selected letters 1994

Wednesday October 19th 1994

Dear R

Here's the three notes for the contents. I have sent by Swiftair the requests for permission for Reznikoff and Rothenberg, including the full works to show the contexts of quotes. To Black Sparrow I have pointed out that the essay is a work done by a poet out of love for Reznikoff's work and in the hope that people will read him: ie it is not a scripted career move by a salaried academic. I will phone Black Sparrow at the beginning of the week in California to see how that is faring. Jerome Rothenberg knows the people at the press I think so I've asked him to put in a word for me if it gets difficult.

Thanks very much for the script and the suite of books. As a whole the latter seem nicely to combine the tradition of the Cape Pocket books of the seventies with a certain unashamedly literary paperback tradition I associate with eg Penguin New Writers of the late forties and others of the early fifties. It's something to do with the colour range, though the texture declares them contemporary. It's a distinct identity.

I wonder if you would be interested for them in the new work that Gerrie Fellowes has been doing. She was one of the "five women poets" I invited to Bell College in September. Her book Technologies published by Polygon showed technical skill and her growing ability to write of landscape. But her new long poem, still in manuscript, in which she describes a return to the New Zealand of her childhood, is I think both a much more ambitious and a much more achieved work. It presents a personal recollection and description of a return to the places where she lived the first twelve years of her life, together with an imaginative recreation of the history of her Scottish predecessors there, and especially the "unrecorded" of the histories. It's the sort of thing that thematically could be a contemporary cliche, but in her hands it's extremely skilful and sensitive. She's not wholly finished, and had been thinking of Bloodaxe but I thought I would mention the work to yourself in case you want to ask for a look.

Thanks for being decent about my plaints. I will look up the letter to William Plomer to see if I ought to be outraged or flattered.


Wednesday December 28th 1994

Dear K

You maybe remember my enthusing to you about the translations by Dom Sylvester Houedard of Ernesto Cardenal's Spanish translations ( a Russian doll of a sentence this) of the Psalms. Dom Sylvester - I think I've shown or given you some of his contemplative typewriter-abstracts - died about a year ago. Cardenal ( I remember mentioning him in relation to your work in my review in The Herald) was the Jesuit Minister of Culture in the Sandanista government 1979-89, though you probably know that. Peter Manson who used to come to my Glasgow University writers' group now runs a quarterly, very formally progressive, poetry magazine called Object Permanence. He plans to include these previously unpublished translations in a June issue of the magazine; he obtained them from Hayden Murphy, who knew Dom Sylvester well and wrote his obituary for the Guardian. I heard some of them when Dom Sylvester came to a festival I organised at the then Third Eye Centre in 1978. I thought you'd like a copy of them.

Thanks for the letter with your card. I hope your forthcoming twelvemonth is at least as rewarding as the last evidently was. I like your Ireland peace poem. It reminds me very much of a poem I never wrote, which I wished I had, very much, but felt I didn't have quite enough information, because an encounter was cut short.

It was when Sonya and I were in Galway town last summer, and we were in a bar at the central square, I think now called Kennedy Square. The bar was in a hotel, a Gaelic speaking place, bustling with women with shopping bags who would come in and wait on the next bus with or without a drink, pubmen sitting around, children running up and down, cups of coffee and tea in among the pints. At the bar I asked for a drink for myself and Sonya, but the barman thought I had asked for something I hadn't. They won't understand your Glasgow accent here, said a bloke sitting on the stool at the bar, on his own. He was very friendly, told me he really liked Glasgow, then explained that he was a former Linfield footballer in Belfast, who had got a trial with Glasgow Rangers, then a place in their reserves. But he had got homesick, and went home. He had apparently been quite a big noise in his day with Linfield - the notorious (to my childhood culture) Linfield, who had put Belfast Celtic out of business while their supporters attacked Belfast Celtic players, and the RUC/ B Specials had looked on. I felt a strong instinctive kinship with this guy, two outsiders in this Gaelic Catholic pub, I'd very happily have sat there a while and had a good crack and a drink. Anyway: some poems come through, and some don't. The poem "To my brother in Ireland - an anecdote" never had enough to get it there, and to force it would have made it a sentimentality, like one of those Symbolic Social Significance poems that schools thrive on, and make me want to boke. But I wish I had been able to have had a longer talk with him, with or without a poem.

I will be in Northern Ireland this summer as it happens, Michael and Edna Longley have invited me to their July summer school somewhere in the glens of Antrim. I append one poem that did come through a few weeks ago, I suppose a myth of revolutionary circumstances, in sundry fields.



I apologise for the fact that my being on holiday has meant that I have been unable to reply sooner as referee to Bobby Christie, who has applied for admission to the Diploma Course in Writing. He would make an excellent student on the course, of that I am certain. I have known him personally and as a writer for ten years. He is of independent mind, an independence substantially gained I am sure from having earned his living since leaving school without going through the university phase, whilst remaining throughout a keen reader and writer. He has always been eager to extend his experience of life, a life he nearly lost after contracting malaria on a trip through Africa for which he had saved up while working as a glazier. But, the important thing was that he not only survived but he emerged with his fine book of poems,Transit Visa. Not that he is someone "who wanted some experience" to tip into the jug of his verse. His achievement in producing the poems in this book was more precisely to do with the formal progress he had made over a decade of writing, and booklet publishing. He's a listener, and a dispassionate studier of other people's techniques: his own opinion is now much respected, and rightly, in the writers' group he sometimes attends, and which I was asked to chair for a season last winter. I have seen in manuscript a recent sequence of unpublished poems: poems, some of which I like very much, which bring together "moments" of friendship, moments of sexual happiness, and moments of political disclosure, of anger and perception. His political and artistic commitment are total: it was appropriate that if there had only to be one festival in Britain which commemmorated the twentieth anniversary of Neruda's death last year, it was Bobby Christie who organised it. I won't go on further about his work as editor of anthologies, sufficient to say that he rejects much as well as accepts, and that he has provided necessary space for others besides himself to have their voices heard. In sum I admire Mr Christie as a writer and as one always trying to learn more, which therefore makes it not wholly surprising that he should have applied for this course.

[Undated though among the 1994 letters on my hard disk. Bobby read and published as  part of the Itinerant Poets in Paisley in the 1980's, a group which included Jim Ferguson, Graham Fulton, Margaret Fulton Cook. He set up the Neruda Press and still writes.]




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