Poetry News In Review
1763 – Samuel Rogers, English poet (Italy, a poem), is born.
1771 – Thomas Gray, English poet, dies at 54.
1918 – Joyce Kilmer, American poet, dies at 31.
1971 – Kenneth Slessor, Australian poet (b. 1901), dies.
To each his suff'rings: all are men,
Condemned alike to groan;
The tender for another's pain,
Th' unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise.
—“Ode On A Distant Prospect Of Eton College” by Thomas Gray
Fifty years ago, a group of Singapore writers came together to discuss organising a poetry festival, with the vision of strengthening ties between different cultures and languages. The idea never took flight because the literary scene then was not active enough to support a festival. But the dream did not die and the inaugural Singapore National Poetry Festival is finally taking place this weekend. It will feature activities at various locations, from the main venue at the Lasalle College of the Arts to Gardens by the Bay.
Is it possible to tell a good poem from a bad one? To put the question another way: are there objective, even scientific, standards for evaluating literature? Helen Vendler has no doubts. Her spiky new collection of essays begins with the insistence that it is possible to prove how one poem is ‘superior’ to another, and ‘those who suppose there are no criteria for such judgments merely expose their own incapacity’.
These are some alarming days. The West Coast is dry as a bone, ISIS is beheading people right and left, polar ice caps are melting, and the police are shooting unarmed black and brown people at a dizzying rate. There is a permanent red banner across our screens crying out “breaking news,” and none of it is good. It is hard not to think we’re on a trip to hell in a hand basket, and it makes me wonder about the efficacy of the whole poetic enterprise. It triggers my latent apocalyptic anxiety and makes me distinctly bad company in rooms where the music is loud and the banter is witty. Yes, I am a believer in the power of poetry to provide succor and solace (and I’m not alone — I recently heard that the six months after 9/11 were a kind of golden age in which Americans turned to poems over television). When times have been tough, I’ve certainly slunk back to those who raised me — Elizabeth Bishop and Walt Whitman, Hart Crane and Czeslaw Milosz. These days, I am apt to reach for Natasha Trethewey or C.D. Wright, Anne Carson or Vénus Khoury-Ghata.
‘Self-Portrait with the Happiness’ by David Tait, ‘Beauty/Beauty’ by Rebecca Perry and ‘Otherwise’ by John Dennison
by Mike Barlow
Three first collections by young poets, each giving prominence to personal relationships, offer an opportunity to get a feel for the shape lyric poetry might be taking these days. David Tait’s Self-Portrait with The Happiness opens with ‘Puppets’, a poem which, had I been browsing in a bookshop, would have made me buy it immediately. It employs metaphor to great effect and ends: ‘Love everywhere, and so much of it; so much you can hardly see the strings.’ Indeed, this could be said of the collection as a whole.
by Ray McDaniel
It is not a habit I would endorse, but sometimes I read poems as if they were records of actual proceedings, events provoked by circumstances other than those the poet occasioned simply for the sake of writing a poem. In other words, I choose to wonder who is saying this, to whom, for what reason; I make all verse occasional verse just to imagine what occasions declare themselves fit for the verse I’m reading. If it’s a sort of game, it’s one that William Fuller seems to be playing already, achieving mystery by way of exactitude.
KT Billey Reviews Cate Marvin’s ‘Oracle’
by KT Billey
People are fucked up and funny, and so is the world. This is a fact that Oracle (Norton, 2015), Cate Marvin’s third and most recent collection of poems, bestows upon us, and it’s clear from the get-go that anyone looking for soothsaying better look elsewhere. Or consider what soothsaying means. The very first line throws us into a sharp, observant speaker who sees and understands being seen.
Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. This week, James Parker and Francine Prose discuss which writers should be ejected from the literary canon.
By James Parker
“Wordsworthian,” for me, means stony and humorless and moralizing.
I think I would kick out Wordsworth. Begone, Wordsworth!
by Jake Orbison
Who wants to be a confessional poet?
Those we’ve saddled with the label—Lowell, Berryman, Snodgrass, Sexton, et cetera—usually react to it with frustration, if not outright hatred. That should come as no surprise. Most poetic movements are met by some degree of disapproval, or at least discomfort. Writers are practically obliged to deny this critical tendency: how dare we readers, critics, English students, reduce entire books, careers, or generations to a singular term. Maybe writers resent words like confessional, imagist, or even Romantic because they inevitably blur a poet’s individual edges into something bland, familiar, and more easily shared. Or maybe the anxiety stems from the fact that labels like this often hover over living writers like tombstones, as critics prepare to title their chapter in literary history.
Drafts & Framents
Any form of verse written by anyone who doesn’t do it for a living is to be banned.
With poems posted on social media by commoners ranging from “Bad” to “Really, really fucking bone-grindingly awful”, the decision has been made to simply outlaw any poetry that hasn’t come via a publishing house.
Poetry In The News
The poems were found by archivists last June, in boxes kept at the Pablo Neruda foundation in Santiago, Chile. They were published by Neruda’s Spanish publisher, Seix Barral, but have not yet been released in English. The earliest poem in the collection dates to 1956, and several are love poems, a form Neruda was famous for.
Black Cat Bone: Poems by John Burnside
[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 80 pp., $16.00
John Burnside's Black Cat Bone is full of poems of thwarted love and disappointment, raw desire, the stalking beast. One sequence tells of an obsessive lover coming to grief in echoes of the old murder ballads, and another longer poem describes a hunter losing himself in the woods while pursuing an unknown and possibly unknowable quarry. Black Cat Bone introduces American readers to one of the best poets writing across the Atlantic.
The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park
[Paperback] Louisiana State University Press, 72 pp., $16.95
Deceptively straightforward and subtly pyrotechnic, the poems in Hannah Sanghee Park's debut collection captivate with their wordplay at first glance, then give rise to opportunities for extended reflection. ''If / truth be told, I can't be true,'' she writes, but her startling juxtapositions of sound and meaning belie that claim, necessitating a search for the truth behind her semantic games.
Tender Data by Monica McClure
[Paperback] Birds, LLC, 145 pp., $18.00
In Tender Data Monica McClure breaks down and breaks into various identities, each of them hashtagged in the discourses of their time and place, whether macha or chiflada, couture or fast fashion, acephale or technocrat: "I want to be so skinny people ask if I'm dying." Down the blood-red lanes of gender-making, class warfare, and vexed relationships goes the unstable subject, hailed yet hailing back. Nobody comes out looking good. The slippery self, surveilled yet ready with her mask, performs a peep show—booth opens wide, yet somehow the dancer isn't there. She's in character. She's "cut off the head to let the humors hose through."
All Is Not Yet Lost by Betsy Fagin
[Paperback] Belladonna, 68 pp., $15.00
All Is Not Yet Lost bears witness to the interconnectedness and interdependence that is unearthed in the fertile chaos of change. Through the cycles of degradation, disintegration and necessary resurrection that shape the dance of environmental, political and personal revolution we find common dreams and common ground: "a bond of love exists... the miraculous present."
In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy by Daniel Borzutzky
[Paperback] Nightboat, 120 pp., $16.95
Daniel Borzutzky, whose work Eileen Myles calls “violent, perverse, tender,” offers a bracing new book that confronts violent action, from state sponsored torture and the bombing of civilians and other “non-essential personnel” to the collapse of the global economy, the barbarism of corporate greed, data fascism, and the deaths of immigrants attempting to cross borders. His book confronts the various horrors of our contemporary landscape through a poetry that literalizes violence, that seeks to find emotional connection and personal meaning in a world that is always exploding.
Three Emerging Indian Women Poets with Voices You Cannot Ignore
Often flying beneath the radar, these poets are likely to be heard of widely, and soon.
by Jennifer Robertson
Today, many eclectic Indian women poets are examining the role of form in contemporary poetry. They need to be spoken about and their work duly showcased. Here are three such writers.
The success of hip-hop has radically reshaped many American art forms. This is particularly true of poetry. Although the links are sometimes drawn too hastily between the two mediums—after all, hip-hop is at its heart a popular form of entertainment, where narrative style is just one dimension of its artistic importance—hip-hop has been drastically underrated, considering how radically it has influenced American poetics.
Envoi: Editor's Notes
Does Poetry Still Matter?
by Brandon Griggs
Quick: Name a famous living poet.
Somebody. Anybody. No, not Maya Angelou. She died last year.
Unless you're a literary scholar or a subscriber to The New Yorker, it's not easy. That's because poetry, once a preeminent form of entertainment, has long since receded to the far, dusty corners of popular culture.
And while you’re asking people on the street that question about naming a living poet, ask them to do these things :
Name a living playwright.
Name a living short story writer.
Name a living composer.
Name a living architect.
Name a living sculptor.
Name a living violinist.
Name a living concert pianist.
Name a living opera singer.
Name a living ballet dancer.
Name a living painter.
An easy exercise, but not a useful measure of anything much.