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PN Review 249
Featured Article Picture of Don Share
Whitman at 200 Ventures on an Old Theme Don Share This is the text of Don Share’s keynote lecture on the last day (24 May) of the ‘Whitman 200’ conference held at the University of Bolton.


‘So you want an essay about American National Literature, do you? Well, if you will let me put down some melanged cogitations regarding the matter, haphazard, and from my own points of view I will try.’ Thus Walt Whitman, introducing a talk on both American literature and his own work, which he saw as the blueprint for American poetry to come. Now that it has been 200 years since his birth, here are a few gathered thoughts about us, his American heirs and readers.

When my predecessor, Poetry’s founding editor Harriet Monroe, created not only a monthly magazine for contemporary poetry but the idea of a monthly magazine for contemporary poetry over a century ago, she was following in the bootheels of Walt Whitman, who arguably created the idea of contemporary poetry itself. In Whitman’s time, as well as hers, contemporary, even modern, poetry was not on any school curriculum either in the United States or UK. There was not yet, as Monroe put it, a place for contemporary poetry as there surely was for the opera, symphony, modern and other art, and cinema. She created that place in 1912, and when her first issue was published in October of that year, and in others for years to come, Poetry carried a motto, sometimes on the title page, more often on the magazine’s back cover, which consisted of a curious and contrarian sentence written by Walt Whitman: ‘To have ... read more
A Baroque Imagination
Kirsty Gunn I’ve always loved a remark Muriel Spark makes about novels, in a lecture she gave to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1970, describing them as part of a tradition ‘of socially conscious art’ that should not be doing our thinking for us. ‘For what happens when the sympathies and indignations of a modern audience are aroused by a novel of the kind to which I have referred?’ she says. ‘I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that a great number of the readers feel that their moral responsibilities are sufficiently fulfilled.’ Nearly fifty years later, her words are a reminder that long form fiction is not there to serve some sort of socially ameliorative function – to answer to agendas, feed quotas or reflect right-on attitudes – but might be put to better use helping us to think, actually, and use our imaginations.

Poems, ... read more
on Ken Smith Among Strangers and Distances
Sean O'Brien Ken Smith, Collected Poems (Bloodaxe), 647pp, £14.99


IN 1978, KEN SMITH (1938–2003) was the first poet to be published by Bloodaxe; it is fitting, then, that the publication of his Collected Poems marked Bloodaxe’s fortieth anniversary. It is a cause for celebration, although, as we know, most poetry does not survive its authors. Secondhand bookshops offer an object lesson in hopes which have been not simply disappointed but obliterated. I don’t think either of these things has happened to the work of Ken Smith, but he seems not to have as wide a readership his work deserves. He may have to be introduced to younger readers. For some of them the world he occupied may seem more like an interesting allegation than an actual passage of history in which, among other things, the grim conditions of the present were created and ... read more
Also in the magazine... Kei MillerSometimes I consider the names of places Kyoo LeeA Close-up On U, The Reader InOutside Marjorie PerloffMicroreading / Microwriting John McAuliffeCity of Trees Tara BerginFive Poems Jo DavisTwo Poems
Selected from the Archive...
in conversation with Natalia Ginzburg Tim Parks After a hopeless night in a couchette the train was two hours late arriving. I had to rush across a Rome I don't know to get to my appointment on time. My tape recorder had already decided not to work and I was relieved. My motive, anyway, in arranging this interview had been more to have an excuse to meet a writer whose work I admire than to achieve a journalistic scoop, and tape recorders are embarrassing. Thus the interview was noted down immediately afterwards between showers of spring rain on the steps of Piazza di Spagna.

Ginzburg was not disappointing. Small, white-haired, bright-eyed and modestly dressed, she met me in her office at the publishers Einaudi. Forthright in general and self-effacing as far as her own work was concerned, she was quick to say she didn't know as ... read more
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