Poetry News In Review
1661 – Antoine Gérard de Saint-Amant, French poet (b. 1594), dies.
1785 – Johan Herman Wessel, Norwegian poet (b. 1742), dies.
1894 – Christina Rossetti, English poet, dies at 64 in London.
1996 – William Thomas Pennar Davies, poet author/theologian, dies at 85.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
from “In The Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)
Two Saudi men who opposed the participation of a woman poet in a public literary meeting were removed from the hall by security officers. A video clip circulated on social media showed how a man stood up during the meeting held on the sideline of the book fair held in the Red Sea city of Jeddah to protest against allowing Ashjan Al Hindi, a Saudi poet, to recite a poem in the hall.
A spoken-word artist is selling poetry to show solidarity with Syrian refugees. Vanessa Kisuule, an award-winning poet, has set up a group selling bespoke poems for anyone who would like one written about them. To get their poem, people are being asked to donate in aid of refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria.
The Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry for 2015 is to be awarded to Liz Lochhead, Scotland's national poet. Lochhead, who was appointed the second Scots Makar early in 2011, wins the prize for her body of work. "Liz Lochhead has made a unique contribution to Scottish poetry," said Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who chaired the judging committee.
‘Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax,’ by Michael N. McGregor
by James Campbell
To describe Robert Lax as a minimalist poet does scant justice to the reedlike shape of his “vertical” poems. A typical page in his most comprehensive book, “Poems (1962-1997),” might contain 20 words arranged in columnar form, a single syllable or punctuation mark to each line.
‘Selected Later Poems,’ by C. K. Williams
by Katy Lederer
In poetry, as in so much else, there is the career and then the life, and it is folly to mistake one for the other. The career of C. K. Williams, who died in September, precedes him. Winner of the trifecta of American book awards (the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize), he was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a longtime professor at Princeton University and the recipient of almost every major fellowship and citation available to poets.
The Best Poetry Books of 2015
by David Orr
The poetry books published in a given calendar year usually take up about 18 cubic feet of space, and would thus fit comfortably into the average refrigerator. But if you’re a book critic, you probably can’t afford to decrease your living quarters by the volume of a major appliance every year for decades. So at the close of each December, the difficulty lies, as Kenny Rogers once put it, in knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
Below are 10 American poetry collections published in 2015 that I’m happy to retain on my shelves. In keeping with Times policy, this list contains no friends, relatives, cat sitters, former bandmates or current colleagues (which unfortunately means that I can’t include Alice Fulton’s excellent “Barely Composed” or Robert Morgan’s shrewd “Dark Energy”). I’ve also generally favored work by poets I haven’t written about in previous years.
John Updike and Jim Harrison are an odd couple to bring together in a review. Updike, who died in 2009, was a finicky and cerebral writer, fundamentally a neatnik. Mr. Harrison is backwoodsy and satirical. The shirt of his prose is perpetually untucked and perhaps stained with a splash of red wine.
Letter from Greece
by A.E. Stallings
Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of Greece in 2015—a double round of elections, a nailbiter of a referendum, protests, and financial cliff-hangers—2015 also marked the centennial of Rupert Brooke’s peaceful death on the island of Skyros, on April 23, 1915. The poet succumbed to complications from a mosquito bite, at the age of 27, practically the sole patient aboard a French hospital ship that was anchored in Treis Boukes Bay (a former pirate cove), at 4:46 in the afternoon. He was buried later the same day towards midnight under a cloud-shrouded moon in a sage-fragrant olive grove (a grove he himself had remarked on for its enchantment just three days before) on the deserted south side of this beautiful yet spooky island; in haste, because the troops were shipping out for Gallipoli at dawn.
How to Read a Poem
by Helena Nelson
Perhaps you do it differently. I can’t know. I only know what I do. I’m interested in how people approach puzzles, and a poem’s a sort of puzzle. When I was a college teacher, and working on learning skills, I used sometimes to give students a thinking challenge, a question. ‘What’s 5 x 13?’ for example. They had to work out the answer and write it down without conferring. Then they had to say how they got their answer.
The Lighter Side: Kay Ryan
by Jeff Lennon
For thirty years, Kay Ryan has published some of the best verse in the English language. She has done so from a quiet base in Northern California, miles away from the poetic scene, eons away from a modern temperament of shouting and noise, rapidity and clutter. Ryan claims she has never wanted to be a public figure(“I’m the kind of person who’s a real non-joiner”). Yet, as the winner of a Pulitzer, a MacArthur, and a Guggenheim Fellowship—and having served two terms as Poet Laureate of the United States (from 2008-2010, sandwiched between Charles Simic and WS Merwin, not a bad triumvirate of contemporary American verse)—she has become something of a living legend.
Drafts & Framents
Parul Sehgal and Gregory Cowles discuss the year in poetry, and George Saunders talks about children's books.
Poetry In Baking: Emily Dickinson's Black Cake (Recipe)
by Greg Patent
The poet Emily Dickinson prided herself on her skill as a cook, and she was extremely proud of her black cake. This is a scaled-down version of her recipe, which was quadruple this one, and baked in a milk pail.
Poetry In The News
Ohio’s first official poet laureate is a nuclear radiologist. Writing, though, was Amit Majmudar’s first love. Gov. John Kasich selected Majmudar for the honor, which was announced on Thursday. “I was a literature person for years before I became a doctor,” said Majmudar, who lives in Dublin with his wife and three children. “Medicine is my work, but I don’t regard writing as work. I regard it as play. It’s how I relax and unwind.”
French surrealist poet Alain Jouffroy, who “revolted against the absence of revolt”, has died, his wife said yesterday. He died on Sunday, Fusako Hasae told AFP. Jouffroy was 87. Also a novelist, essayist and art critic, Jouffroy won France’s prestigious Goncourt prize for poetry in 2007. Born in Paris in 1928, he was a major figure in French intellectual life in the latter part of the 20th century.
The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Justin Chin, an award-winning writer and poet, died today at California Pacific Medical Center, Davies Campus. He was 46. Chin had been taken off life support on Tuesday after suffering a stroke the week before. Chin was an award-winning, prolific writer and poet who many considered a star in San Francisco’s literary scene.
Incorrect Merciful Impulses by Camille Rankine
[Paperback ] Copper Canyon Press, 80 pp., $16.00
Named "a poet to watch" by O Magazine, Camille Rankine's debut collection is a series of provocations and explorations. Rankine's short, lyric poems are sharp, agonized, and exquisite, exploring themes of doubt and identity. The collection's sense of continuity and coherence comes through recurring poem types, including "still lifes," "instructions," and "symptoms."
Robert Lowell in Love by Jeffrey Meyers
[Hardcover] University of Massachusetts Press, 288 pp., $34.95
Robert Lowell was known not only as a great poet but also as a writer whose devotion to his art came at a tremendous personal cost. In this book, his third on Robert Lowell, Jeffrey Meyers examines the poet's impassioned, troubled relationships with the key women in his life: his mother, Charlotte Winslow Lowell; his three wives―Jean Stafford, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Caroline Blackwood; nine of his many lovers; his close women friends―Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Bishop, and Adrienne Rich; and his most talented students, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.
Somewhere in Space by Talvikki Ansel
[Paperback] Ohio State University Press, 76 pp., $16.95
The poems in Talvikki Ansel’s Somewhere in Space work to locate us in this world and its mix of the made and natural, the cultivated and untamable. Faced with such mysteries and intricacies as the water-conducting tissue of trees, the sensory abilities of vultures, the lives of past writers (Edith Södergran, Bruno Schulz), and fragments of history and our tenuous connections to them, the poems acknowledge the difficulty of authority, yet continue with their forays. Invented characters coexist with observations of mergansers and moths, orioles and cats; “Particulars rock / just inside the breakwater / like conjured up skiffs.”
Immigrations by Gordon Osing
[Paperback] Spuyten Duyvil Publishing, 158 pp., $15.00
Gordon Osing’s Things That Never Happened is brilliant, soul-deep, questing, and fun. One thinks of Wordsworth’s Prelude done with a great jazz beat, and then one thinks of all the good books wrung from a writer’s experience, from a life. The book has the force of a train rumbling through a vibrant city. Its observations are startling and pleasurable even as they disturb. –Richard Bausch
Not Even Laughter by Phillip Crymble
[Paperback]Salmon Poetry, 88 pp., $19.00
A clearance bin of corner-cut records, remaindered paperbacks, and canisters of faded film, Phillip Crymble's first full-length collection strives to rescue, celebrate, and preserve the works and sensibilities of those whose ideas and visions and have been long overlooked by posterity. Crymble's technical acumen, ear for music, and emotional sincerity are the adhesive agents that bring the vernacular ethnographies, high-brow ekphrastics, tender elegies, forlorn love lyrics, and acutely observed accounts of plain and seemingly unremarkable domestic experience together in this formidable debut.
Poet Terrance Hayes won the National Book Award in 2010 for his collection, “Lighthead.” Hayes almost won the award again this year when his newest collection, his fifth, “How to Be Drawn,” was named a finalist.
Claudia Rankine: ‘Blackness in the white imagination has nothing to do with black people’
by Kate Kellaway
The award-winning poet on Serena Williams, her emotional book signings and why racism is inescapable.
Jim Harrison on Spirits, Bad Poetry and the Wonder of Nature
by Dean Kuipers
In the poem "Spirit," which appears in the collection "Dead Man's Float," coming in January from Copper Canyon Press, Jim Harrison writes:
Rumi advised me to keep my spirit
up in the branches of a tree and not peek
out too far, so I keep mine in the very tall
willows along the irrigation ditch out back
Which tree, I wonder, as I walk to the cottage that serves as Harrison's writing studio.
Envoi: Editor's Notes
It's been a year since my mentor, Miller Williams, died. I haven't written about him in all that time, but have thought of him often. Here is a poem by him that offers a glimpse of the humanity that is the hallmark of much of his poetry.
Love Poem With Toast
Some of what we do, we do
to make things happen,
the alarm to wake us up, the coffee to perc,
the car to start.
The rest of what we do, we do
trying to keep something from doing something,
the skin from aging, the hoe from rusting,
the truth from getting out.
With yes and no like the poles of a battery
powering our passage through the days,
we move, as we call it, forward,
wanting to be wanted,
wanting not to lose the rain forest,
wanting the water to boil,
wanting not to have cancer,
wanting to be home by dark,
wanting not to run out of gas,
as each of us wants the other
watching at the end,
as both want not to leave the other alone,
as wanting to love beyond this meat and bone,
we gaze across breakfast and pretend.
—Miller Williams (1930-2015)