Posts Tagged ‘Paul Muldoon’

Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” on its own: Does it work? The jury deliberates…

Monday, July 23rd, 2012
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Some time ago we wrote about Sam Gwynn (a.k.a. the poet R.S. Gwynn) and his newest venture:

Ron Rosenbaum, writing in Slateannounces the next hot Nabokov controversy, and the story is making the rounds in the blogosphere.  The poem “Pale Fire” is about to be liberated from Pale Fire. The 900-line poem at the center of what many call Vladimir Nabokov‘s finest novel, written presumably by the murdered John Shade, will be published separately by Ginkgo Press:  “Nabokov wrote it, and the question of why he wrote it and who he modeled Shade on is the subject of what will be an equally controversial essay accompanying the edition, by poet and poetry professor R.S. Gwynn.”

David Orr‘s New York Times review writes that the the long poems comes in “an almost ridiculously lovely package”: “the poem itself is printed in a small booklet, the note cards upon which Shade ‘wrote’ the poem are recreated (complete with faux ink stains), and an accompanying critical text contains helpful essays from the Nabokov scholar Brian Boyd and the poetry critic R. S. Gwynn (who makes a smart case for Nabokov having used couplets partly as a response to Robert Lowell’s early work).”

“But does it work? Can the poem ‘Pale Fire’ exist without the novel Pale Fire? [You see, contra Josh Landy, here is where the Chicago Manual comes in handy. The finky New York Times style italicizes “Pale Fire” both as poem and novel. I have corrected the ugliness. – ED.]
There are reasons to think it cannot. In a New Yorker blog post last year, Paul Muldoon conceded that ‘Pale Fire’ is ‘a quite wonderful poem,’ but he asked, ‘Isn’t it like one of those tall buildings which incorporates in its core the very crane that raised it?'”

Sam at the helm

What can I say.  I wanted to reach out across the continent, shake them both, and cry out:  ” Dr. Zhivago!  What of the poems of Yuri Zhivago in Doctor Zhivago?” They’ve been published separately for years and years and years.

“I’m very fond of Pasternak’s poems from Doctor Zhivago,” Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky told Solomon Volkov. “They’re remarkable poems, especially ‘Christmas Star.’ I think of them often.”  No talk of buildings and cranes here.

However, Orr continues:  “This is beautifully put, but there is another way to look at things. When authors write ‘as’ a character, particularly in a third-person novel, we usually understand that the text created by that character is subordinate to the world in which the character exists. In Persuasion, for example, Jane Austen brings the novel to its emotional peak with a letter written by Frederick Wentworth — which we understand is really written by Austen and dependent for its resonance on the world of Anne Elliot, the Musgroves, Lady Russell and the rest. It’s hard to imagine anyone reading the letters of Frederick Wentworth for their own sake … In general, the writing of fictional characters is dependent on the larger work, and it is the larger work that reflects the author’s worldview.”

Orr makes a bigger point, about the lyrical “I,” which is a mask and the poet at once.  “There is obviously great potential for confusion as to who is saying what in this arrangement,” he writes.  I’m not quite sure why it matters at all.  In the end, he rather concludes the same: “No poem is ever on its own. And the poem is not Nabokov’s any more than it is John Shade’s. ‘Pale Fire’ is a voice within a voice — a mirrored and thoroughly modern sensibility. And that sensibility, whatever name we give it, is one hell of a poet.”

On the other hand, Booktryst’s Stephen Gertz has a two-year-old bone to pick with Rosenbaum and Gingko Press, publisher of the new “stand-alone” edition of the poem “Pale Fire”:

There’s just one problem. The poem ‘Pale Fire’ was “freed from the shackles..free at last to be a poem on its own,” extracted from the novel and published in its first separate edition in 1994, by Arion Press in San Francisco.

Like the Gingko edition, it’s reproduced just as Nabokov described it in the novel – on file cards.  Read the rest here.

Russian translators get a shot at the Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize and Ms. magazine celebrates its 40th with an essay contest

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
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Two recent emails, alerting me to two very different kinds of literary contests:

1. The first commemorates the long friendship between Joseph Brodsky and Stephen Spender.   The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize, launched by Maria Brodsky and Natasha Spender, also celebrates the rich tradition of Russian poetry.

Details are here.  You supply the original Russian, your translation, and some commentary.  But do you translate a long novel, an essay, a few poems?  It doesn’t say.  Up to you, I guess.

The contest offers three prizes: £1,500 (first), £1,000 (second) and £500.

Entries must be received by August 31.  Judges of the 2011 competition are: Sasha Dugdale, Catriona Kelly, Paul Muldoon.

(Valentina Polukhina, one of the supporters of the contest, wrote to let me know.)

2.   Ms. magazine is celebrating its 40th birthday, and you are invited, too.

A group of Stanford faculty and Ms. editors are inviting you to submit a 150-word essay about one of the magazine’s 40 covers.

Ten $100 cash prizes will be awarded for the best short essays. Entries will be judged on originality, vision, awareness of feminist issues and quality of expression. Winning entries will be displayed alongside the Ms. covers on the Stanford campus in January 2012.

The contest will run from August 1, 2011 – October 15, 2011. Click here for more details.

There’s more:  In January 2012 at Stanford, Ms. founding editor, Gloria Steinem, will offer a keynote address, with a month-long series of events that looks back on the history of the magazine.

The contest and the month-long series of events are sponsored by Stanford’s American Studies Program, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and the Program in Feminist Studies, in conjunction with Ms. Magazine.

(This invite courtesy Adrienne Johnson and Shelley Fisher Fishkin.)