping two of the chosen books. I won't say which ones though! You can see the longlist here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bye, Bye Andy?

There's a wonderful formal complaint against Andrew Windsor here. Seems pretty obvious to me he should go. Expect a full investigation into these allegations. Not.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Scarce the Poor Man Can Buy a Morsel

Scarce the Poor Man Can Buy a Morsel
a poem by William Forrest (still active 1581)

The poor man to toil for two pence the day,
some while three-half-pence, or else a penny:
having wife, children and house rent to pay;
meat, cloth and fuel with the same to buy,
and much other things that be necessary,
with many a hungry meal sustaining:
Alas! maketh not this a doleful complaining?

The world is changed from that it hath been,
not to the better but to the worse far:
more for a penny we have before seen
than now for four pence, who list to compare.
This sueth the game called making or mar.
Unto the rich it maketh a great deal,
but much it marreth to the Common weal . . .

A rent to raise from twenty to fifty,
Of pounds, I mean, or shillings whether:
fining for the same unreasonably,
six times the rent; add this together,
must not the same great dearth bring hither?
for if the farmer pay fourfold double rent,
he must his ware neadys sell after that stent.

So for that ox, which hath been the like sold
for forty shillings, now taketh he five pound:
yea, seven is more, I have heard it so told;
he cannot else live, so dear is his ground;
sheep, though they never so plenty abound,
such price they bear, which shame is here to tell,
that scarce the poor man can buy a morsel.

Twopence (in beef) he cannot have served,
neither in mutton, the price is so high:
under a goat he can have none carved:
so goeth he and his to bed hungrily,
and riseth again with bellies empty;
which turneth to tawny their white English skin,
like to the swarthy coloured Fflawndrekyn.

Where they were valiant, strong, sturdy and stout
to shoot, to wrestle, to do any man’s feat,
to match all nations dwelling here about,
as hitherto manly they hold the chief seat;
if they be pinched and weaned from meat,
I wis, O king, they in penury thus penned
shall not be able thy realm to defend.

Our English nature cannot live by roots,
by water, herbs, or such beggary baggage,
that may well serve for vile outlandish coots;
give English men meat after their old usage,
beef, mutton, veal to cheer their courage;
and then I dare to this bill set my hand:
they shall defend this our noble England.
c/o A Radical Reader: The Struggle for Change in England 1381–1914 (ed., Christopher Hampton)

NB The price of basic foods rose by more than 110 per cent between 1500 and 1550