June 26, 1998

Who gets the royalties from Mein Kampf? Hitler's account of his "Four-and-a-Half-Year Struggle against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice" (the book's original title) was first published in Britain in 1933, shortly after he was elected Chancellor.

It was put out by the small firm of Hurst and Blackett, later subsumed into Hutchinson, on whose backlist it is now a profitable item. The current edition has been in print since 1969 (in the US, Mein Kampf is equally successfully published by Houghton Mifflin), selling a regular 3,000 copies a year. Publishers rely to a large extent on their backlists to subsidize new work, and according to Richard Cohen, formerly a director at Hutchinson, only five of that firm's books have sold in significant quantities over a period of years: a business book, three collections of religious verse, and Mein Kampf.

Mr Cohen makes this revelation in an article in the latest (June 28) issue of the New York Times Book Review. He also points out that Mein Kampf is not on sale in Germany. How about this for one of history's more mischievous manoeuvres: now that Hutchinson has been eaten up by Random House, which has in turn been consumed by the German giant Bertelsmann, "Hitler's racist tract, unavailable in German bookstores, will shortly be published throughout Britain by a German company".

But as Hitler died less than seventy-five years ago, his literary works are still in copyright, under the EU ruling; so who gets the royalties? By rights, apparently, they should go to the German government; but when offered the monies by Curtis Brown - the literary agency which has acted for Hitler in Britain since the book's first publication - the Germans declined to accept them. Likewise, no German-based Jewish charity was prepared to accept tainted money. The royalties from sales of Mein Kampf in the UK go to a charity, but Curtis Brown will not say which one: "If the name of the charity which receives the money were made public", the agency explains, "they would immediately have to announce they could no longer take it."

Department of Fact-Checking. The literary editor of the New Yorker, Bill Buford, has been reading the journals of Jack Kerouac, and has stumbled on an important discovery concerning On the Road. "It was always the belief", he wrote last week, "that On the Road was written in three weeks, in a spontaneous, unrevised, Benzedrine explosion of creativity." However, the journals reveal "that a draft of the book was carefully written first as the notes of a journey round America made with Neal Cassady". The issue of the New Yorker which carries extracts from the journals (June 22 and 29) asks, rhetorically: "Did Jack Kerouac write On the Road in three weeks? Or were his journals a first draft?" Here's another question: has Buford got a scoop, or is this old hat? (You've probably guessed the answer.) Tim Hunt's study, Kerouac's Crooked Road: The development of a fiction, first published in 1981, examined the various stages of On the Road - including the raw "draft" contained in the journals. "In two long journal entries from late March and early April 1949", wrote Hunt, "Kerouac outlines plans for a new version of On the Road . . .". Hunt then offered an illuminating discussion of the various stages of composition (which included the famous three-week stint in 1951). Kerouac's Crooked Road was reissued in paperback by the University of California Press in 1996, and is available from all good bookshops near the New Yorker's 43rd Street office.

More tiny tales. Our items about fifty-five word stories (see NB, June 5 and 12) have prompted John Robert Colombo from Toronto to send us a copy of his collection, Worlds in Small (published by Cacanadadada of Vancouver), which contains some even shorter stories, including an eight-word science fiction yarn by Anthony Burgess: "That morning the sun rose in the west." Mr Colombo's book also gathers minimalist poems, such as this by Tony Augarde: Boy, Gun Gun; Bust.

Joy, Boy Fun. Dust.

More excursions into brevity are made by the poets Donny O'Rourke, Raymond Friel, Peter Snowdon and Kim Morrissey, who feature on a new list, "Brief Pleasures"(Vennel Press, 9 Richmond Road, Staines, Middlesex TW18 2AB). Each booklet contains one or two poems, and is intended as an appetizer to the writers' more substantial work. Oddly, these "Brief Pleasures" are even briefer than the publishers would have us believe: advertised as being eight pages long, they are in fact half that length. The price is given as Pounds 1.75 each, but you could try offering 87.5p.

Vennel Press has also just published a collective tribute to the peripatetic Scottish poet and doctor Gael Turnbull, now aged seventy, who once published a series called "Minimal Missives". It includes poems and tributes from, among others, Robert Creeley, Edwin Morgan, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Roy Fisher, and this healthy sentiment, in a translation from Martial by Hamish Whyte: Leave the dumb dumb-bells to the chaps at the gym - trenching vineyards will keep you in better trim.

A Gathering for Gael Turnbull can be had by sending Pounds 5 to the above address.

The Arvon Foundation, currently celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, is to establish a fourth centre of poetry tuition, at the home of the late John Osborne, set in thirty acres of Welsh borderland, overlooking the Clun Valley. The Foundation has received Pounds 400,000 from the Arts Council of England Lottery scheme. The playwright's widow will continue to live there, and professes herself "delighted" at the thought of being surrounded by poets and their apprentices.

J. C.

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