The Plot to Assassinate Pamuk

Amazing news out of Turkey:
Kemal Kerincsiz, the lawyer who tried to prosecute Orhan Pamuk, Hrant Dink, Elif Shafak, and several other writers for “insulting Turkishness,” has been arrested with 32 others following an investigation into a weapons cache discovered in Istanbul last year. That investigation uncovered evidence of active plots to assassinate Pamuk, three politicians, and a prominent journalist and to stage a series of bombings in the coming year, according to reports appearing in the Turkish Press.
Kerincsiz is an ultranationalist who has pushed in the past for harsh sentences for Pamuk, Dink, and others under Article 301, the law against "insulting Turkishness." That law is finally being amended, but "it is just one of many laws that limit freedom of expression for intellectuals in Turkey."

Read more at PEN.org, where you can also listen to Pamuk's Freedom to Write lecture from the PEN World Voices festival.


Prison Lyrics

The blog has been quiet of late, as we finish up work on PEN America 8, about which more soon.

In the meantime, visit Verbal Privilege for a lovely post by Elizabeth-- happily pointed out by Amitava Kumar-- about the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet:

Nazim Hikmet was arrested-- not for the first time-- in January 1938. He was charged with inciting the Turkish armed forces to revolt, ostensibly because military cadets had been found reading his poems, particularly The Epic of Sheik Bedreddin, his 1936 historical-revolutionary epic. He was sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison, of which he served twelve before escaping and spending the rest of his life in exile. Hikmet wrote thousands of lines of verse in prison, and circulated poems through letters to friends and family, but none of his poetry after Bedreddin was ever published again in Turkey in his lifetime.
The post also provides the full text of "In the Istanbul Detention House Yard" (plus a link to the original Turkish), of which my favorite lines (and Amitava's, too) are these:
Me and our corner grocer,
we're both mightily unknown in America.
In 2006, Human Landscapes from My Country, Hikmet's "epic novel in verse," was selected by members of PEN as one of the best translations of the year.

Elizabeth begins her post talking about another writer of prison lyrics, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and points to this long and learned essay on Faiz by Ted Genoways, editor of The Virginia Quarterly Review-- the latest issue of which has just arrived and is, as usual, pretty remarkable. It includes the art of Daniel Heyman (see picture above; click to enlarge), who sat in on interviews with former Iraqi prisoners tortured at Abu Ghraib, and hurriedly recorded their faces and their words.

If you're interested in PEN's own Prison Writing Program, there are several ways to get involved.


"of prophetic dreams": Zbigniew Herbert

The next book club at Words Without Borders will be devoted to Zbigniew Herbert's The Collected Poems 1956-1998 (a great book that also had a great cover, pictured left). It will start next week, and will be hosted by James Marcus and Cynthia Haven. Other participants will include, says Marcus, "a wide range of Herbert experts, including (so far) Peter Dale Scott, Anna Frajlich, Andrzej Franaszek, William Martin, and Alissa Valles (who translated most of the new Ecco collection)."

Do check it out. Marcus provides some initial thoughts on Herbert, along with the opening to Herbert's poem "Mr Cogito and the Imagination" ("Mr Cogito has never trusted / the tricks of the imagination // the piano at the top of the Alps / played concerts false to his ear").

A few years ago, PEN held an event called "State of Emergency: Unconventional Readings," intended to call attention to the erosion of civil liberties in the US since 9/11. Two of the writers who participated, Francine Prose and Don DeLillo, read poems by Zbigniew Herbert, as Edward Hirsch recounted in The Washington Post a few days later. DeLillo read "Report from the Besieged City" ("in the evening I like to wander near the outposts of the City / along the frontier of our uncertain freedom"), while Prose read one of my all-time favorite poems, "Five Men":

what did the five talk of
the night before the execution

of prophetic dreams
of an escapade in a brothel
of automobile parts
of a sea voyage
of how when he had spades
he ought not to have opened
of how vodka is best
after wine you get a headache
of girls
of fruits
of life

Read the rest of that incredible poem (translated by Czeslaw Milosz) here, and listen to Francine Prose read it here. Hirsch's piece is here, and a long piece on Herbert by translator Alissa Valles is here.


The Three Musketeers: Eco, Rushdie, and Vargas Llosa

In case you missed it before the holidays, PEN recently made the first event announcement for the 2008 World Voices Festival: Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, and Mario Vargas Llosa will converse at the 92nd Street Y on Friday, May 2, at 7:30 pm.

Here's the back-story:
On October 10, 1995, London’s Royal Festival Hall hosted a historic night of readings by three of the world’s most distinguished writers: Umberto Eco from Italy, British-Indian Salman Rushdie, and Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru. At dinner afterwards, Eco anointed the trio as The Three Musketeers.
Advance tickets are already on sale.

By the way, PEN American Center is now on Facebook, and so is the World Voices Festival. So go check us out there as well.