News and Events 2016
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John Dewey prizewinner
One of John Dewey’s translations from Fyodor Tyutchev – Selected Poems was used in a film for an exhibition of the Russian Romantic painter Ivan Aivazovsky. Entered in world competitions for promotional films, the film won two prizes. The film maker writes: 'Dear John, Thanks to your amazing translation we won bronze in the Epica awards (Paris) today!!! This is a very significant award for us! We also won Silver at the Ad Black Sea Festival which took place in Georgia.’
See the film, and hear John’s fine translation.
Gavin Bantock’s new book
Gavin Bantock’s sixth Brimstone Press book is out now. Christos: Lovesong of the Son of Man is a strikingly unorthodox poetic account of the life of Jesus the Son of Man. Originally published over fifty years ago, when it won two important prizes, it has been completely revised by the author. We are pleased to be publishing this significant work by an important poet.
As a tribute to the great singer/songwriter and poet who died on 7 Nov, Keith Walton has published his account of one of Cohen’s finest performances, in Manchester in 2008. Read it at http://keithwaltonwriter.com.
Brimstone Press has now published over fifty books! And they keep coming.
When the Water Speaks, by Bonnie Cullen, is a memoir of Ibiza, in which the American author experiences the changes in the island over four decades, from a backwater of post-Franco Spain, where farmers scythed by hand, and leapt over fires at Midsummer, to the clubbing capital of the world. She measures her own life against these changes, and is able, in the present day, to reach through the facade of the “Holiday Babylon” to a very different place.
The Divided Wood, by Keith Walton, is a novella in which a wood, divided by a tyrannical father between his son and adopted son, becomes the place where each works separately to realise his deepest dreams. One creates a realm of culture, the other begins from primitive simplicity. Different worlds. But their individual paths lead them ineluctably to their interlocked destinies in the ancient wood.
Keith gave two readings from his book at the ‘Tears in the Fence Literature Festival’ in Stourpaine, Dorset, on 17 Sept.
Merely a Festival is ‘The Story of Mere Literary Festival’, which celebrates its 20th anniversary from 10 - 16 October in its attractive and historic Wiltshire home. Details at merelitfest.co.uk. The book will be launched at the Festival.
Brimstone author news
Sebastian Hayes is publishing his science fiction novel The Web of Aoullnnia in serial form online. Follow the unfolding adventures of Yilkin I Isellyion on Sarwhirlia (the earth) in the twenty-third century at webofaoullnnia.wordpress.com.
Sebastian staged two Transmissions from the Future, when audience members posed questions to Yilkin via space-time link, at the 2016 Shaftesbury Fringe Festival.
Keith Walton completed his 1500 mile cycle ride along la Méridienne verte, the green meridian, from Dunkirk to the Pyrenees, in June 2015. Follow his journey, through cathedral cities and reminders of war, across rich Loire and bare Massif Central, exploring the mysteries of ‘the centre of France, and Le Grand Meaulnes, and the legacy of the Albigensian Crusade, at greenmeridian.wordpress.com. It is the daily record of a journey whose details build into a mosaic picture of a France he finds endlessly beguiling.
John Dewey’s Fyodor Tyutchev, Selected Poems was very favourably reviewed in the latest issue of the American Slavic and East European Journal. Here are a few of the comments made by the reviewer, Sofya Khagi:
‘Selected Poems is a handsome, carefully compiled, and meticulously crafted compilation of Tyutchev’s lyrics in English that conveys much of the ambience of the original Tyutcheviana. […] [Dewey’s] renditions of Tyutchev’s love lyrics, and most of the nature lyrics are, in my estimation, particularly well-done […] The introduction does a wonderful job of contextualizing the poems. It gives an account of Tyutchev’s life and worldview excerpted from Dewey’s earlier distinguished venture into Tyutcheviana, Mirror of the Soul: A Life of the Poet Fyodor Tyutchev (Shaftesbury: Brimstone Press, 2010). […] John Dewey is to be thanked for his appealing, evocative translations of Tyutchev’s works, which will prove valuable to scholars and students of Russian poetry as well as general poetry lovers.’
John’s translation of a Tyutchev poem is to be used in the English version of a video made in Russia about the artist Ivan Aivazovskiy. View the very beautiful Russian version of the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkzxg0_EJPA. We’ll post the English version as soon as it is available.
This is a bumper month for new Brimstone Press books.
The Sign: And Other Stories. Brimstone author John Dewey has followed up his books on Fyodor Tyutchev with The Sign: And Other Stories, a translation of the stories of Yevgeny Zamyatin. Zamyatin is best known for his novel We, a major influence on Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, his stories have been unjustly neglected. John Dewey's translation (all but one of the stories here translated for the first time) reflect the breadth of Zamyatin's themes and prose style. Again, a notable author's work has been been overlooked by the big publishers and only made available as a result of the passionate interest of an individual author, and through an independent publisher.
Don't miss John's excellent article on self-publishing at brimstoneauthors.com, the blog that provides a forum for Brimstone writers. And scroll down to read his “Meet the Author” piece.
Leaving the Easy City, a second collection of poems by R J Hansford is also out this month. Sebastian Hayes writes: "The desert gets rid of all that is not absolutely essential. Admirably fitting his style to his theme, Ron Hansford gets rid of all the trappings of poetry, similes, fanciful analogies, even adjectives. These poems are tracks across the sand dunes: someone has been here and that is all we really need to know. One feels that the author actually in some sense ‘walked the desert’―though not necessarily in the literal sense. And indeed, Ron’s life was spare, tight, unassuming, like that of the inhabitant of the desert." These poems show that Ron was writing at the height of his powers up until his untimely death in 2012.
And three books from Brimstone author, Gavin Bantock. Gavin has also contributed a “Meet the Author” piece, see below.
Bagatelles, a light-hearted collection of concrete poems based on music, mathematics & the alphabet. The majority of these were written on a single Christmas Eve during the mid 1970s using a simple typewriter on which all the complex line-spacings had to be calculated manually, the rest some forty years later on an Apple computer.
Sonnets to Ganymede, a
cycle of fourteen poems using the traditional sonnet form and slant rhyme (assonance), in which the author intertwines fiction, reality and intense emotion in an attempt to describe his feelings for the series of ‘Ganymedes‘ encountered or imagined over a period of some sixty years – a fascination for the beauty of youth, Ganymede in Greek mythology famously being ‘the most handsome youth ever born of the human race‘. It is a study of attraction, temptation, rejection, grief, joy and restraint – of human longing unfulfilled.
White, a collection of new poems based on the common theme of white, with occasional couplings to red and black. These striking poems embrace a wide range of subjects – unique personalities, evocative landscapes, the power of music and overtly sensual topics, from a diversity of cultural regions as far apart as Britain, Russia, the United States, Germany and Japan. Also included is a ‘romantic ode‘ written as an exercise when the poet was a teenager.
And forthcoming is When the Water Speaks, a book about Ibiza by first-time Brimstone author, Bonnie Cullen.
Meet the Author
Now being about 75% retired from full-time work as a director of English drama in Japan (Just one more Shakespeare play to do out of 38 – guess which it is), and having more or less got over the stress and madness of moving house this summer, I now have more time to think about writing. Three small books of poetry are to come out under the kind auspices of Brimstone by the end of this year. They are described below.
At present I’m working on two essays, one with the title ‘The Sound of Shakespeare’ which I am to deliver as a combination talk and recitation of major speeches, on Shakespeare’s birthday and 400th anniversary of his death, next April 23rd, in a small cultural Salon in Kashiwa City, where Kyoko and I now live, not far from Tokyo; the other entitled ‘Cross-Cultural Adventures in Shakespeare and Other Stage Productions’, which will cover some productions of my own as well as some professional ones I’ve encountered one way or another. To be delivered and/or published under the auspices of the The Center for Cross-Cultural Studies of Civilizations and Cultures in Reitaku University, where I have recently been appointed a Visiting Professor.
Behind all this I am revising my prize-winning epic poem Christ, which I wrote when I was a student at Oxford, doing the opposite of what Wordsworth did with his Prelude, making mine more radical whereas he made his more orthodox. I am also putting together a collection of reminiscences and poetic works, largely as a kind of memorial to a friend of mine and others at Oxford who died prematurely some thirty years ago after a short respiratory illness. The title of this, derived from the text of Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, is to be Thys Felyship.
A future long poem of mine, begun some years ago, is to be called Playhouse, which will deal with my experiences with drama as an actor, director and spectator over the last seventy years.
Also projected but not yet in the works is a play on Alexander the Great.
My interest in Russian language and literature began in 1957, when I was fifteen. ‘Fred’ Gregory, the enthusiastic head of languages at my school (Latymer Upper in Hammersmith, one of the old Direct Grant schools) had some years previously taught himself Russian and then introduced it into the school curriculum. Legend has it that to begin with he was only a couple of pages in the text book ahead of the boys he was teaching. He certainly took no prisoners: we had to get from scratch to A Level in two years. At our first class he strode in, handed out text books to our small group (as I recall, there were only four of us) and told us to learn the Cyrillic alphabet before the next lesson. Quite soon we were expected to read (admittedly simplified) stories by Turgenev and Chekhov. Once a week we had conversation practice with a friendly little Russian lady who’d managed to escape from Stalin’s Russia and married an Englishman. I remember having to learn interminable lists of vocabulary by heart. The text book we used still had a speech by Stalin as one of its reading texts, and even the dismal cold and snow of the severe winter we endured that year seemed to conjure up forbidding aspects of the mysterious country whose language we were learning. I certainly didn’t enjoy Russian as much as German, and at one stage thought of dropping the subject altogether. However, for whatever reason I persevered.
From Latymer I won a scholarship to read German and Russian at Cambridge. It was there that I first encountered the lyric poetry of Fyodor Tyutchev, which cast a spell that has stayed with me ever since. At the end of my first year I was encouraged to specialise in German, in which I had better results, but for reasons I still find hard to explain opted for Russian instead, with German as subsidiary.
After university came a career teaching German and Russian in state schools and further education. Not long after my fiftieth birthday, the principal of the FE college where I was employed sent round a circular more or less begging anyone over fifty to consider early retirement on generous terms. The cunning plan was to save money by replacing us with hourly-paid lecturers, and like many others I needed little persuasion to jump ship, a decision I have never regretted since.
With a pension, supplemented by income from part-time teaching, I was now free to do other things. In a journal for teachers of Russian I came across an appeal for translators from an English-language publishing venture just setting up in Moscow. They couldn’t afford to pay anything to start with (this was in the early nineties), but offered free holiday accommodation in Moscow as recompense. I applied, translated a novel about a man living in fear in Stalin’s Russia and was duly invited to spend two weeks with a couple in Moscow, which gave a fascinating insight into life there at the time. So began a new career as literary translator – or perhaps I should say, hobby, for although the publishing house (Glas) did start paying the going rate from then on, work was intermittent, and in any case I didn’t want (or need, thanks to my pension) to spend all my time translating.
Indeed, I had another project in mind. For years I’d nursed an ambition to write a biography of the poet whose verse had so captivated me as a student. After researching the subject sporadically over the years, in 1999 I decided to get down to it in earnest. Many aspects of Tyutchev’s life and poetry remained unknown or uncertain, and supplying these missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle involved searching through old letters in archives, hunting down biographical records, sifting through and collating all the available evidence, and so on. This detective work was for me perhaps the most rewarding part of the whole enterprise. My wife Wilma was a great support throughout, providing in particular invaluable aid with deciphering the old German script used in some of the letters. She tolerated my obsession with good humour and never once complained when on holidays abroad she found me disappearing to a library – or herself ambushed into tracing Tyutchev’s footsteps in some foreign part!
The original plan had been to complete Mirror of the Soul in time for the bicentenary of Tyutchev’s birth in 2003, but that proved to be hopelessly optimistic. Only in 2010 was I able to put the finishing touches to the book and see it into print. My vain attempts to interest commercial publishers, and the serendipitous discovery of Brimstone Press which finally led to publication, are described in some detail on the Brimstone Authors’ site: brimstoneauthors.com/john-dewey.
In the course of researching the book, Wilma and I visited Munich, where Tyutchev spent nearly twenty years in his day job as Russian diplomat. A Russian Tyutchev scholar living there, the late Dr Arkady Polonsky, kindly showed me round sites connected with the poet. ‘Have you ever thought,’ he mused at one point, ‘that you may have been fated to write this book?’ That of course is a very Russian idea. Sometimes, looking back on the events of my life, I wonder if there might even be some truth in it.
Since Mirror of the Soul I have published a collection of Tyutchev verse translations with Brimstone, as well as returning to translation work for other publishers (Glas and Thames River Press). My most recent publication had its origins many years ago. In the summer of 1990 I went on a four-week refresher language course for British teachers of Russian in what was then still Leningrad. It was the era of perestroika under Gorbachov, and we Brits on the course shared in the sense of elation at what felt like the dawning of a new era of freedom. With hindsight our hopes for the future of Russia must now seem rather naïve, but hope there certainly was at that time, notwithstanding the parlous state of the economy. We saw groups of people openly voicing their opinions and grievances on the streets, attended theatrical productions which would have been banned just a few years previously and were able to buy books never before published in the Soviet Union.
Among the books I brought home from Leningrad that summer was a collection of stories by Yevgeny Zamyatin published the previous year. Included in it – the first time it had ever appeared in print in the Soviet Union – was his explosive novel We. Set in the distant future, We offers a dystopian vision of a totalitarian state in which every aspect of people’s life and thinking is regulated by a ruling elite. The citizens have no names, only numbers, and even their sexual activities are based on a ticket system and limited to prescribed hours (love as such is forbidden). Anyone showing signs of imagination or original thought is forced to submit to a form of lobotomy. Written soon after the Revolution, the novel immediately brought Zamyatin into conflict with the Communist authorities, who rightly saw it as an attack on their own totalitarian regime. George Orwell later read a translation of We , gave it an enthusiastic review in Encounter and went on to write Nineteen Eighty-Four, which has so many parallels with Zamyatin’s novel.
The book I’d bought in Leningrad also contained a generous selection of Zamyatin’s short stories and novellas. Unlike We, which has been translated into English several times, most of these shorter pieces remain unknown outside Russia, yet many of them seemed to me as I read them just as accomplished as the more famous novel. I started translating those I particularly liked and continued to do so intermittently over the years in between other projects, until recently enough had accumulated to make up a decent collection. I kept my attempts to interest commercial publishers fairly perfunctory this time, and was not the least surprised when nothing came of them. In fact I was more than happy to turn once more to the ever dependable Brimstone Press. Now I just hope that anyone reading Zamyatin’s stories will enjoy them as much as I have.
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