Friday, January 31, 2003

White House Postpones Poetry Symposium
Thu Jan 30,11:02 PM ET

By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer

NEW YORK - Two former U.S. poet laureates criticized the White House on Thursday for postponing a literary symposium it believed would be politicized. Stanley Kunitz and Rita Dove characterized the decision as an example of the Bush administration's hostility to dissenting or creative voices.

The Feb. 12 symposium on "Poetry and the American Voice" was to have featured the works of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. The postponement was announced Wednesday and no future date has been set for the event, to be held by first lady Laura Bush.

"I think there was a general feeling that the current administration is not really a friend of the poetic community and that its program of attacking Iraq is contrary to the humanitarian position that is at the center of the poetic impulse," Kunitz, the 2000-2001 poet laureate, said Thursday.

In a statement, Dove, who served as poet laureate from 1993 to '95, said the postponement confirmed her suspicion that "this White House does not wish to open its doors to an `American voice' that does not echo the administration's misguided policies."

In announcing Wednesday that the symposium had been postponed, Noelia Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the first lady, said: "While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum."

Mrs. Bush, a former librarian who has made teaching and early childhood development her signature issues, has held a series of White House events to salute America's authors. The gatherings are usually lively affairs with discussions of literature and its effect on society.

Hughes and Whitman themselves were frequent social commentators. Whitman once complained that the presidency and other offices were "bought, sold, electioneered for, prostituted, and filled with prostitutes." Hughes' political writings and left-wing sympathies led to FBI (news - web sites) surveillance and harassment from Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Kunitz, Dove and others had refused to attend the symposium and a nationwide protest was soon organized.

Sam Hamill, a poet and editor of the highly regarded Copper Canyon Press, e-mailed friends asking for poems or statements opposing military action against Iraq.

"Make Feb. 12 a day of Poetry Against the War. We will compile an anthology of protest to be presented to the White House on that afternoon," the e-mail reads.

He had expected about 50 responses; he's gotten about 2,000, including contributions from W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose poem, "Coda," includes the lines "And America turns the attack on the World Trade Center-Into the beginning of the Third World War."

Hamill will post all the submissions on a Web site that began running Thursday.

White House invitations have inspired protests before. In 1965, poet Robert Lowell refused to attend a White House arts festival, citing opposition to the Vietnam War.

Marilyn Nelson, Connecticut's poet laureate, said Wednesday she had accepted her invitation to the poetry symposium because she felt her "presence would promote peace."

"I had commissioned a fabric artist for a silk scarf with peace signs painted on it," she said. "I thought just by going there and shaking Mrs. Bush's hand and being available for the photo ops, my scarf would make a statement."

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Thursday, January 30, 2003

Russians To Sue 'Potter' Over Alleged Putin Resemblance
Law Firm Claims Dobby Character Looks Like Russian Leader

January 28, 2003

It's Potter versus Putin in the latest identity crisis to rock the Muggle world.

Some Russians are charging that a character from the latest Harry Potter movie was created in the likeness of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The character in question is "Dobby the House Elf."

Some say there is a slight resemblance to the Russian president when comparing their noses.

One Russian law firm was so offended, it's preparing to sue the special effects team that created Dobby, Baltimore's WBAL-TV reported.

There is no response from Warner Brothers or President Putin.

Still driving customers up the wall after 100 years: Foyles, the bookshop that time forgot
By John Walsh
23 January 2003

It's in the Guinness Book of Records as the bookshop with the most titles in stock and the longest lines of shelving (30 miles). It boasts the most starrily famous clientele, alive or dead, of any bookshop in history (Eva Peron, the Argentinian first lady, finding herself temporarily short of cash one day, paid for her books with a crocodile-skin vanity case). The guest speakers at its Literary Lunches read like a guide to 20th century literature. It is also, by general consent, one of the most infuriatingly, perversely eccentric retail operations in the history of commerce. Foyles, the most famous bookshop in the world, is 100 years old this year.

It was actually on 14 July, 1903 that two brothers, William, 17, and Gilbert Foyle, 18, sold their first wholesale book. But months earlier, they had started in business by flogging some unwanted textbooks from their parents' kitchen table. They advertised in educational journals, and were startled by the response. Their first year of trading made a princely £10.

In 1906 they bought the shop at 113-119 Charing Cross Road and were away. William Foyle became a bookselling legend, "the Barnum of Books". He employed his 17-year-old daughter Christina in 1928. She later ran his empire for 40 years – and nearly ran it into the ground.

For decades, Foyles has been a shopper's nightmare, with miles and miles of haphazardly arranged titles, non-English-speaking student staff, and a payment system apparently designed by a Victorian lunatic. "It was a byword for dreadful bookselling," said Nicholas Clee, editor of The Bookseller. "They never answered the phone, the assistants never knew anything, and were hired and fired in six months. You could never find any book you wanted."

Would-be buyers had to queue twice. "There weren't any tills or cash registers," remembers The Independent's Christina Patterson, who worked there (and was fired after five weeks) in the mid-80s, "You sat in a little wooden box, and people would have to bring you dockets hand-written by the assistants. I dreaded being asked for help. I couldn't confidently have said which floor I was on."

The trouble was Christina Foyle, who hated any signs of modernity. She refused to allow computers or electronic tills, and spent no money on refurbishments. Her attitude to staff was autocratic: once she fired 40 women for "talking too loudly".

Since she died in 1999, leaving £60m (most of which went to charity, and none to her family), the shop has been run by two of Christina's nephews, Christopher (whom she made a director on her deathbed) and Bill Samuels (whom she cordially loathed). Between them they pulled the shop into at least the 20th century.

Some things don't change, however. You can still spend hours browsing the miles of shelves and marvelling at how everything is in the wrong place. Under "Fiction" you can find Boswell's Life of Dr Johnson, Baudelaire's Prose Poems and the plays of Beaumarchais, and that's just the Bs. Other famous works of conspicuous non-fiction include Rousseau's Confessions, Samuel Smiles' Self-Help and the Greek historian Polybius's Rise of the Roman Empire. With a perversity that borders on the criminal, Proust's 3,000-page A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu is filed under "Short Stories". But there's a certain delight in finding out-of-print books, some dating back to the mid-70s, that have been in Foyles' stock for 30 years.

"There's a lot of goodwill in the trade towards Foyle and Samuels, as there would be towards any independent operators, in a world of chain stores" says Nicholas Clee. "They make no attempt to hide their opinion of the shop's past. They want to get things right from now on. After years of incompetence, Foyles still has a very good name."

Monday, January 27, 2003

Mystery visitor returns to Poe's grave
Associated Press

BALTIMORE -- With his face hidden beneath a dark hood, a man crept into a bitterly cold downtown graveyard before dawn on Sunday and raised a solitary birthday toast to Edgar Allan Poe.

Continuing a 54-year tradition, the man, whose identity remains unknown, put his hand on Poe's tombstone, bowed, placed three red roses and a half-empty bottle of Martel cognac on the grave and then silently slipped back into the shadows.

A huge pale-white moon glowed over the city, yet the man still eluded dozens of people who waited in their cars or huddled together on the sidewalk outside the cemetery.

"To me, it's magic," said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum, who spent the night tucked inside a former Presbyterian church nearby with a small group of Poe enthusiasts he invited to watch the ritual. "It would be very easy to step out from our hiding place and expose him, but no one wants to ruin this mystery."

No one, not even Jerome, who has watched the cemetery every Jan. 19 since 1976, knows the identity of the so-called "Poe Toaster." The visit was first documented in 1949, a century after Poe's death. For decades, Jerome says, it was the same frail figure.

Then, in 1993, the original visitor left a cryptic note saying, "The torch will be passed." Another note left later told Jerome that the first man in black, who apparently died in 1998, had passed the tradition on to his sons -- Jerome thinks there are either two or three. Such notes are the only communication anyone has had with the visitor.

A combination of respect, the visitor's cunning and the chill of Baltimore on a January night have kept the curious from uncovering the secret.

"It's just this incredible rush of adrenaline when you see that he's made it again," said Anita Gruss, an athletic director at a high school in Centreville who has seen 12 toasts. "Even after all these years, it's a thrill."

Poe, who is best known for poems and horror stories such as The Raven and The Telltale Heart, died in Baltimore at the age of 40 after collapsing, delirious, in a tavern. The circumstances of his death remain unclear: some researchers have blamed a fever, while others point to the late stages of alcoholism or to rabies.

The visitor's three roses are thought to honour Poe, his mother-in-law Maria Clemm, and his wife Virginia, all of whom are buried in the graveyard. The significance of the cognac is a mystery.

"That he has kept this secret for over 50 years is just so fascinating to me," said Joe Sainclair, a high-school English teacher from Mountaintop, Pa., who was seeing the toast for the first time Sunday. "For a fan of Poe, for a fan of mystery, it just doesn't get any better than this."

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